Image: Exodus 31: 16-17 in Hebrew. (from www.ReformJudaism.org)
If you attend Shabbat services in a the synagogue, sooner or later you will notice these lines, either sung or spoken:
V’shamru v’nei Yisrael et HaShabbat,
la’asot et HaShabbat l’dorotam b’rit olam.
Beini u’vein b’nei Yisrael ot hi l’olam,
ki sheishet yamim asah Adonai
et hashamayim v’et haaretz,
u’vayom hashvi-i shavat vayinafash.
It’s actually a quotation from the book of Exodus:
The children of Israel will keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath in every generation as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever, for in six days God made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day [God] ceased work and refreshed God’s self. – Exodus 31:16-17
Reading this in the context of a Shabbat service, we remind ourselves why we continue this ancient practice. We keep it because our ancestors were commanded to keep it. We keep it because it is our custom as a people. We keep it in remembrance of our unique Creation story. We keep it because it keeps us. We have many different ways of keeping it, but when we do, our lives are fuller.
Jews have had a special place in our hearts and in the liturgy for these verses from Exodus because they express our love affair with Shabbat. We love them so much that we often sing them.
Many different musicians and cantors have set it to music: search YouTube with the string “v’shamru” and thousands of recordings will pop up. One version you will hear in many Reform and Conservative shuls is a tune by Rabbi Moshe Rothblum:
One of my favorites is this one by Cantor Jacob Goldstein:
And the meditative Debbie Friedman z”l setting:
What is your favorite prayer in the Shabbat service? If you tell me in the comments, I can either direct you to an article I’ve written on it, or I will be inspired to write one!