Parshat Yitro - 5763
“Mah Yom Miyomayim?”
How is this Day Different from Any Other Day?
When one contemplates time naively, its
fabric seems uniform and one is led to the attitude of Turnus Rufus, the
Roman governor, who scoffingly asked Rabbi Akiva with regard to the Shabbat,
“Mah yom miyomayim?” How is this day different from any other day?
The question of Turnus Rufus is answered in one of the classic “Zemirot,”
Songs of Shabbat, “Yom Shabbat Kodesh Hu,” “The Day of Shabbat is Holy,”
where one of the stanzas includes the phrase “He blessed it and made it holy
through the Mohn.” G-d “blessed it” (the Shabbat) by providing a double
portion of Mohn, the miraculous Bread from Heaven on Friday, Erev Shabbat,
that was not allowed to spoil when left over to the next day, and He “made
it holy” by withholding the Mohn on the Day of Shabbat, such that all
efforts to find it on that Holy Day would not succeed.
Time itself is also a creation of the Almighty, and He defines its
characteristics. For a double portion of Mohn to fall on a given day, or for
it not to fall on another day, for time to move forward in the “normal” way,
or for it to remain suspended as when Yehoshua prayed “Let the sun remain
fixed over Givon...” (Yehoshua 10:12) in order to allow more daylight to
complete the rout of the enemy, while not interfering otherwise with the
structure of the cosmos, are all within the province of the Creator.
Parshat Yitro contains one of the most important sections of the Chumash;
namely, the Ten Commandments, by which the Master of the Universe
communicated with the Jewish People en masse. And not only with the Jews who
stood then at the foot of Mt. Sinai but, according to the Midrash, all
Jewish souls that would come into the world later, were also present.
Most unusually for such an important declaration, two slightly different
versions of the Ten Commandments are listed in the Bible, this one in Shemot
20:2-14 and another, in Devarim 5:6-18. The most important discrepancy
relates to the Fourth Commandment, the Shabbat Commandment. The Yitro
version begins “Remember the Day of Shabbat to keep it holy” (Shemot 20:8),
while the Vaetchanan (Devarim) version begins “Guard the Day of Shabbat to
keep it holy...” (Devarim 5:12). The Midrash says that HaShem uttered both
versions, and they were both understood, simultaneously, something that is
beyond the power of any human orator.
The Shemot version gives one of the “reasons” for the Commandment of
Shabbat, and the Devarim version gives the other “reason” for the
Commandment. The Shemot version makes the theme of Shabbat the Creation of
the World by HaShem in six “Days” and His “rest” on the seventh “Day.” This
aspect of Shabbat is related to Kiddush which the Jew recites over wine, and
indeed, to all the positive aspects of Shabbat, such as the festive meals,
the associated “zemirot,” the learning of Torah, all the pleasurable
activities by which this Holy Day is celebrated, in fulfillment of the verse
in Nechemiah (8:10), “...for the joy of the L-rd is your strength.”
The Devarim version, on the other hand, that refers to “guarding” the
holiness of the Shabbat, implying restraint, is associated with the negative
command prohibiting “Melacha,” conscious, purposeful and creative
interaction with the environment for this one day, as a reminder of the fact
that the L-rd redeemed us from slavery, and its mindless, purposeless and
meaningless drudgery. One aspect of this version of Shabbat was the
innovative idea of the “day off,” that the human being is not a slave to
other human beings, but only to G-d.
I recently heard some “Brisker Torah” from Rabbi Yaakov Haber, Mora D’Asra
of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, that speaks characteristically in
terms of “two halachot;” that is, of a dichotomy in the meaning of Shabbat.
There is a “Shabbat of HaShem” and there is a “Shabbat of Man.” The former
is a consequence of the fact that HaShem “rested” on the seventh “Day.” This
is the Shabbat alluded to in the Shemot version of the Shabbat Command.
Man’s share in this Shabbat is to engage in activities, such as Kiddush and
learning Torah, that reflect the joy of his Maker. The other is the “Shabbat
of Man,” that aspect of Shabbat dealt with in Devarim, where certain
obligations devolve upon Man as a “Shomer Shabbat;” specifically, the
withdrawal from “Melacha,” as a commemoration of his liberation from
The “Shabbat of HaShem” came into existence when HaShem created the world.
The “Shabbat of Man” did not come into existence, and Shabbat was not
complete, until the Jewish People were liberated from slavery. Or perhaps,
Shabbat existed, but there was none to be a “Shomer Shabbat.” This is
analogous to the relationship, alluded to in “Adon Olam,” that existed
before the creation of Man, when HaShem was already King, but had no
“Master of the Universe, Who reigned
Before any form was created,
At the time when His will brought all into being –
Then as ‘King’ was His Name proclaimed.”
It was only after the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds that Moshe could teach
the Laws of Shabbat to the Jewish People, as we read in Parshat Beshalach,
“It was there that he made for them a statute and an ordinance and there
that he tested them” (Shemot 15:25), on which Rashi cites the Mechilta that
includes among the introductory commandments that the Children of Israel
were taught at that time, the Shabbat.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel