As I dive into old testament principles, I find myself making more and more changes in my life. One of the changes I did this year that I need some teaching and encouragement on is the Sabbath.
My wife and I own a small business clothing retailer. This year, we decided to close on Sundays in a way to honor the Lord. As we roll into the holiday season I am struggling with whether we made the correct decision. There are numerous customers that have mentioned that they had to shop elsewhere because we are closed on Sunday. We have driven by the store and seen people parked, checking our business hours, and pulling on the door handle. I know that in most cases, blessings follow obedience. We tithe regularly and would consider it odd to skip it now, but giving money is something that initially requires obedience. After training ourselves with obedience, joy followed and now we experience many financial blessings that started by initially being obedient with an old testament principle.
Here we sit, wondering if we made the right decision to close our business and turn down revenue on one of our busiest days of the week. I suppose we are looking for encouragement from scripture as we turn away from the worldly view. There are several companies that choose to close down on Sundays (Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby) and they have publicly referenced how blessed they are. Those are big companies and I ask that you can shed some old testament wisdom on this topic for myself and any other small business owners struggling with purposefully closing their doors on a Sunday.
Thank you in Advance!
We are having trouble answering your question in the limited space we have for these questions. You see, we could quite easily write pages and pages on our Shabbat. Lenny, we cannot tell you what the Sabbath should mean to you as a Christian. We only can share a tiny portion of what the Shabbat, the Sabbath, means to a Jew and give you an idea of how this has played out over centuries and millennia.
When our children were young, they frequently listened to a Jewish children’s song about a man receiving any number of lucrative business opportunities—all needing him to work on Shabbat. The song’s lyrics provided a strong message including these two grammatically troubling lines that formed the chorus:
“Double, double triple pay
Ain’t gonna work on Saturday.”
You see, for us, doing business on the Sabbath isn’t an option. Period. End of story.
If we had room to elaborate, we would tell you of the sacrifices Jews have made to keep Shabbat. We’re not talking of reduced income, we are talking of poverty-stricken immigrants to America who went hungry because they lost their jobs every single week when they didn’t come to work on Saturday and had to search for new work on Monday morning. The cycle repeated over and over. We would speak of religious Jewish prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union who were sent to Siberia yet who schemed and plotted and sacrificed to keep what they could of the Lord’s day.
Many did not pass the test. We pass no judgment on those who responded to hungry children’s cries by going to work on Saturday or who responded to religious persecution by getting angry at God and deliberately flouting His laws. We have not been in their shoes. What we can say is that overwhelmingly those of our great-grandparents and grandparents who have faithful Jewish descendants today are those who stood firm in their commitment. That is not true for the bulk of the Jews who did not meet the challenge. A Russian Jewish author and thinker who wrote under the pen name Achad Ha’am (1856-1927) said, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Ironically, since he himself moved away from religious observance, a comparison of his descendants with those of a Torah observant person of his generation would testify to the truth of his statement.
What made it even harder was that those Jews who had abandoned the Sabbath often became ardent foes of those Jews who remained loyal. They saw the Sabbath faithful as showing up their own folly, fickleness, and perfidy and treated them as hopelessly primitive and old-fashioned. One of the poems of the period (loosely translated) read something like this:
“The Sabbath–monstrous folly! Fills the need
Of hearts still icier than their icy creed,
Each seventh day in shameful sloth they nod,
And ape the languor of their weary God.”
We would like to add, Lenny, that if our understanding of Sabbath observance by Christians in colonial days is accurate, it missed a major component of the Jewish Shabbat. It is true that we refrain from many of our normal activities on the Shabbat, but it is not a day of deprivation but rather a day of joy. We do not cook food, but we do put aside special delicacies during the week to eat on Shabbat. We do not go driving on family outings, but we do sit at the dinner and lunch table for hours enjoying long, meaningful, and often unforgettable conversations, singing songs, and playing games. Our children did not use their crayons or paints, but we put these out of sight on Friday afternoon and brought out a special box of Shabbat books and toys that were only available one day a week. If the Sabbath is only a day of “don’ts” then it is not the day of celebration that it should be.
If you and your wife decide that closing your store on the Sabbath is a commitment that you accept, we urge you to be creative about turning it into a positive. For instance, you certainly would not torment yourselves by driving past your closed store. Perhaps you would decide to drive nowhere at all but make it a simpler day of human connection, prayer, and good times. Maybe this will move you to develop deeper relationships with your customers or to move your business more online. Perhaps you will compensate for the closed day in other ways. Do not think only in terms of what you won’t do, but instead in terms of what now becomes available to you.
You may have to calculate whether your business can eventually thrive even with a closed Sunday policy. It is certainly possible that a prerequisite for you starting to observe the Lord’s day might be to sell your business and switch into another business, perhaps not retail, in which Sunday is relatively unimportant.
In our experience, when one thinks of Sabbath observance as only an option, it is almost impossible to stick with it. Trust us when we tell you that there will always be another reason to make an exception for “just this week” or “just for this crisis” or this necessity or, or, or…In that way, we acknowledge that we have an easier choice to make than you and your wife do. We, and the community of which we are a part, do not constantly think and rethink Sabbath observance. We know exactly what our parameters are and It is a part of our lives that we treasure and value. In the final analysis, is not a choice. As long as we accept God as our leader and His Torah as our constitution, we commit to honoring His Sabbath.
Wishing you much blessing in your efforts,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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