Tze U'lmad Va-yeishev

Weekly Talmud Learning with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz

If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own business, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth . . . (Isa. 58:13-14)

"If you honor it, not going your own ways . . . ": [this means that] your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments, indeed, R. Yohanan called his garments 'My honorers.' 'Not going your own ways . . . ': that your walking on the Sabbath should not be like your walking on weekdays. 'Or seeking your own business': your business is forbidden, the business of Heaven is permitted. 'Talking idly . . . ' that your speech on the Sabbath should not be like your speech on weekdays. (Babylonian Talmud 113a-b)

A third type of Rabbinic prohibition on Shabbat is designed to prevent behaviors that interfere with the spirit of the day. The Torah, the Prophets, the Elders of the Writings, and our Talmudic Sages all had an aesthetic religious vision of what Shabbat should properly be. They all felt that the day should have an utterly different character than the other days of the week. The most eloquent description of this idea is contained in the book of Isaiah, in the passage quoted above. The prophet presents a powerful conception of the religious experience of Shabbat. It is to be a day when mundane human concerns of business, transport, and even the idle gossip of daily life are put to the side.

But how to implement policies that achieve this goal? Our sages use the phrases of the passage in Isaiah to make an active and comprehensive policy toward creating the character of the Shabbat we know today. One must wear beautiful clothes, one must walk at a more relaxed pace, one must not pursue business concerns, and one must direct his or her speech toward higher, soul-fulfilling things. In the days to come, may we all be able to adopt this powerful vision of a day for the care of our divine selves and our God-given souls.

Questions

  1. How should our speech and our walking be different on Shabbat today? Can you think of some specific examples?
  2. What do you think the "business of heaven" is?