Judaism: The Significance of Sabbath
Rabbanit Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
Parshat Ki Tisa includes verses familiar to many of us as part of the Shabbat (Sabbath) morning Kiddush: “The children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make (la’asot) the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever … on the seventh day He rested …” These verses are then immediately followed with Hashem’s giving the Two Tablets of Testimony to Moses before his descent from Sinai, implying that the mitzvah of Shabbos was the last mitzvah Hashem gave to Moses before Moses went back down to Bnei Yisroel. It is a mitzvah that keeps the relationship alive between Hashem and the Jewish People, Bnei Yisroel, especially relevant since it is followed immediately with the sin of the golden calf.
The simplest explanation involves someone who is lost without a way of determining dates. He, in fact, does make his own Shabbat, whether it is the first day, and then counting seven additional days toward each consecutive Shabbat as some authorities rule, based on Adam entering Shabbos on the first day after his creation, or counting that day as day one and “making” Shabbos on the seventh day, as other authorities rule, as Hashem did.
The main point, as Rabbi Moses Bick teaches in Chayei Moses, is that one is rewarded for whichever day one decides to keep the Shabbat, for the purpose is to recognize your obligation to create a Shabbat and recognize God’s mastery over the world. Therefore, if we designate a seventh day for Shabbat, we will merit observing more Shabbat days in the future. Further, when we keep the Shabbat day, we are setting an example for future generations to follow and thereby creating future Shabbatot as well.
Taking this idea one step further, by properly observing and guarding Shabbat in this world, we are indeed creating our Shabbat in the World to Come, writes Rabbi Dov Yaffe in Leovdecha Be’emet quoting the Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh. But this is not easy for, as Rabbi Pincus points out, the laws of Shabbos are complex, and it is therefore important to study them regularly if we are to observe and “make” Shabbat correctly.
Along these lines, Rabbi Schlesinger notes that one talks of shemirat Shabbat, watching and guarding Shabbat. Rabbi Schlesinger notes that the Torah includes many laws regarding people who are watchmen for another’s property, and what penalties and liabilities they would incur should damages result from their negligence. One must study one’s responsibilities toward Shabbat and use the mindset of a watchman to ensure that no damages are incurred to the sanctity of the Shabbat.
Similarly, writes Rabbi Avraham Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv, we can augment the holy time of Shabbat by adding time when it is already present so that it does not depart immediately.
Rabbi Goldwicht explained our verse from a more psychological standpoint. All life experience, especially Shabbat, can be divided into three stages, chochma, binah, and daat. These can best be translated as knowledge derived from external sources, using that information and integrating the various pieces of information to make inferences and build understanding, and finally internalizing that knowledge until it becomes part of one’s persona, character, and actions. More simply, one first gets information, then processes it, and finally internalizes it.
A similar process took place during our redemption from Egypt, continues Rabbi Goldwicht. The first Shabbos of redemption was a gift from Hashem. But we were not yet ready to process that information; we were still in an enslaved state of mind. When the second Shabbat came and Hashem split the sea, we saw true reality. We were able to recognize God’s immanence, point to Him and declare, “This is my God and I will glorify Him.”
Rabbi Bick puts it another way. It is not just who will go up to the mountain of God, perhaps go up and come down without being impacted, but rather who will stand in that place of holiness that Shabbat imparts, who will make the Shabbat experience part of their lives.
As such, many activities suitable for other times are inappropriate for Shabbat, for they divert attention from the relationship. Reading secular materials and discussing business, and certainly gossip, loshon horo, diminish the connection between ourselves and Hakodosh Boruch Hu that Shabbat is meant to foster. Instead, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon suggests, study Torah, enjoy the company of family and friends guard this precious time and incorporate God into the activities of the day, for He is already present. Make this day special for your children as well by providing material for them on their level.
Rabbi Pincus asks us to restore the beauty and sweetness of Judaism, Yiddishkeit, especially for the children who may anticipate special Shabbat treats. Invest Shabbat observance, as well as Torah study, with an attitude of joy and a taste of sweetness, rather than with a feeling of self sacrifice. On Shabbat we eat three meals, more than during the week, because our neshama yeseirah, that extra bit of God’s presence within us, wants us to enjoy our time with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
We should not feel deprived on Shabbat by what we have to “give up” to observe Shabbat; rather we should focus on the joy and spiritual elevation that this consecrated time allows us to devote to that which is truly significant in our lives. It is up to us to make this time special, to create the Shabbat atmosphere, and incorporate the joy Shabbat is meant to bring into our lives so that we transmit the covenant to future generations forever.