Zachor – the “dos” of Shabbat

In this resource we will consider the positive aspects of Shabbat observance, including the positive mitzvot involved in an active Shabbat observance.

Resource Ages: 15-18


Shemot 20:8

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.

זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ.

Devarim 5:12

Observe the sabbath day [to] keep it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.

שָׁמוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ ה’ אֱ-להֶֹיךָ

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behavior?
  • How do Jewish cycles shape our lives?
  • What makes time holy?
  • Why are holidays, rituals, customs important to me, my family, and my community?
  • How do values and tradition impact my Jewish practice?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
  • How can I experience moments of connection to God?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What can I learn from the biblical commandment to observe shabbat?
  • Why does the Torah present shabbat as a day where there are many things we cannot do?
  • What are the positive mitzvot of shabbat observance trying to achieve?
  • How can I find meaning in the positive mitzvot of shabbat observance for my life?
  • How can I achieve oneg and kavod shabbat each shabbat?
  • What meaning can I find in the experience of observing a shabbat of oneg and kavod?

Background for Teacher

Shemot 20:8–11 and Devarim 5:12 The first three sources of this block, which contrast the positive and negative aspects of shabbat observance, are also found in the block “Shamor – the “do nots” of shabbat”.  If you have previously taught that block you may...

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Shemot 20:8–11 and Devarim 5:12

The first three sources of this block, which contrast the positive and negative aspects of shabbat observance, are also found in the block “Shamor – the “do nots” of shabbat”.  If you have previously taught that block you may wish to reference these texts only, or review them, rather than learn/teach them again.

Shabbat in the two versions of the Ten Commandments: The Shemot text records the Revelation at Sinai along with the Ten Commandments uttered by God upon that occasion as it was happening, so to speak. The Devarim text has Moshe recounting to the new generation of Israelites, the generation about to enter the Promised Land, that which had occurred some 40 years earlier at Sinai in the biblical chronology. Included in his narrative is a reiteration of the Ten Commandments. While there is no difference in content between the two versions of the Ten Commandments, there are variations in the formulation of those commandments.

Differences in the language of the two versions: When it comes to the fourth commandment, the one speaking of Shabbat, the Shemot passage notes that the Israelites are to remember ( זכָוֹר , zakhor) the Shabbat, while the Devarim text commands them to observe ( שׁמָוֹר , shamor) the Shabbat. Two primary points need clarification here:

  1. Why is the wording different between these two verses? 
  2. What is meant by these two commands/verbs, to “remember” and to “observe”? 

Indeed, both these questions are extensively discussed by the commentaries and the biblical scholars. We will look at one classic interpretation (from the Ramban) that relates to the distinction between the positive mitzvot ( מִצוְותֹ עשֲהֵׂ ) and negative mitzvot (מִצְווֹת לאֹ תַּעֲשֶׂה).

Ramban, Shemot 20:7

Why two versions?: Ramban deals with a basic problem of the biblical text. If the Ten Commandments were uttered by God, how could there be two versions? To argue that the two versions, one or both, are not faithful reproductions of God’s word at Sinai is unthinkable for the talmudic and rabbinic writers. To argue that Shemot is God’s word while Devarim is Moshe’s recollection of the event makes no sense – since Moshe would have had Shemot in front of him already, he could have just cut and paste the text as is into Devarim, so why are there discrepancies? Is Devarim perhaps Moshe’s commentary on Shemot? If it is, how does “observe” expand anyone’s understanding of “remember”? The solution offered by the talmudic scholars offers a new angle.

Two different aspects of shabbat observance: For the Rabbis cited by Ramban, God uttered both zakhor and shamor simultaneously. Why would God have to do that? Why would God not have been able to utter them consecutively? For the Rabbis of the Talmud (Shevuot 20b), it is to create a parallel between what these two words convey. Now what are the ideas communicated via the varied terms of the two versions of the Ten Commandments? Ramban, based on the two talmudic references, explains that shamor (beware to observe) is one of those terms taken by the Rabbis to signal a negative commandment ( מִצְוַת לאֹ תַעֲשֶׂה ). Telling a person to “beware” usually means that the person ought not to do something. The biblical texts are full of verses telling people not to do things on Shabbat . On the other hand, asking a person to zakhor, recall and “remember” something means that there is something they likely need to do – the positive commandments ( מִצוְותֹ עשֲהֵׂ). Seeing this verse as instructing the people to engage in specific activity on Shabbat is a novel way of understanding the verse, one that may very well reflect how the people were actually marking the Shabbat for many generations before the Rabbis came along.

