Rashbam: Remember Shabbat (Yitro)

In Parshat Yitro we read the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment initiates Shabbat observance.

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Adonai your God; in it you shall not do any manner of work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male or female servants, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates. For in six days, God made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is within them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Rashbam suggests that zachor, remember, “always refers to something from the past.” In other words, the command to remember Shabbat is about keeping in mind the very first Shabbat on which God rested.

Rashi on the other hand suggests “remember” means to “bear in mind (תְּנוּ לֵב, tnu lev) the upcoming Shabbat, so that one can find opportunities to celebrate it with greater intention.

In my experience, Shabbat fades quickly and arrives suddenly. So much demands attention that I don’t do a lot of remembering either way. But I like the combined comments of Rashbam and his grandfather Rashi here as a reflection on spiritual practice. I’ll refer specifically to Shabbat, but it could apply to any periodic practice.

When we are in Shabbat, we aspire to full presence, a mindful inhabiting of the present moment. This is the meaning of “do no work.” We have a chance to rest, to regain energy, clarity, joy, purpose, connection. As my brother Ben recently told me, a key element of leaving a ritual space involves integrating the experience into daily life. Following the Rashbam’s orientation, then, as we move from Shabbat into the regular week, we can seek ways to remember the lessons the day offered us. At the conclusion of the Havdalah ceremony which transitions us from Shabbat to weekday, my fiance Laura and I often bless each other for the week ahead. We name out loud some of the ways we hope Shabbat will flow into our coming days, like the kiddush wine flowed into us, internalized and potent.

Rashi teaches us to anticipate the Shabbat ahead. As the week progresses, Shabbat occupies at least some corner of our attention. We can prepare materially – nice clothes, some flowers, good food, whatever it may be. And we can prepare spiritually – yearning, delighting, honoring, inviting ourselves and others into a different space. The quality of presence grows in part from seeds of preparation planted in the fertile soil of anticipation.

How do you prepare for Shabbat? How does Shabbat linger in your lives once it is over? What other rituals or important moments call for more anticipation and preparation in advance, and lingering blessing and integration afterwards?

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.