The following conversation actually took place one Saturday afternoon in 2008 when I found myself, as usual, at a restaurant, after the weekly Shabbat service, to have lunch with my Messianic Rabbi and other members of the congregation.
At one point, I said loudly, in front of everyone seated at the table, “Guys, I’m starting to feel really guilty about going out to eat in restaurants on Shabbat. I don’t think we’re supposed to be doing this!”
There was a pregnant silence as all eyes fell on me. Finally, the Rabbi, breaking into laughter, replied, “Aren’t we allowed to eat on Shabbat, Carmen?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, “but not in a restaurant. We are not supposed to commit commerce on Shabbat, or cause others work – which is exactly what we’re doing.”
He stared at me in disbelief for a long moment, then shook his head and emitted a little chuckle while pulling a credit card from his wallet to hold it up for all to see:
“Carmen, listen,” he said. “First of all, we’re not causing anyone to work – they’re here working today, anyway. And secondly, I’m not committing commerce because I’m using a credit card, which is basically not money; but rather, a PROMISE to pay.”
I heard some scattered giggles over the roaring in my ears as I felt my face flush. I wasn’t prepared for my leader’s responses back in those days, but I also knew I wasn’t wrong in this, because I had been diligently studying all the pertinent scriptures, and they were clear: no commerce nor work nor causing anyone to work on Shabbat...
When I finally found my voice, I reminded him that credit cards ARE immediate payment, which meant that this definitely WAS an act of commerce.
“Okay, okay, Carmen,” the Rabbi replied, raising his hand as if to shut me down. “Believe as you wish. But like I said, this restaurant is open on Saturdays, and people are obviously ‘working’ here because they’re not Torah observant, and so we are NOT ‘causing’ them work. They work here of their own accord – so where is the harm or the crime?”
I remember sitting there for some moments, while my mind scrambled to form a coherent response. Finally, I said, “Look, the fact of the matter is that while ‘they’ might not be Torah observant, WE are … and Scripture commands US to be holy and set apart, and to commit no commerce nor cause anyone to work on Shabbat.
"Even the farm animals are to rest on Shabbat. That’s in Exodus 20! Each one of us sitting here at this table proclaim to be Torah observant, yet we have just asked someone to COOK and SERVE the food and then to clean up after us. Can you really not understand what I’m getting at?”
The Rabbi stared at me for a long time, speechless, clearly perturbed. I had obviously hit upon something that had never occurred to him before, and he didn’t like it. “No,” he replied curtly. “I think you are reaching for straws here. But if you don’t want to join us for lunch on Shabbat anymore, that is up to you. It’s your choice.”
Recognizing I had “stirred up a hornet’s nest,” I stood and bent down to give the Rabbi a quick hug, and left the restaurant.
I breathed in the fresh mountain air as I walked to my car, smiling as the afternoon sun hit my face. In my heart, I knew I had said all the right things, and that made me happy. I also knew that my Shabbat lunches from now on would be a thing of the past...
Unless otherwise noted, the following references are from the Complete Jewish Bible:
Exodus 31:16 The people of Isra'el are to keep the Shabbat, to observe Shabbat through all their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the people of Isra'el forever; for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and rested.'"
Ezekiel 20:11 I gave them my laws and showed them my rulings; if a person obeys them, he will have life through them. 12 I gave them my shabbats as a sign between me and them, so that they would know that I, ADONAI, am the one who makes them holy.
Exodus 20:8 "Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. 9 You have six days to labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work -not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. 11 For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.
Nehemiah 10:31 "If the peoples of the lands bring merchandise or food to sell on Shabbat, we will not buy from them on Shabbat or on a holy day.
Isaiah 58:13 If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI'S holy day, worth honoring; then honor it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. 14 If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI - I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya'akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken."
Jeremiah 17:21 Here is what ADONAI says: "If you value your lives, don't carry anything on Shabbat or bring it in through the gates of Yerushalayim; 22 don't carry anything out of your houses on Shabbat; and don't do any work. Instead, make Shabbat a holy day. I ordered your ancestors to do this, 23 but they neither listened nor paid attention; rather, they stiffened their necks, so that they wouldn't have to hear or receive instruction. 24 However, if you will pay careful heed to me," says ADONAI "and carry nothing through the gates of this city on Shabbat, but instead make Shabbat a day which is holy and not for doing work;
Mark 11: 15 And Y’shua entered the temple of Elohim and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple. And he overturned the tables of the money changers, and the seats of those who were selling doves. 16. And he would not allow anyone to carry possessions inside the temple. (AENT