Positive and negative commandments: In this text, Ramban clarifies why the Rabbis associated with the mitzvah of Shabbat both positive and negative commandments – things one should do on Shabbat and things that should not be done.

Going back to the idea that zakhor and shamor were uttered by God simultaneously – the Talmud (Shevuot 20b) establishes the significance of the simultaneity of the utterance of these two words is to inform that the responsibility of observing the positive and negative aspects of Shabbat devolves upon all Jews—men and women equally.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat 30:2–5, 7–9, 11-12, 14; 5:1

Honouring shabbat and delighting in shabbat: The Rabbis developed two halakhic categories linked to Shabbat – that of כבוד השבת (kevod hashabbat, honoring the Shabbat) and that of עֹנֶג שַׁבָּת (oneg shabbat, delighting in the Shabbat). Maimonides summarizes in these selected passages how one honors and delights in the Shabbat in practical terms. Characterizing both categories are things that should be done and things that should not be done:

kevod hashabbat

do – bathe, dress up, arrange your home, set your table

do not – dress shabbily, stuff yourself on Friday with food ruining your appetite for the Shabbat meal.

oneg shabbat

do – eat, drink, have sex 

do not – travel more than necessary on a Friday, fast (so that your shabbat experience will be improved)

Notes on the text:

  • Maimonides refers to the Shabbat as a king, while modern ears are more accustomed to hearing about Shabbat the queen. This is due to the influence of the Kabbalah that envisioned the Shabbat as a feminine entity rather than a masculine one. 
  • Dressing up for Shabbat does not necessarily mean one needs to dress in fancy clothes, but “clean” clothes, clothes that had been laundered, fresh clothing, clothing not soiled or smelly from the work or the travel of the week. 
  • In terms of the requirement of three meals, one may well keep in mind the  idea that during the week one is likely to eat even more than three meals in  one day, but one rarely does so sitting down – one may grab a coffee on the go, eat a candy bar in the car, walk to a meeting while swallowing a hot dog, come home and throw a ready-to eat meal in the microwave, etc. On Shabbat, one’s meals should be meals – relaxed, slow, allowing one to savor the food being eaten, with the blessings before and after the meal. 
  • Another aspect of the legal requirement to have three meals on Shabbat is  linked to the distribution of public funds to the poor. For each day, the poor are given enough money from the community coffers to be able to buy two meals, while for Shabbat, they are to be given enough to buy food for three meals (Mishnah, Tractate Peah 8:7).

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

The meaning behind lighting shabbat candles: One of the most well-known Shabbat rituals is the lighting of candles for the Shabbat. What is the meaning of this ritual?

Rambam in the previous source mentions this act as part of the honor of the Shabbat, as well as being a way for delighting in the Shabbat. For Rambam, though, and for most halakhic scholars in the talmudic and medieval age, and for some even down to modern times, lighting the Shabbat lights was no ritual, but was and is a pragmatic part of the Shabbat experience. If lighting fire on Shabbat is a prohibited act (Shemot 35:3), to prevent one from having the Shabbat meal in the dark, it was and is necessary to light the lamps prior to the onset of the Shabbat. 

In more recent years, likely due to kabbalistic influence, lighting the Shabbat candles became for many an act independent of the need to provide light in the house, and it was framed as a spiritual ritual meant to contribute to the holiness and aura of the Shabbat. It is in this sense that one should understand Heschel’s comments. For Heschel, lighting the Shabbat candles not for the purpose of providing light in the home (alone), but for the sake of celebrating and following in the ways of God. Heschel points to the symmetry between the beginning of creation and the beginning of Shabbat—both sharing the common element of being initiated by light. In a sense, the tradition creates bookends for the Shabbat with the motif of light mirroring God’s creation with light. The human-initiated lights of Shabbat—the light of the Shabbat candles and the light of the havdalah candle— reinforce the concept of the human partnership with God.

Notes on the text:

  • Given that the lighting of fire is one of the express acts prohibited on Shabbat mentioned in the Tanakh, lighting fire is the last act many will do prior to the onset of the Shabbat by the lighting of the candles and is the first act performed right after the end of Shabbat with the lighting of the candle for havdalah.
  • In classic halakhic thinking, lights are lit for each Shabbat based on a balance of personal preference, means, and need. In midrashic thinking and in custom, the practice has developed to light at least two candles for the Shabbat.

Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat 29:1,6

Kiddush and Havdalah: Two other common Shabbat rituals are the recitation of kiddush at the beginning of Shabbat and havdalah at its conclusion. What is kiddush and why is it recited?

