Why Gentiles Must Not Keep Ritual Sabbath Rest

Free Translation by the Ask Noah Staff of the explanation

by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

published in Likkutei Sichos vol. 15, p. 49-57.

[clarifications in square brackets added by the Director of Ask Noah]


“Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter,
and day and night, shall not cease (
lo yishboso).” (Genesis 8:22)

“A Gentile she’shavas, even on a weekday – observing that day as a Shabbat, is liable …”
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings,
1 10:9)

Synopsis of Section 1: From the verse “… day and night shall not cease” [Genesis 8.22], the Talmud explains [and as Rashi clarifies in Tractate Sanhedrin 58b], “A Gentile she’shavas [who observes a day as a Shabbat day of ritual rest] is liable to death [by the hand of G-d], as it says, ‘… day and night shall not cease,’ and as it says, ‘what is forbidden to them are those things by which they become liable to death.’ “[1] … [The Rebbe continues to review the opinions of Rambam and Rashi as to what extent “rest” is forbidden, with Rashi taking the broader stance.]

Synopsis of Section 2: [In this section the Rebbe continues to review the explanation in the Midrash that (a) Shabbat observance was given only to the Jews, and not until after they left Egypt, and not to Gentiles (Exodus 16:29), and (b) that if a Gentile observes a Shabbat day of ritual rest, G-d does not bestow on him Divine reward, but rather liability to death by the Hand of Heaven. The Rebbe also explains why the prohibition for Gentiles extends farther than only not to ritually refrain from the specific 39 melachos (forbidden actions) for which a Jew becomes liable to execution by an empowered Jewish Sanhedrin Court for doing them on the Shabbat.]

3) We can understand this by prefacing that in the difference before and after the Flood, there are two perspectives:

From one side, we see that the world gained the strength and promise that “it will not cease,” [Genesis 8:22] and this is an added power that did not exist in the world before the Flood. For even though, at its creation, “G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good” [Genesis 1:31], it was still possible that through sin, there would be a cessation in the worldly order (“G-d reconsidered having made Man on earth … I will destroy mankind” [Genesis 6:6-7].)
But after the Flood, G-d swore and made a covenant that in whatever way mankind would act, there would be no cessation of the worldly order. On the second side, we see that the world incurred a weakness after the Flood, for example as Ramban [Nachmanides] says, that the life expectancy started decreasing.

4) The explanation is this:

The world was created according to Torah (so much so that G-d said the world exists only on condition that the Torah is observed), and the point of the giving of the Torah was to fuse the higher [spiritual levels] and the lower levels. Therefore, the creation had to have levels that were higher and lower spiritually in order that His giving of the Torah [at Mt. Sinai] – and the previous “2000-year Era of Torah” [that started in the days of Avraham] which began the preparation for the giving of the Torah – would accomplish the connection between the lower and higher levels. The lower levels would ascend spiritually, and the higher levels would descend to the lower. In these two levels of Creation, there was a change from before the Flood to after the Flood. Before the Flood, the physical world was in general existing in a state of being a result of the “Upper Spiritual Level.” After the Flood, it existed in a state of being a “Lower Level,” as will be explained.

5) On the verse, “I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth,” [Genesis 9:13], the commentators ask the following question. A rainbow is a natural phenomenon, in which the sunlight reflects from the water droplets in the clouds, so what is this sign of a covenant? [See part 7 below for more details.] They answer that this nature itself (in which the sunlight reflects from the clouds) was created only after the Flood.

Before the Flood, the air was more coarse. Therefore the clouds also (which were created from the “mist which came up from the earth” [Genesis 2:6]) were more coarse and therefore could not reflect sunlight, and could not create a rainbow. But after the Flood, the world was refined, so the clouds were also more refined and less coarse, until they could reflect the sunlight.

(This is also true in a spiritual sense: before the Flood, the world was so spiritually low that it could not be refined, so the Flood came to purify the land to enable the service of separating good from evil in the world.) This is why the rainbow is the sign of the “covenant between Me and the earth,” because it signified the purification of the earth.

6) We must understand the following:

The purpose of the Flood to “purify the earth” came because in that generation “the earth had become corrupt” [Genesis 6:11]. Since “G-d gave the world to people’s hearts,” mankind’s sins caused the world to become more gross, and this was the impurity and grossness that the Flood removed. But as we said before, the rainbow only came into existence after the Flood, when the world was more refined. So we can see that through the Flood, not only was the world cleansed of that generation’s sins, but it became more pure then ever before, even [more than it was] at the beginning of creation.

