In the days before labeling people became de rigueur – Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservadox – there were just two labels. Either one was “shomer Shabbat,” or not. Being shomer Shabbat means being committed to Judaism. Deciding to refrain from the 39 melachot constitutes the rubicon between in or out. One might wear a black frock coat, a kippah and a hat, uphold the highest kosher stringencies, know all Five Books by heart, but without choosing Shabbat, one is not “in.”
Choosing Shabbat does not mean that people never err. Whether this is unintentional or accidental, it does happen that people violate Shabbat by doing a melachah. Colloquially we talk about “keeping” or “breaking” Shabbat, as though it were a precious vase that, once shattered, cannot be mended. Maybe, if I “broke” Shabbat on Friday night, that’s it for the next 24 hours. But Shabbat is more like life. We mess up and we move on. We didn’t get it right this time, but we’ll get it right the next time.
“Keeping” Shabbat also extends to the spirit of the day. If we set a lavish table with delicious foods but spend the meal talking about movies, or sports, or politics, we’ve sapped some of its vitality. Sometimes people find it easier to keep one or the other – the letter or the spirit. There might be violation of Shabbat, but lots of earnest spirituality; there might be all the physical trappings of the day, but the spirit is all wrong. Both are first steps in forging an authentic connection to G-d, but are missing critical components.
The good news is that we have 52 chances a year to get it right. Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform – even Conservadox – we can all trade our labels for the one that really matters: Shomer Shabbat.