Observing Shabbat on Campus

Shabbat… a gift to yourself

The experience of Shabbat is an experience of and for a lifetime. You don’t need to change your lifestyle to make it work. You can build slowly, taking on a little at a time, so that the commitment will be a natural and lasting one.

It is a gift you will give yourself and one which you will want to share.

What is Shabbat…and why is it observed?

The mitzvah (commandment) of Shabbat is unique among the Ten Commandments, encompassing ritual, outlook and transcendent experience.

Two reasons are given for the observance of Shabbat: that on this day God rested from the work of Creation (Exodus 20:11) and the remembrance of the redemption from slavery and the exodus from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15).

What do these tell us about the observance of Shabbat? That we are to be God-like in our behavior, stepping back from our labors to appreciate the world around us. That the observance of Shabbat recalls the freedom from slavery, our interconnectedness with the Divine, and the luxury of living a Jewish life.

What does it mean to observe Shabbat?
How can you bring these experiences to fruition?

Make it different

The Torah tells us that the seventh day is set aside, special, because on it God rested from the labors of Creation (see Genesis 2:2). Created in God’s image, we are enjoined to set aside Shabbat as different as well. How? By spending time with community and friends, by shifting our focus from the mundane to the sublime, by remembering on this day that we are part of creation rather than creators ourselves.

Try to set aside Shabbat as a day without the cares of everyday. Try to make Shabbat special by using it for spiritual and non-academic pursuits, by carving out this time in the week to be peaceful and restorative.

Thinking Shabbat

From the moment on Friday night when we light the candles which signify that Shabbat has begun, Shabbat is a day for community. We welcome the arrival of Shabbat in community through prayer, we recite the Kiddush together, we share a festive meal, we sing songs of celebration.

On Shabbat day this theme continues with tefilah (prayer) and Torah (reading and studying) and more song. Shabbat is a wonderful time to read, take walks and visit with friends (and nap, though this is not a community activity!). It can be challenging to set aside this time during your busy college career, but it is well worth it.

Doing Shabbat

Part of how we make Shabbat special comes from the things we don’t do — like leaving the computer off, keeping our wallets stowed away and eating foods we have prepared in advance.

The types of work from which we refrain are derived from the 39 types of work which were halted on Shabbat during the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary in the desert. This frees us up to appreciate the wonders of creation and links us with the experiences of our ancestors. It is the combination of the things we do with the things we don’t do which sets aside Shabbat and gives it holiness.

How do I do this on campus?

Some campuses come with ready-made Shabbat experiences, like Hillel-sponsored Shabbat dinners, one or more minyanim and communities with which to share them. There your only stumbling block is finding your niche. It isn’t always easy, but there is a community there just waiting for you.

Other campuses pose a greater challenge to Shabbat observance. Here you will have to do the work of building community too. Find a few like-minded friends, share a Shabbat meal in someone’s home, spend time together studying a favorite text, in Hebrew or in English.

Draw on the resources of the Jewish Student Organization or Hillel and contact KOACH to become connected with campuses throughout North America and Israel. We’re here to help you.