Latter-day Saint Life

A conversation I had in Jerusalem changed how I think about a joyful Sabbath

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At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I asked a young adult Jewish man about his experience with the Sabbath growing up. His response inspired me.
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I periodically lead tours in the Holy Land, which gives me the incredible opportunity to go to the Western Wall on Friday nights, where Jewish people gather to welcome the Sabbath. People are praying and studying the scriptures—and we might expect that. But visitors are often surprised to see large groups of youth joining hands and dancing together in celebration of the coming Sabbath.

The most recent time I was at the Western Wall I approached a young adult Jewish man and asked about his experience with the Sabbath growing up. The rules in his home were very strict: no turning lights on or off, no cooking, no television; or even opening the refrigerator.

I asked him, “When you were 16 years old, were you ever tempted to rebel against these strict Sabbath rules?” He looked at me like I was from another planet and said, “Why would I want to disrupt the Sabbath? It is a holy day; I love the Sabbath because it gives me a time for peace and renewal. The Sabbath is a delight. Why would I want to make it a less holy day?”

I realized I had a lot to learn from this man.

On another occasion, a Jewish man told me that when people see Sabbath observance as “strict rules” they miss the point. He said, “It’s not denial, it’s liberation. For example, one can’t answer the phone on Shabbat. Learning this discipline teaches also ignoring the phone when eating dinner with family and other more important’ activities. It’s not strict, it focuses on what’s important, family and community.”

Why a Delight?

When my new Jewish friend called the Sabbath “a delight,” he was alluding to a passage from Isaiah, in which the Lord says,

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, Then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” (Isaiah 58:13–14, New International Version).

The Lord says we should call the Sabbath a delight. Why? Perhaps because of His promise that as we honor the Sabbath by not seeking our own pleasure, then we will find our joy in Him.

Commenting on this passage, President Russell M. Nelson taught, “Not pursuing your own pleasure on the Sabbath requires self-discipline. You may have to deny yourself of something you might like. If you choose to delight yourself in the Lord, you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day.”

Turning away from doing our own pleasure might sound hard, but God doesn’t give us commandments to make our lives harder. On the contrary, Isaiah says this commandment will help us “triumph on the heights of the land” and “feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

The Book of Mormon also teaches us about the importance of the Sabbath day. For example, in this week’s Come, Follow Me study we will read about Abinadi teaching the priests of King Noah. As Abinadi teaches the Ten Commandments, watch for how much he says about the commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Interestingly, Abinadi says more about that commandment than commandments five through ten combined (see Mosiah 13:16–19). It must be important!

So how can we better live this commandment and find more joy in the Lord?

The Primary Song Has the Answer

On another trip to Jerusalem, I talked with a Jewish woman about how she prepared for the Sabbath Day. She told me that the secret was that she stopped doing her other work early Friday afternoon so she had several hours dedicated to preparing for the Sabbath. She would do all her cooking, cleaning, and other preparations so that the Sabbath could truly be a day of rest.

That reminded me of a primary song I sang growing up: “Saturday is a special day. It’s the day we get ready for Sunday.” Is that how your Saturdays are? I know for me, it’s more like, “Saturday is a frantic day. It’s the day when we’re rushing around everywhere and go to bed late.”

After my most recent trip, I’ve been working to establish some Saturday activities that will help me prepare better for the Sabbath. As an example (and I’m not suggesting everyone should do this, this is just an application I’ve been trying), I’ve been setting the table for Sunday dinner on Saturday night. I use special plates and bought cloth napkins to set apart our Sabbath table settings. Folding the napkins on Saturday nights has helped shift my mental mindset towards the Sabbath day.

I still have lots of room to grow; I aspire to be like my Jewish friends in Jerusalem and claim the Lord’s promise: “If you call the Sabbath a delight…Then you will find your joy in the Lord.”

If you’re interested in learning more about finding joy in the Sabbath you might enjoy Sacred Time and Celebrate Sunday!

▶ You may also like: Coach Andy Reid says he never misses sacrament meeting, even helped bless a baby hours before Super Bowl win

Sacred Time

How does a person live the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy in a world that is vastly different from the commandment's original context with Moses on Mount Sinai? Chapters in this volume explore the Sabbath throughout time, from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the post-New Testament Christian Church during the second through the fourth centuries, the rabbinic teachings, and modern efforts to keep the Sabbath relevant, including the Restoration and other Christian and Jewish efforts. Available at and in all Deseret Book stores.

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