Should Noahides Celebrate the Sabbath?
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. - Exodus 20:8
Call the Sabbath a delight. - Isaiah 58:13
Every Torah holiday is connected to the greatest and most frequent holiday, the Sabbath (Shabbos or Shabbot, in Hebrew). All these holidays, the Torah's "holy convocations," are interconnected.
For the true monotheist, the faithful follower of the One God of Israel, the Seventh Day marks the goal and finish of each week. The Sabbath stands for the proposition that:
1) God and God alone created the universe out of nothing, in six uninterrupted stages - in Hebrew, yomim: days or stages;
2) After creating people, God stopped, or took a break. That is, He didn't go on making better and better beings. Rather, He finished at humanity. So He nominated us, ordinary men and women, for greatness, to be His vice-regents on Earth. He arranged Creation so that we are responsible only to Him. He put us at the top of the world's food chain. The Sabbath, or Shabbot (Shabbat, or Shabbos), stands for the proposition that we have the right, despite our many flaws, to enjoy our exalted place in life and the universe, all of which is God's Creation.
Israel's prophet Isaiah speaks praisefully of "everyone [including non-Jews] who keeps Shabbot from profaning it." (Isaiah 56:6). "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." (56:2)
Every Noahide who renounces idolatry needs to observe Shabbot, says Rashi, the great Torah commentator - because failing to properly honor the Sabbath is itself a species of idolatry (Rashi on Yevamot 48b).
Everyone will eventually keep the Sabbath - the Seventh Day - on the Seventh Day. "Because it confirms the true theory, that of the Creation, which at once and clearly leads to the theory of the existence of God." (Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim - "Guide for the Perplexed" - part 2, chapter 31: "The Institution of the Sabbath Serves (1) to Teach the Theory of Creation, and (2) to Promote Man's Welfare")
This is not to say, however, that everyone should keep the Sabbath as the Jews do - as Divinely commanded days of feasting, joyful worship, and TOTAL rest from work.
Israel has a special national relationship to the Sabbath. Beyond the Sabbath's elemental connection to all Creation (See Exodus 20:11), it serves as a special "sign" or symbol between the people of Israel and God (Exodus 31:17). The Jews were slaves in Egypt and HaShem Who gave mankind the Sabbath freed them. From then on, finally, they could enjoy and keep the Sabbath; from then on the Sabbath has stood for freedom - liberation (See Deuteronomy 5:15). So, while B'nai Noah are tied to the Sabbath in one way, Israel's relationship to it also includes this second, liberationist, connection.
Israel lights two candles at the advent of the Sabbath, which symbolize the Jewish people's two connections to it: 1) the universal connection, which puts man at the top of the food chain and reminds us that God is the master and the Creator of everything; 2) the national or liberationist connection, so that Israel "might remember how kind God has been in freeing us from the burden of the Egyptians." (Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim, ibid.)
Noahides should not light two candles at the advent of the Sabbath. They are not the "us" in the sentence above; they don't have the same connection as a nation to Egyptian slavery, etc., as Israel. Even though the story of the Exodus exists to teach all mankind true concepts of God - that He is holy; that He is kindly; that He acts in history to set men free; that He clearly distinguishes between one person and another (as He distinguished between individual Hebrews and individual Egyptians); that He hates idolatry; that this world and not just Heaven is important to Him; that He desires to be recognized and honored by all men; that He hates the oppression of one by another; etc. - Noahides and Israel do not share the same history. The Jews have their own special, national relationship to the Exodus, and to Shabbot, and it would be presumptuous and wrong of Noahides to intrude on that aspect of the Sabbath.
Israel is commanded to keep the Sabbath; Noahides are not. The Torah makes Sabbath observance obligatory for Jews - one who fails to do so deserves punishment, and Israel's Torah courts (which don't exist at present) are obligated to enforce that law. Noahide courts have no such obligation. A Noahide who fails to keep Shabbot isn't violating the Noahide Law. While the reverse of idolatry is worship of the One God, including commemorating and celebrating the Sabbath, that is a moral, not a legal obligation. However, a moral obligation is still an obligation.
All of God's laws, and His entire sacred system, exist for our own good. By keeping the Sabbath one imitates God. One commemorates, by personally adopting, His Own cyclic rhythm of Divine creativity. To fail to honor the Sabbath is to fail - God forbid - to honor Him as the Creator. To honor a different day as one's Sabbath is to show respect to a different "god" than the Creator. As for the period of the Sabbath itself, which particularly celebrates God's creation of rest, fulfillment, peace and rejoicing, it is especially auspicious for spiritual fellowship and communal worship.
Torah holidays, including the Sabbath, can be shared by everyone, Jew and Noahide alike, but only upon the Torah's terms. B'nai Noah are well advised to honor the Sabbath, and their Maker, by refraining from some but not all workaday activities. B'nai Noah should refrain from trying to appropriate them completely as their own - without respect for the senior, "first-born" role and status of the people Israel.
Finally, it should go without saying that B'nai Noah have every right to honor or prayerfully commemorate whatever days or events that seem honorable to them, like national memorials or personal anniversaries. The one thing is, they shouldn't observe Torah-denying rites or holidays.
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