Sabbath and holiness
by Michael Dallen
Every person is bound by Divine law. Israel has its obligations and B'nai Noach - Noahides, the vast majority of the human race - have theirs, but ultimately man's obligations are the same. God calls all of us, every human being, to holiness.
He wants all of us to know Him, insofar as that is possible, to love Him, and to follow in His ways.
By studying God's laws, which we must do if we have any hope of learning how to follow in His ways, we learn about God. So B'nai Noah as well as Israel must study. One soon learns that one must do more than just avoid violating God's Universal laws. These laws, the Seven Commandments, are all negative and prohibitory, like the law against larceny, for instance, or the law against committing murder, or idolatry. The acts they forbid are all felonies, crimes in God's Sight and In His Law.
Clearly, one should always want to do better than merely avoiding committing felonies. One should want to do good. In fact, the way this holy system of Law and guidance works, one should seek to do the very opposite of what the Universal Law forbids. So instead of committing larceny, for instance, one studies Israel's Law, the Torah, regarding the giving of charity, and gives charity. (Commitment to God without compassion for humanity - indeed, for all God's creatures - is impossible.) Similarly, regarding the law against murder, one learns that one must act to save the life in danger. Instead of committing idolatry, one learns how to truly, purely, worship God.
Only Jews are positively, explicitly commanded to worship Him. That is the nature of the different legal systems: the Rainbow Covenant laws are all negatives, you-shall-nots, regarding avoiding the commission of crimes and felonies, while the Torah, Israel's system, is filled with positive, affirmative statutes, ordinances and commandments.
This Torah system exists, in large part, so that B'nai Noah can learn from it. In other words, even though the First Covenant Law doesn't command non-Jews to worship God, B'nai Noah still have an absolute moral obligation to do so. In fact, if they didn't worship God they would soon find themselves doing the opposite! That is, if they didn't worship God, they would soon be committing felonies, by transgressing His laws against idolatry and sacrilege!
Again, only Jews are positively commanded to keep God's special holy days or ritual, worshipful Torah observances. That certainly doesn't mean that the rest of humanity is barred from keeping these same days and many of these observances. In fact, if people didn't observe these things, they would soon find themselves violating those same Universal laws against idolatry and sacrilege.
B'nai Noah need to act with care in all this. Certain ritual observances are reserved for Israel. The Jewish people are commanded to both remember (See Exodus 20:11) and guard or keep (Deuteronomy 5:15) the Sabbath, for instance, as a "special sign" between God and Israel. On the one hand, the Sabbath stands for God's sovereignty, His creation of the universe in six uninterrupted "days," or stage, and His nomination of mankind as His stewards over the Earth. That is its universal aspect, as set out in the Book of Exodus. On the other hand, for the Jews, the Sabbath also has a national, liberationist aspect, as set out in the Book of Deuteronomy: it stands for His liberation of Israel from Egypt.
No slave has the right to take a day off; by giving Israel the Sabbath, God saved the people Israel from slavery. So the Jews, having both these connections to the Sabbath, the universalist and the nationalist, have a special relationship to it - along with their connection to it as God's "kingdom of priests," who have a further "priestly" duty to sanctify it so that all the world can see and learn.
Again, this certainly doesn't mean that the rest of mankind should ignore the Sabbath. Quite the contrary. Rashi, the great Jewish commentator, teaches that every person who follows God - that is, every non-Jew (along with every Jew) - is absolutely required to keep the Sabbath, at least to some extent. Why? Because the Sabbath is so important in God's scheme of things that desecrating the Sabbath is itself a species of idolatry. In other words, while B'nai Noah stand in a different relation to the day than does Israel, they should still observe it at least in its universalistic aspect.
If possible, one should read the essays on Sabbath observance in The Rainbow Covenant, particularly those on pages 76-77 and 127-128. The rule is well-established that B'nai Noah must not keep the Sabbath in precisely the same manner that observant Israel keeps it. (So, for instance, when Israel lights two candles on Shabbot eve to celebrate the advent of the Sabbath, one candle standing for the universalistic aspect of the holy day and the second for its national, liberationist aspect, B'nai Noah should light no more than one candle.) To do so would be to intrude on Israel's special national relationship to the day, beyond the Sabbath's elemental connection to all existence. But this rule against mimicking Israel's practices does not mean that B'nai Noah should desecrate the Sabbath. God forbid. No one should ever desecrate the Sabbath.
God blessed the Seventh day, and He declared it to be holy. - Genesis 2:3]
After creating people, the Torah says, God stopped - He took a break. That is, He didn't choose to go on making better and better beings. Rather, He finished at humanity. So, despite our flaws, He nominated us, ordinary men and women, for greatness, to be His vice-regents on Earth, responsible only to Him.
The Sabbath stands for the proposition that human beings have the right to stand at the forefront of Creation. More than that, it means that we have God's permission to enjoy our dominion, guide by His Law.
Israel must keep and guard the Sabbath; through the Bible and observant Israel's example, God calls on all men and women everywhere to remember it and honor it.
Happy is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds fast by it: who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. - Isaiah 56:2
By keeping and remembering the Sabbath, Israel honors the principle of God's Creation of all things and celebrates mankind's exalted place in Creation. This principle will spread among mankind until all peoples everywhere celebrate the Sabbath properly. See Maimonides, Moreh Nevukhim, Book Two, chapter 31.
Beyond remembering and honoring the Sabbath, B'nai Noah need to recognize other holy days indicated in the Hebrew calendar. That calendar, said to be the most reliable and accurate calendar in history, goes back to the very beginning of mankind. It is, in many ways, holy itself. Every observant Noahide household should have one and use it - if only to know what time it really is!
To give an example of how this works, incidentally: as one writes it is the 23rd day of Adar II, 5765, not quite a week before the new month and new moon of Nissan, or Sunday, April 3, 2005.
Rosh Chodesh (chodesh, pronounced with a guttural "ch," like the German "ach!" or the Scottish "loch," or the final consonant in Noach), the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, the day of the new moon, is another occasion for Noahide observance. (See, e.g., Isaiah 66:23) The great festivals of the Torah, Sukkot (or Tabernacles), Shavuot (Pentecost), the New Year (Rosh HaShana) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), should all figure prominently in Noahide observance too. So, to some extent, should Pesach, or Passover, figure as a significant holiday. It is Israel's great freedom festival, but it also celebrates the Lord as the God of history and the God of freedom, and His spectacular humiliation of all the so-called gods of Egypt.
Daily prayers are important. So are prayers over important occasions, over good things and also over bad things, and prayers of thanks and blessing over food and drink and other things.
Vendyl Jones Research Institutes, firstname.lastname@example.org, has also been working on the issue of prayers, ritual observance, and holidays for B'nai Noah. They just produced a musical CD and a little booklet on the subject of Sabbath observance. One appreciates the spirit behind this, and the skill and effort that went into it; you should find it interesting too.
Don't neglect the book The Rainbow Covenant. It has more to say on this subject. But we should also, God willing, be coming out with more articles about it here on this website. Stay tuned!
Copyright 2005 © Michael Ellias Dallen
Also read: Shabbat for the Universe by Miriam Ben-Yaacov