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 the original Yiddish 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 [who rests], even on a weekday, [i.e.] observing that day as a Sabbath, is liable …”
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings,
 10:9)

Synopsis of Section 1

The Rebbe cites the verse “and day and night, shall not cease (lo yishboso)” (Genesis 8.22), and the statement in the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 58b) based on the Hebrew text of that verse: “A Gentile she’shavas [who observes a day as a Sabbath day of rest] is liable to death [by the Hand of Heaven], as it says, ‘and day and night, shall not cease,’ and as it says (Sanhedrin 57a), ‘A warning stated concerning them [the Gentiles] can be understood as equivalent to a statement of their liability to death.’ ” The sage Ravina states in the Talmud there (58b) that the prohibition apples “even on Monday”, i.e. on any day of the week that a Gentile might choose to observe as his Sabbath day.

As an example of a violation of this prohibition, Rashi there (58b) mentions the “Notzrim” (see Chisronos HaShas) [1] who established Sunday as their religious Sabbath day. In footnote 4, the Rebbe mentions that the Kesef Mishneh (in its explanation of the ruling of Rambam in Laws of Kings 10:9 that this applies for all Gentiles), cites the example from Rashi about the Notzrim, and that it also applies to the Ishmaelites (who by contrast are not idolaters) who established Friday as their religious Sabbath day.

Why Rambam and Rashi explain the Talmud on two different levels:

The Rebbe reviews the Torah-law ruling of Rambam in Laws of Kings, and the commentary by Rashi (Sanhedrin 58b), as to what type of “rest”, as defined in Torah, is forbidden for all Gentiles:

Rambam in Laws of Kings 10:9 explains the general principle governing this matter: “They [the Gentiles] are not allowed to ‘originate a new religion’ (chaddeish das) nor ‘to make commandments’ (la’asot mitzvot) for themselves based on their own decisions.” In footnote 6, the Rebbe explains that the simple meaning of Rambam’s Torah-law ruling is that he holds that it is prohibited for any Gentile (i.e. Non-Jew) to observe a Sabbath day of ritual rest because that is an example of originating a new religion [but taking a day of secular vacation from work is permitted].

In contrast, Rashi [who was a commentator on the Talmud, not a posek Rabbinical authority who states the final Torah law] explains the Talmud’s statement simply as a prohibition against any Gentile designating a day to ritually rest from work.

[Note: Throughout this section and this entire talk, the Rebbe cites the Torah law that this statement in the Talmud and this ruling of Rambam in Laws of Kings 10:9 are meant to apply to all Bnei Noah, i.e. all Gentiles.]

Synopsis of Section 2

In this section the Rebbe continues to review the explanation in the Midrash that (a) Sabbath observance was given only to the Jews, and not until after they left Egypt in the exodus, and it was  not given to Gentiles (see Exodus 16:29), and (b) that if a Gentile observes a Sabbath day of 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 of a chaddeish das (a new religion) of a Sabbath day for a Gentile extends farther than only not to ritually refrain from doing the specific 39 categories of melacha. (Those are the 39 actions that are scripturally forbidden for Jews during their Sabbath, for which a Jew can become liable to execution by an empowered Jewish Sanhedrin Court when we have the Holy Temple). [Note: This is obvious, because the Notzrim and the Ishmaelites allow many of the categories of melacha to be done on their Sabbath days, but their religious Sabbaths are included in Rambam’s ruling about what is forbidden.]

Why some people naively question this difference in Torah Law for Jews and Gentiles:

In footnote 19, the Rebbe examines the question of why the Jews are required to observe the Seventh-day Sabbath, but Gentiles are strongly forbidden to observe any Sabbath. As an example of the strength of this prohibition, he cites Sefer HaChinuch, which says that Jews benefit from observing their Sabbath because it strengthens their faith that G-d created the world.

Logically, we might think that this would apply to Gentiles as well. After all, many of them also have faith in the fact that G-d created the world, and it’s worthy to strengthen that faith. In fact, that faith of the Gentiles is a basis of Rashi’s explanation of Genesis 1:1 as to why the Torah begins with G-d’s creation of the universe, our world and mankind in six days.

It is also explained in Chassidic teachings that Pious Gentiles (Chassidei Umot Ha’Olam) can achieve a faith in the fact that G-d is constantly creating everything in the universe from nothing (ex nihilo / yesh me’ayin). Nevertheless, we see that the strength of their prohibition against observing a Sabbath day overrides the benefit it could give to them in this regard.

Overview of the remaining sections, which are translated below:

  • In Sections 3-9, the Rebbe explains the difference in the nature of the world and the nature of mankind before and after the Flood. To read these sections, click here.
  • In Sections 10-12, the Rebbe explains why Sabbath observance, which was only commanded to the Jews – after their exodus from Egypt –  applies only to them.
  • In Sections 13-14, the Rebbe explains why Sabbath observance is inapplicable to any Gentile, and why doing so exposes a Gentile to liability to punishment by G-d.

Section 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 [to the Jewish people, which was] the bond between the higher and lower levels.

This is the explanation why Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age (Abraham at 100, Sara at 90) [miraculously for both], because this showed the connection of the two eras. “In the days of Abraham, the years [i.e., life expectencies] were shortened,” more so than for the ten generations from Noah to Abraham, [2] because the G-dly power that was brought down then was not from the [transcendent 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 Heavenly worlds, including the highest spiritual world of Atzilut].

Rather, [it was brought down] from a level that is on the same category as the [created] world. Nevertheless, they gave birth to Isaac in their old age, as was common before the Flood when there was a G-dly power coming down from the [transcendent spiritual] level of Erech Apayim. This bond of the eras of the “highest” and “lowest” levels was revealed at Isaac’s birth – the first one born a [pre-Sinai] Jew, whose descendants would accept the Torah that would bring this bond [between the Upper and Lower Realms] into actuality.

Section 11

In order that the Jews would connect the “lower” world [the created realms] 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 the Sabbath 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 Sabbath [automatically] brings into the world this aspect of [G-d’s] “rest” [so to speak].

Section 12

However, this aspect of [G-d’s] “rest” is higher than all six week 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 the Sabbath 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 the Sabbath 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 created spiritual and physical realms) with the “Higher” Level above it [Keter], the light of the Sabbath penetrates their existence in a revealed way. It is known that the extra soul [that Jews receive] on the Sabbath 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 the Sabbath,” 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 (which is the opposite of rest) [as Kabbalah and quantum mechanics explain], there can be no open revelation of the aspect of [G-d’s] rest in it [the world], for [the Sabbath] is connected to the level above time [and thus above the existence of the world].

Section 13

This is also the reason why [ritual] resting on the Sabbath 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 the Sabbath 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 an aspect of the Sabbath 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.

Section 14

This is also the reason why the prohibition – that a Ben Noach [any Gentile] must not make a day into a Sabbath – comes from the words “…shall not cease” [Genesis 8:22]. This talks, on the simple level, about the cessation of the seasons and day and night (not explicitly about the Sabbath). This is because this [fact] that a Ben Noach has no connection to the Sabbath comes as a result of the unceasing six seasons [of two months each, which are listed 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 the Sabbath. That is because this is in contradiction to the existence of the world [in its own right], which derives, so to speak, from G-d’s unceasing Existence.

Footnotes:

[1] The Rebbe notes Chisronos Ha’Shas [the Sages’ record of the Catholic Church’s censorship of the printed Talmud], which records the Talmud’s ruling 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 faithfully observe the Torah laws of the Noahide Code (including this one) and will thereby receive a share in the future World to Come.

[1] See Genesis 11:10-32.

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