Sabbath Observance by Noachides
Moshe Ben-Chaim
Reader: Dear Rabbi, Since our decision to follow the 7 Laws which pertain to gentiles, we have quit observing most holidays typically followed here in the US since most of them are derived from Christian or pagan roots.
My children have asked me if there are any holidays we can follow. I have been told that we are allowed to observe some Jewish holidays but I wanted to make certain that this is not something that would be frowned upon by the Jewish community. Could you please tell me what holidays the Noachide community can follow without going against Jewish custom? K&A
Mesora: The Talmud takes up your question. On page 58b in Sanhedrin, the Talmud states, "A non Jew who rests on the Sabbath is punished with death, as it states (when Noach left the ark and sacrificed animals to God as thanks for his rescue, Gen. 8:21-22):
"And God smelled the pleasant scent, and God said in His heart, 'I will never again curse the earth for man's sake, for man's inclination is evil from youth, and I will never again smite all life as I have done. Furthermore, all the days of earth, planting and reaping, cold and hot, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease."
Rashi learns from this verse that God was not simply describing future solar and meteorological phenomena, but He was also commanding Noach and all mankind never to cease from planting and harvesting - not even for one day. Rashi states further that this prohibition regarding Noachides is not limited to the Jewish Sabbath, but also applies to a Jewish holiday which may fall out on a Sunday and even applies to a Noachide's proclaiming his day of rest - whether it is a Jewish day of rest or not. In short, any institutionalized day of rest is prohibited to a Noachide by this verse.
There are a few questions which present themselves: 1)What is the concept behind this prohibition? 2)Why such a severe penalty as death? 3)What is the rationale of the Sabbath commanded at Sinai which exempts only Jews from work? 4)Why does this prohibition to cease from reaping the ground come right after Noach's exit of the ark?
This last question directs us to the answer. One may ask, "If man once again reaches the heights of evil equivalent to Noach's generation, should not God act consistently and bring a flood too?" The answer to this question is yes. If man would reach this level, God must be consistent, and flood the earth again. (Rashi teaches that God did in fact flood part of the earth prior to Noah, teaching us that God's perfect justice is consistent.) But the reason God made such a promise is that there was a change in man, so that he would not sink to the evil depths of Noach's generation. Changes in man's physical stature are alluded to in the medrashim. Subsequent to the Flood, man became smaller in stature and required a new covenant, that the animals should fear him. Now that he is not as fearful to the animal kingdom, he needs God's new oath that animals will not attack. Reduction in man's stature minimized man's own ego, the cause of his downfall. God altered man so that he would never stoop to such levels which would bring another flood. Therefore, God can make such an oath and never again bring a flood.
Additionally, God "smelled" Noach's offering demonstrating man's ability to perfect himself and recognize his Creator, and thank Him through sacrifice. To this, God was pleased and responded, "Man is only evil from youth". Meaning, man can conquer his evil emotions after youth, when his intellect forms much later on. While it is true, the instincts have a head-start, this is no sure win for them. The intellect has a much greater capacity of attracting man's allegiance. Knowledge has the potential to bring to man profound concepts in philosophy that are based on beautiful ideas and proofs. Knowledge which explains many of man's questions, surpassing issues of his earthly existence, and contains far greater attraction than temporal, physical satisfaction offered by the emotions. However, the emotions have their appropriate place in life and cannot be replaced by knowledge alone.
As Man - Noach - demonstrated mankind's ability to live properly, God responds with the seasons and solar phenomena suspended during the Flood, need never again be suspended. God said, "Furthermore, all the days of earth, planting and reaping, cold and hot, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease." When God said planting and reaping shall not cease, He was also addressing man. In other words, God said, "not only won't seasons fail, but man, you must not stop working the earth". What is the concept behind such a command? I believe it means that God wishes mankind to constantly be involved in sustaining God's oath. By man never ceasing any day from work, he thereby demonstrates that there is in fact, produce to be harvested, and rich soil to cultivate. Man publicizes and endorses God's generous oath that the seasons won't cease by man's act of working the fields - each and every day. This prohibition is not limited to Sabbath observance, but aside from vacation time which man needs at times, the Noachide may not formulate days of rest on Holidays as well.
It is a 'reflective' method demonstrating God's mercy on man, that He continually provides food for His creatures. Cessation from such labor is a denial of God's mercy. Such heresy and denial is punishable with death. Noachides observing the Sabbath obscure the lesson that Torah stems from monotheists, i.e., those descendants of Abraham. While it is true that many gentiles may be monotheists, it is not true that all are. What is an absolute truth is the fact that ALL of Abraham's children partake of his monotheistic heritage. The role of "mankind's teachers" can only be filled by those with the divine directive inherited from the founder, and commanded by God at Sinai. This reputation must not be diluted by others filling such a role. It would obscure God's plan that descendants of a monotheist - Abraham - teach monotheism. As time progressed, and mankind regressed into paganism, God gave a select group of people the Torah. These were the descendants of a man who extricated himself from idolatry. With no teacher other than the world alone, he discovered monotheism. This is God's plan for man, that he relate to God. If one such as Abraham was able to do so, even being raised in an idolatrous culture, then God desired that Abraham be the one personality demonstrating the correct life for mankind. There could be no one better than Abraham to exemplify God's desired lifestyle. For this reason, God chose Abraham's adherents as the guardians of his philosophy. But guarding such an outlook, and Abraham's acts of reaching out to others - is not achieved without hours of pondering the universe. Such pondering requires time, and therefore Abraham's children are afforded this time in the form of the Sabbath. It is not favoritism towards the Jew that he rests on the Sabbath. Rather, it is God's separate consideration that the Jew be commanded in teaching the rest of the world which corrupted itself with pagan beliefs. In order to teach others, the Jew must have the knowledge. Thus, he is commanded that one day each week, his preoccupation with toiling for earthly sustenance must be interrupted.
One may ask, "as Abraham was able to study the world alone and arrive at monotheism, why doesn't the Jew do the same without the Sabbath?" A few reasons could explain the need for a religious system: One is that most of us aren't geniuses like Abraham. We most certainly would not reach his conclusions by viewing the universe. Another more practical reason is that a religion is sustained only when there are laws, a system of precise rules obligating man. Without a strict code of laws that incorporate punitive measures for man's deviation, a system - monotheistic or otherwise - cannot exist for too long. Only a codified system can foster a cohesive lifestyle which may go undiluted and continue for thousands of years. Such a precise, divinely created system requires time for investigation, analysis and memorization. The Sabbath is an inherent part of the Torah system.
But doesn't the Jew as well have to claim a testament to God's oath, that season's will endure and man will be provided with food? It now fits why the Sabbath is preempted with a statement, "six days shall you work...." Working six days has nothing to do with Sabbath observance, so why did God see fit to mention it in connection with Sabbath? The answer might be that although the Jew must rest on the Sabbath, nonetheless, he must not stop working on other days. Just as the Noachide must work 7 days, the Jew must work 6 - both aim at the identical promotion that God keeps His word, still providing food until this day. Our working 6 or 7 days is a living testament that God has upheld His promise - His provision of abundance. This act of proof of God's oath is incumbent on Jew and Noachide equally. It is a separate institution of teaching mankind the flaws of paganism, and the Jew must involve himself in exclusive study at least one day a week.
Jews must stop working and learn so they can teach God's people.

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