7) The explanation of this is:

In the beginning of creation, the completion of the world was not connected with the nature of its existence, but rather with the manner and power of its creation: “the world was created in its full sense,” i.e. the nature of the world’s creation was in state of completeness. But for the world itself to come to a more refined state, the Flood had to come before that. [The Flood was the means by] which G-d introduced to the world its new capability to become refined by itself. This is the reason why the existence of a rainbow was created specifically at that time: even though the rainbow is created from both the sunlight and the clouds, it is mainly connected with the splitting of the white color of the clouds into different colors. The clouds are created by the mist that rises from the earth, and these mists are refined so that when they form clouds, they can reflect the sunlight.

Since this characteristic that the world took on, in which it could be refined, was developed after the Flood, therefore it was only then that there was an aspect of “I put My rainbow in the cloud,” in which G-d brought the cloud (created by the mists of the earth) to a state in which it could be refined and reflect the sunlight.

8) According to the above we can understand better why G-d’s will to originally create the world (“G-d saw … and behold it was very good”) did not prevent the decree of “I will destroy…” when “the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth” [Genesis 6.5]. And yet after the Flood, G-d made a covenant that even if [people’s conduct in] the world would be so bad as to cause Him to have the thought to “bring darkness and destruction to the world,” nevertheless [He would abide by His promise], “I will not destroy all flesh.” As we said before, the concept that “the world was [originally] created in its completion” was because of the way of its creation – not because of itself [inherently]. Therefore, when people did sins that distanced them from G-d and His Will, it caused such a [spiritual] descent, from which the world could not be refined.

[Improvement of the generation could not occur,] since through the sin of the generation of the Flood, the world was so corrupted to the point  that “the earth was filled with violence,” and from the side of the world, there was no chance for a refinement and elevation. (This is also the inner reason why Noah’s rebuke and warning that “G-d will bring the Flood upon you” did not bring the generation of the Flood to repent.)

Therefore, [at that point] there was no reason for the world’s existence, and “G-d repented that He made mankind, and He said “I will wipe them out…” (for through the lowering [corruption] of the world and its distancing from G-d, G-d’s will to create it departed).

Not so after the Flood, since there was an accomplishment of purification and refinement in the world itself, [to the extent] that even while on a lowly spiritual level, it had the possibly to rise through repentance. Therefore, there could then be the covenant of “Never again shall all flesh be cut off … and never again shall there be a Flood [to destroy the earth]” [Genesis 9:11], no matter what [low spiritual] level the world would be on.

9) According to the above we can also understand that these two different “sides” which began in the world after the Flood – on one side, the power that the world would not cease, and on the other side, the life expectancy started to get shorter – are not contradictory, but come from one essential point that began after the Flood: the existence of the world by virtue of itself. Before the Flood, its existence was because G-d willed it so (with His [gratuitous] kindness). After its purification through the Flood, G-d keeps it in existence because if its purity and refinement. This point is the reason of the two sides:

– On one side, since the world on its own was fitting that G-d Who never changes should keep it in existence, therefore its existence is [from then on] in a way that it “will not cease.”

– From the other side, since G-d is now creating the world by its own virtue, its creation is limited (thereby shortening the life expectancy). This is not like [the situation] before the Flood, when G-d created it in His [gratuitous] kindness (through the [transcendent spiritual Keter realm, from the] level of Arich Anpin, or Arich Anpin-zoken), which caused a long life expectancy.

10) The two eras of the people – the pre-Flood era when the world was created from the “Higher Level,” and the post-Flood era when it was on its “Lower Level” – were a preface for the era of the “2000 Years of Torah” that started as a preparation for the giving of the Torah, [which is] the bond between the higher and lower levels.

This is the explanation why Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak in their old age (Avraham at 100, Sara at 90) [miraculously for both], because this showed the connection of the two eras. “In the days of Abraham, the years [life expectancy] were shortened,” more so than for the ten generations from Noah to Abraham, because the G-dly power that was brought down then was not from the [Keter] level of “Slow to Anger” [Erech Apayim (“Slow to Anger”), one of the 13 Divine Attributes of Mercy in Exodus 34:6-7] which is above the world [i.e. beyond all the created realms, including the highest spiritual world of Atzilut], but [rather it was brought down] from a level that is on the same category as the [created] world. Nevertheless, they gave birth to Yitzchak in their old age, as was common before the Flood when there was a G-dly power coming down from the [transcendent] level of Erech Apayim.

