"And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: [Ach es Shabsosai Tishmoru -] 'Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations…
Each time, we must understand the chiddush, what new information does the Torah reveal; our meforshim get to work. For a moment let us note the pasuk’s conclusion
… to know that I, the Lord, make you holy.
Who should know and who/what is being made holy? The quick reader might surmise that since I [Hashem] am commanding you to keep Shabbos, you shall then realize that Shabbos is holy. The text belies that approach; it is you the 2nd person and not it (the 3rd person) that is being made holy. Hence Rashi :
to know: [So that] the nations [should know] that I, the Lord, sanctify you.
When a Jew keeps Shabbos, the whole world will sense that you, Klal Yisrael are holy. Gentiles respect Jews who are not embarrassed of their Judaism. Until this point, the text never mentioned any subject other than Klal Yisrael; Rashi’s comments are novel in that they introduce a new subject. We shall yet return here.
And why another Shabbos presentation. A classic Rashi-Ramban (un)machlokes yields two chiddushim: First, Rashi:
… although I … command them concerning the work of the Mishkan, do not let it seem… that you may easily set aside the Sabbath because of that work… Only keep My Sabbaths!: Although you will be rushed to perform the work [of the Mishkan] quickly, the Sabbath shall not be set aside because of it. Ach and Rak are exclusive, to exclude the Sabbath from the work of the Mishkan.
Rashi’s halachic point is incontrovertible. In the battle between Shabbos and Mishkan, Shabbos is the clear winner. Ramban himself feels this is the simple meaning of the text: [you shall do the work of the mishkan … but [ach] my Sabbaths you shall keep forever]
Rosh, Chizkuni and Da’as Zekeinim take the next step. It is not simply that one may not build the mishkan on Shabbos – but anything that was part of the construction process may not be done on Shabbos. – an explicit source for the famed prohibited thirty-nine labors of Shabbos.
An obvious question on Rashi: Consider that only pikuach nefesh (saving a human life) and a few other laws push away Shabbos; the Torah never records that one may not pick an esrog [off a tree] or build a sukkah on Shabbos! In a world of competing priorities, mighty Shabbos always wins; we may then wonder what compels the Torah to even record that Shabbos pushes off the building of Mishkan?
A classic answer runs as follows:
Avodah docheh shabbos - the Kohen “violates” Shabbos in the context of serving within the Mishkan/Mikdash. Every Shabbos, he slaughters and burns the daily and special Shabbos communal offerings; he burns incense on the altar and he lights the menorah. This might indicate that Mishkan sanctity supersedes Shabbos holiness, thus permitting Mishkan construction even on Shabbos. In Abarbanel’s formulation, the active kedusha of Mishkan might trump the passive (no melacha) kedusha of Shabbos. Hence the Torah must explicitly warn us: No! One may not build the Mishkan on Shabbos.
Yet Ramban still has a technical dispute with Rashi. He agrees that the basic meaning of the text is as Rashi indicates; he disagrees on Rashi’s midrashic interpretation of the word ach. In this technical dispute that transcends our scope Ramban derives another layer of meaning [based on yoma 85a]:
The limiting nature of the word ach here applies to circumcision or to the saving of human life to tell us that they set aside the Shabbos
Thus the pasuk comes to limit Shabbos observance – to teach us the Shabbos exception.. Shabbos yields to milah and pikuach nefesh.
On Ramban, we may also ask the obvious: Why teach the exception to the laws of Shabbos davka in the mishkan context. We shall leave that for another day.
We are left with two approaches: one p’shat priented [Rashi], the other midrashic [Ramban].
Rashi teaches us that Shabbos beats mikdash/mishkan. For those of us who link holiness to things and space, it is a profound lesson well worth considering: Kodesh - the word, appears first in the Torah, (a leading indicator of its essential meaning) describing Shabbos. The Mishkan imperative (as well as the batei mikdash) emerges from the verse v’asu li mikdash (Shemos, 25:8). Shabbos and Mishkan converge in their holiness; the former speaks of sacred time, the latter highlights sanctified space.
In their conflict, the Torah teaches us a great lesson that even greater than holiness of space [kedushas hamakom] is holiness of time [kedushas hazeman]. We can and must carry our kedusha with us. Every moment is pregnant with potential kedusha. It is for us to bring it into the world. The thinking Jew must constantly wonder, at this moment whither kedusha?
With Ramban, the Torah ups the ante. That very same verse which stops the Mishkan construction for Shabbos instructs us to push aside the mighty Shabbos. Thus Chasam Sofer [ibid, in contrast to Rashi] interprets our verse in a most wondrous way.
It is known that the sanctity of the Mishkan is wondrous and in its creation chochma, binah and da’as were necessary- like the creation of heaven and earth … and it [the Mishkan] is more significant than heaven and earth; [cf Kesuvos 5a] still Shabbos is greater – for it was this reason that the Torah juxtaposed the two; therefore Shabbos is greater than heaven and earth and Hashem’s mikdash… and it says ach which teaches that Shabbos is pushed aside for a Jewish soul , therefore one Jewish soul is greater than it all … and this is a true sign between you and I, for you to know that I Hashem make you holy.
To save a Jewish life, one pushes away the holy Shabbos. Do you know why? It is as if Hashem is reminding us:
As heilig as My mishkan is, as transcendent as My holy Shabbos… you My dear children are the holiest. For You, I set aside my whole Torah, even my holy Shabbos.
Armed with the knowledge of God’s love and the Jew’s incredible inner kedusha, the Jew enters the world beloved and empowered – ready to share his gifts with the world.
1. Cf Bereishis 2, Shemos 20; cf also Shemos 16
2. Hence the source of the 39 labors derive precisely from the construction of the mishkan and not from the avodah that was done within the mishkan Thus the Bavli searches for the source of cooking in the mishkan and identifies the dyeing process and not the more obvious making of the lechem hapanim etc… [cf Shabbos 49b, 73b-74a]
3. These exceptions are Bris Milah, Kiddush HaChodesh, Avodah, Ketziras Omer
4. A word that depending upon context can mean however, nevertheless or only. [cf v’hayita ach sameach, ach asher yeiachel l’chol nefesh]
5. Thus Rabbeiu Bechayei and others learn from here that one may push away Shabbos in order to do the korbanos – an approach that solves the question on Ramban and Rashi
6. Bereishis, 2:3, Vaivarech Elokim es yom hashevi’i vayikadeish oso
7. This notion is easily reconcilable with the 3 cardinal sins of yehareig v’al ya’avor – for in these sins – one obliterates Hashem in the world