Shabbat: To “Remember” and to “Guard”

By Max Hollander

Many don’t realize an easily overlooked fact that the Torah contains two versions of the 10 commandments. The first version is presented when they are introduced in the book of Exodus. The other is presented by Moses when reviewing everything the Jews experienced in the desert at the end of their journey in the wilderness, in Deuteronomy.

By and large, the two versions are essentially the same, and there are no differences between the laws. However, there are a couple of small differences in the presentation of some laws that have tremendous significance, particularly when it comes to understanding a crucial aspect of Shabbat — and rest in general.

This difference appears in the introductory lines of the laws of Shabbat in each presentation:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any manner of work…

Guard/Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of your God; you shall not do any work…

Aside from the general formulation of the laws being slightly different, the difference traditional commentaries have highlighted for centuries is between the words Remember and Guard/Observe. On the surface, it may seem like a trivial distinction. But these two descriptions of Shabbat describe different aspects of Shabbat to which we should be attentive. In fact, understanding and embodying them both are crucial in achieving one of the goals of Shabbat: nurturing mental wellness and experiencing true rest.

Remembering the Shabbat and our need for rest, self-care, spirituality and rejuvenation is fairly easy in some ways. These are all things that we know that we need, and we may even partake in a few self-care practices every so often. Yet remembering and haphazardly paying homage to self-care isn’t really enough. To truly experience Shabbat, self-care and rest in their most ideal and impactful form is to take a more proactive approach to our wellness: establishing routines, sticking to schedules and being mindful of how the things we do affect our mental health and Shabbat experience. In other words, in order to truly experience Shabbat and rest, one must be proactive and guard these self-care practices and wellness experiences, rather than just remember that we need to do them.

This kind of observance and proactive approach to wellness can take different forms. Some make a ritual of journaling, spending time in nature, going on daily walks or spending time with friends regularly. You just need to find the one that works for you and make it a regular part of your life — while recognizing that proper self-care and rest aren’t always easy. It may seem counterintuitive, but to really relax and improve takes work, and what you call “rest” may not actually be what you need to recover. While it may feel relaxing to lay in bed and scroll on your phone, it isn’t actually good for your mental health, according to a study done by Facebook. That may be one example, but it is illustrative of the kinds of things people tend to call rest that actually aren’t. Rest is supposed to rejuvenate you, but it takes work to discover what truly helps you do that and to stick to it.

Shabbat, the day dedicated to rest and rejuvenation, is the day of the week the Torah asks us to dedicate — ironically — to the work we need to do to be our best selves. As Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in The Sabbath, “six days a week we conqueror the world, but on the seventh day we conqueror the self.”

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