This bond of the eras of the “highest” and “lowest” levels was revealed at Yitzchak’s birth – the first one born a Jew, whose descendants would accept the Torah that would bring this bond [between the Upper and Lower Realms] into actuality.

11) In order that the Jews would connect the “lower” world [the created realm] with the “higher” level of G-dliness above it [Keter – the level of God’s own Will and Pleasure], the world was created in a way that it would contain the aspect of rest from the [requirement for the] work of creation. This is illustrated in what Rashi says about the verse “G-d completed on the seventh day” [Genesis 2:2]: “The world was missing rest, so Shabbat came, [G-d’s] rest came, and the work was finished.” The world of the six days of creation was not finished without [G-d’s] resting from the work of creation. Since every week is a repeat of the same aspects as the first week of creation, therefore every Shabbat [automatically] brings into the world this aspect of [G-d’s] “rest” [so to speak].

12) However, this aspect of [G-d’s] “rest” is higher than all six days and their creation, [which is the essence of] the “existence” of the world, and therefore the world [itself] is not a vessel for [containing] this (as it is explained in many places that Shabbat is above the [created] realm of time). Therefore, the aspect of [G-d’s] rest is brought in a revealed way only into the internal [“essence”] part of the world. But in the external aspect of the world, there cannot be any difference between Shabbat and [any other] weekday [because the external aspect of the world is not a vessel that can contain this Higher Level].

In regards to Jews, [whose task it is to] connect the “Lower” World (i.e. the spiritual and physical Creation) with the “Higher” Level above it [Keter], the light of Shabbat penetrates their existence in a revealed way. It is known that the extra soul [that Jews receive] on Shabbat causes a change in the nature of their natural soul, so that [the Talmud says] “even a [Jewish] am ha’aretz [a Jewish person who is unlearned in Torah] can’t lie on Shabbat,” and it even changes the nature of the physical body [of a Jew]. However, since in general, the [existence of the] world is connected with movement (the opposite of rest) [as explained by Kabbalah and quantum mechanics], there can be no open revelation of the aspect of [G-d’s] rest in it [the world], for [Shabbat] is connected to the level above time [and thus above the existence of the world].

13) This is also the reason why [ritual] resting on Shabbat is inapplicable to a Ben Noach [any Gentile] – so much so that for this reason, he is not even allowed to make a day of [ritual] rest on a weekday. The [G-dly] intent of creation is that the world, including the category of humans, should be in the natural order of “movement”- and therefore without [the state of ritual] rest – for this [“movement”] is connected with the creation of time and space of the world that was created in the six days of creation. [In terms of histalshelut (the downward chain of the spiritual worlds), this is because even the angels, who are part of the chain of creation, never rest.] In such a world, Jews must bring in the [G-dly] rest of Shabbat that is beyond the [created] existence of the world. Therefore, when a Ben Noach encroaches on the [natural] conduct of the world of creation [that his existence is rooted in], by trying to bring in an aspect of Shabbat into the world, [G-d makes him] liable to punishment by death – he loses his [gift of] existence, for this is the opposite of the intent that he was created for.

14) This is also the reason why the prohibition – that a Ben Noach must not make a day into Shabbat – comes from the words “…shall not cease” [Genesis 8:22], which talks, simply, about the cessation of the seasons and day and night (not explicitly about Shabbat), for this [fact] that a Ben Noach has no connection to Shabbat comes as a result of the unceasing six seasons [of two months each, which are enumerated in this verse]. Since after the Flood, G-d set in the world the power that its nature should exist in an unceasing way, the Bnai Noach cannot bring into it the unlimited aspect of Shabbat, because this is in contradiction to the existence of the world, which derives, so to speak, from [the level of] G-d’s unceasing existence.


[1] The Rebbe notes Chitzronos Ha’Shas [the Sages’ record of the Church’s censorship of the Talmud], which clarifies that this applies even to Gentiles who do not worship idols – i.e., it applies to all Bnai Noach, including Chassidei Umos Ha’Olom – the Pious Gentiles who will receive a share in the World to Come.