Ki Tisa 5762
"However, you must observe My sabbaths, for it is a sign (os) between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy...The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant (bris olam) for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." (Exodus 31, 13-14,16-17; Artscroll Translation)
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,
"By shemiras Shabbos, i.e., refraining from carrying out any constructive work on the Sabbath[as defined by the Oral Law], we lay ourselves, our world and the powers G-d has given us of mastering it, in homage at G-d's feet, and acknowledge ourselves, our world and our productive powers as being holy to G-d-i.e., as belonging exclusively to Him for the fulfillment of His will." (Commentary on the Torah: II, p. 596)
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 that precede it. We do this in order to acknowledge that we, and everything around us (the heavens and the earth), were created by the supreme Creator. We are not the masters of the house, ultimately...though we were given the awesome task of being stewards of the house. Once a week at least, we lay it all back at the feet of the true Master.
Thought of in this way, Shabbos is the day that really puts things in perspective: it can help keep us from getting a swelled head, existentially speaking. (But we humans--even those of us who keep the Sabbath--are good at finding other pathways to arrogance, unfortunately!)
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, in fact, the greatest gift that Hashem gave to us, as 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.")
The Chofetz Chayim likens it to the ring that 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 intimacy 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, perhaps, Shabbos displays (and strengthens) that intimacy between G-d and the Jewish people. It is, "a sign forever...an eternal covenant."
Whenever we begin to waver in our commitment to remain the "chosen people," G-d's beloved nation (meant to radiate light and holiness to all the nations of the world, through living according to the Torah), we've got a "good gift" to bring us back to our senses. And to our sense of mission. It's called the Sabbath: delight for body and soul.
May we realize the preciousness of the gift of Shabbos, and continually strengthen our observance of it.
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Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
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