Article - Sabbath
"Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8), the fourth of the Ten Commandments, is one of the basic tenets of the Jewish faith. The conception of the seventh day as a day of rest appears very early in the Bible, for immediately after the description of the Creation, Genesis 11:1-3 relates that "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
Perhaps the most remarkable contribution to the health and well-being of Mankind, this precept conforms with modern scientific teaching in the field of physical and mental welfare. Observing this commandment ensures for every Jew, together with his household, rest and recuperation of his physical energies, while on the spiritual level the 24 hours free of day-to-day worries and irritations afford time for learning and discussion, and for quiet meditation.
The Sabbath, however, does not only mean the cessation of active work and the opportunity for prayer and study, but it is traditionally a joyful day of festive meals and family reunions. Among the customs followed are the lighting of at least two candles on Friday at sunset, candles which are blessed by the housewife, her preparations completed, and she herself attired to welcome the Sabbath peace.
Meanwhile, the table is laid with the finest utensils the family owns. An ornamented goblet, usually of silver, filled with sweet wine, is placed near two hallot, whole loaves of specially fine bread covered by an embroidered cloth. Symbolically, the two loaves recall the double portion of manna gathered by the children of Israel in the wilderness, when "on the sixth day they gathered twice as much . . . for Moses said, 'Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord'" (Exodus 16:22-23).
When the head of the household returns from synagogue services, he joins his children and guests in chanting time-honored hymns, including a biblical song of praise for the woman, from Proverbs 31:10-31. Then a benediction is recited over the wine while the bread is kept covered. This is in line with Jewish law regarding the order of blessings but folklore tells that this is done so as not to cause offense that the wine is first sanctified!
No lights are kindled; food is kept warm on a hotplate, and delicacies reflecting the background and habits of Jews from all over the world are served. Three meals are customarily eaten on the Sabbath, the third at twilight, after which the domestic ceremony of Havdalah - differentiation between the holiness of Sabbath and the week's routine - is performed. Fragrant spices are inhaled, and a multiple taper is ignited, then extinguished in wine, signifying the close of the day of rest and the beginning of the daily tasks.
Sabbath's framework may show variations in different lands and with different shades of orthodoxy, but its basic importance lies in the common bond it forges between Jews everywhere. Reaching out to the utmost ends of the earth, the principle of a regular day of rest strengthens the identification of all Jews with their forefathers, to whom the Lord said, "The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant" (Exodus 31:16).
Representing the Sabbath on the stamp is an embroidered cloth used to cover the hallot at the Sabbath meals.