Parshas Ki Sisa
The Torah couldn't be more emphatic about how important the observance of Shabbos is. It has always been virtually the defining mark of a Jew: the paramount sign of our special relationship with Hashem, the central pillar of our faith, and, arguably, the practice most responsible for helping us preserve our heritage throughout history. There's an old saying to that effect, in fact: "More than the Jews have kept Shabbos, the Shabbos has kept the Jews."
Shabbos is so exalted that the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the structure that would house--so to speak--G-d's presence on earth, and enable the Jewish people to reach the highest level of sanctity (Rabbi Eli Munk, Call of the Torah), had to be halted each week for its observance. This is what the Torah means with the word, however (ach, in Hebrew), at the start of the passage quoted above. As Rashi explains, ach is always a word of exclusion or limitation; in this context, it comes to teach that the Sabbath is excluded from the commandment of constructing the Mishkan--which the Torah had been discussing immediately before. What could possibly be a holier pursuit than building the Mishkan? Keeping Shabbos.
The free-willed donations of materials for the Mishkan demonstrated the great love of the Jewish people for Hashem. The donation that Shabbos asked of them--and asks of us--is even greater and more inclusive: as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes,
On Shabbos, we temporarily abstain from creating, from utilizing our tremendous ability and skill, as human beings, to fashion the world for our own purposes--the task and mandate of the six days of work--, in order to acknowledge that we, and everything around us (the heavens and the earth), were created by a Creator. Thought of in this way, Shabbos is the day that really puts things in perspective.
The Chofetz Chayim quotes a Talmudic passage in which Hashem declares to Moshe His intention to give the Jewish people a "matanah tovah," a good gift, whose name is Shabbos. It is the greatest gift that Hashem gave to us, the Chofetz Chayim writes. (Remember the words of the Friday night Kiddush: "And Your holy Sabbath, with love and favor, did You give us as a heritage.")
He likens it to the ring which a man gives to a woman upon their engagement; it is the sign of his love for her, and of the special relationship between them. Perhaps things don't progress as expected (alas), and the man and the woman are not seen together anymore. It's not necessarily a sign that the engagement has broken off completely, however. Only when the woman gives back the ring can we say for sure that their former closeness has ceased.
So, too, the Chofetz Chayim continues, when we see the Jewish people (the bride) taking off the beautiful jewel given to them by Hashem--i.e., slackening in their Shabbos observance--, it is an indication that the special bond we are meant to have with Him has been broken.
More than any other mitzvah, Shabbos is the one that displays and develops that closeness between G-d and the Jewish people. A sign forever...an eternal covenant.
May we realize the preciousness of the gift of Shabbos, and continually strengthen our observance of it.
Edelstein is Director
of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone: 912-355-0157;
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