Kiddush: ק יִד ושּׁ (kiddush) derives from קדְ שֻּׁהָ (kedushah), a word normally translated as “holiness.” In many areas of Jewish life there is a distinction between the holy – קדָ ושֹׁ (kadosh) – and the ordinary. Generally, holiness connotes uniqueness, separation, and elevation. That which is holy is unlike other things in that category. For example, the Land of Israel is holy in the sense that it is different and special in relation to other lands. Jerusalem is the holy city even from among the cities in the holy land and the Temple Mount is the holiest part of the holy city. Similarly, the Tanakh refers to the Jewish people as a holy people and their language, Hebrew, is considered holy as well. Shabbat is holiness in time, and laws dictating behavior on Shabbat clearly set it apart from the other days of the week. But the fact is that Shabbat is already set apart and distinguished in its holiness from other days. What does a person accomplish by uttering words proclaiming its holiness through the kiddush and havdalah formulas?

In the case of Shabbat, it is true that God has already sanctified the day (Bereshit 2:3). Humankind, nevertheless, does play a role in sanctifying Shabbat, and that is indicated by the verses in the Ten Commandments. Although the JPS translations render לקְדַ שְּׁו ֹ (lekadesho) both in Shemot and in Devarim “to keep it holy” , the word can be rendered literally as “to make it holy.” That is accomplished, in part, by the recitation of the kiddush – by a person making a private and public declaration for all that Shabbat is a day set apart from all other days. 

In keeping with the idea of Shabbat being a festive day, the recitation of the kiddush is accompanied by the drinking of a glass of wine, a drink biblically associated with joy (Tehillim 104:15).

Havdalah: One may wonder, if drinking wine is added to the act of sanctification at the onset of the Shabbat to make the occasion festive, why would one drink wine at the conclusion of the Shabbat as part of the havdalah ceremony? It may be suggested that wine, along with the smelling of the spices, are meant to help a person rise out of their wistfulness that Shabbat has come to an end. Thus, Saturday night has taken on various festive aspects as well in the halakhah.



Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
  • Brainstorm with your students what the “dos” of shabbat observance are:
    • These can be divided into 2: 
      • The way we behave on shabbat (e.g. dress, food, family, prayer, etc.)
      • The rituals of shabbat. The three main rituals of shabbat are:
        • Lighting shabbat candles
        • Making kiddush
        • Making havdalah (as shabbat ends)
    • If appropriate for your students, you may wish to show them the following videos on the three main rituals of shabbat:

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

The first two biblical sources, together with Ramban’s commentary, introduce us to the positive and negative mitzvot of shabbat. You will want your students to understand the difference between a positive and negative mitzvah, with practical examples of each for shabbat. The following questions could help with this:

  • How do we “remember” shabbat each week?
  • Ramban says this refers to the positive mitzvot of shabbat. Can you give some examples of this?
  • How do we “observe” (or “keep”) shabbat each week?
  • Ramban says this refers to the negative mitzvot of shabbat. Can you give some examples of this?
  • Why do you think we need both positive and negative mitzvot of shabbat?

The next source we explore here is from Rambam’s code of Jewish law, presenting the way we can achieve the experience of kavod shabbat and oneg shabbat each week. These questions can help with the comprehension of this text:

  • How does Rambam say we can achieve kavod shabbat?
  • Can you think of other times in your life (not for religious reasons) you do this and what impact it has on you?
  • How does Rambam say we can achieve oneg shabbat?
  • How are these things (kavod and oneg) different from each other?
  • How does the list for oneg shabbat differ from your regular weekday lifestyle?

The next two texts deal with the three main shabbat rituals, which are lighting shabbat candles as shabbat commences, saying kiddush over wine (we do this both on friday night and shabbat morning), and havdalah as shabbat ends. The following questions explore these rituals:

  • How are these acts different from the things Rambam writes about to achieve oneg shabbat and kavod shabbat?
  • Why do you think we have religious rituals?
  • What do these particular religious rituals achieve
  • How do they connect to the philosophical ideas behind shabbat?
  • What feeling is evoked when performing these rituals?
  • If your students are not familiar with the three rituals discussed in this block, you may wish to spend some time teaching them how these are done and discussing the meaning behind them (using the videos in the hook, or you could ask for a guest speaker from the school or wider community to demonstrate how these are done). If you have some students who are more familiar and experienced with these rituals, you could use them for the demonstrations, and ask them to share how these are performed in their homes, and what meaning they have for them.
  • To really experience the concepts of oneg shabbat and kavod shabbat, the actual experience of a shabbat is recommended. This could be during a shabbaton for the class (in school or in an off-school site) or with home hospitality in the community. Time during the shabbat to reflect and process the experience would be critical to ensuring the meaningfulness of the experience.