The History of Shabbat Shalom
"Shabbat Shalom" is a greeting among those of the Jewish faith that wishes a person peace on the sabbath. The exact interpretation of passages from scripture relating to this day has changed over the years and varies by sect, but its significance remains the same. We'll go over the history of this important day and what it means to those who celebrate it. If you're new to Biblical study but want to learn more, check out our list of the best study Bibles.
What Does "Shabbat Shalom" mean?
Shabbat is the Jewish sabbath day, and "Shalom" means "peaceful." This basic phrase, "Peace to you on the sabbath," is spoken by many observers of the Jewish faith. The sabbath is traditionally a day of rest and reflection for people of many faiths. How an individual observes the sabbath relies on tradition, culture, and the specific type of Judaism that they study.
Why This Phrase Is Said On Shabbat
Shabbat Shalom, meaning "Sabbath of Peace", is a greeting that acknowledges and honors a day of rest for those following the Jewish faith. It is said on a Friday evening, in preparation to honor Saturday as the holy day. The concept of taking a Sabbath day is an ancient one, and is especially interesting to note in our busy modern world.
Observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, and there are many biblical passages establishing it as the most holy day. Some scholars attribute its use to even earlier, in ancient Babylon. This day is one of the most important in Judaism, and the greeting "Shabbat Shalom" is widely used across the Jewish world.
In ancient Israel, the Shabbat was regularly observed and treated as a celebration. It was seen as a reflection of God's formation of the world. In this tradition, God rested on the seventh day after six days of creation. This meant it was to be a day of repose, and this included abstaining from work. Other customs included giving servants and animals a day off.
While the Shabbat day itself is remarkably old in origin, an important revival of its customs occurred in a mystical city known as Safed. One of the four holiest cities in Judaism, Safed is located in the mountains of modern day Israel. It was, and still is, known as a spiritual center of the Jewish mystics known as Kabbalists.
One of these mystics was named Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as The Ari. This visionary lived in Safed during the mid-16th century, spreading his interpretation of Kabbalah, a branch of esoteric Judaism. His teachings helped to renew an interest in Shabbat customs and emphasized principals of divine unity.
In texts from Safedic Kabbalism, the Shabbat day is depicted as the feminine aspect of divinity, also known as Shekinah. This female queen is the counterpart of the male king, and is often alluded to as a bride. According to Safedic scholars, creator energy is said to be both masculine and feminine. The Shabbat is a day to unite these two opposites, and should be treated as a joyous occasion.
This revival dramatically shaped how people honored the Sabbath. Traditional customs were reinterpreted as a theatrical portrayal of the unification of divine masculine and feminine. Their rituals included going out to the fields dressed in white to greet Shekinah, and singing hymns like Eshet Hayyil, "Woman of Valor". As the Sabbath unfolded, each meal was given importance representing further unity in the divine marriage. Old traditions such as blessing the wine and lighting two candles took on a new meaning.
The next chapter in the Sabbath's history is that of Hasidism. According to scholars, this new tradition reshaped Shabbat to be more available to everyday Jewish people. It brought mystical concepts that were difficult to grasp down to earth. One result was a change in how Shekinah was represented. The powerful queen transformed into an innocent bride.
Among the important concepts from this reading of scripture is the cessation of inner conflict. During the week, people are said to be divided between their spiritual aspirations and their earthly ones. This battle between spirit and body ceases on the Sabbath.
Another theme of divine peace dates back to the origins of the Shabbat itself. Since the seventh day is a day in which God rested from creating the world, it is also a day of enjoying pure being. What this means for ordinary people is that while action and creation can be emphasized during most days of the week, the Shabbat is a day to enjoy one's creations.
This may mean spending time with family at the dinner table or spending time in prayer. While considered a day devoted to holiness, it can also be described as a day where the material world and spiritual world unite. So, simply breaking bread with your partner or family can be an act of holiness, according to modern scholars.
Today, you will find many Jewish people wishing each other a good sabbath at the end of the week. While there are variations on the greeting "Shabbat Shalom" based on descent and tradition, the sentiment is the same. It is incredible how such an ancient custom still lives on in our new millennium.