The Significance of Sabbath

We can, in fact, guard and keep (shamor) the Shabbos, but how can we “make” (laasot) the Shabbos?

Rabbanit Shira Smiles,

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

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. 

It would appear from the verses that it is we who “make” the Sabbath just as we ordain the onset of the holidays by proclaiming the new moon, when in fact it is Hashem Who decrees the onset and end of Shabbos every week. We can, in fact, guard and keep (shamor) the Shabbos, but how can we “make” the Shabbos? 

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.

Additionally, although the absolute onset and end of Shabbat are preordained by Hashem, Hakodosh Boruch Hu, we also still have the ability to create Shabbat. How? When we eagerly anticipate the arrival of Shabbat, we are not only guarding Shabbat but also adding to the holiness and joy of Shabbat, writes Rabbi Goldstein in Shaarei Chaim. Then we can take some of that anticipation and actually make Shabbat and add some time to Shabbat by ushering it in earlier than the prescribed time.

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.

Many of us have heard that if Bnei Yisroel were to keep two Shabbatot properly, we would bring the end of the exile. Lashon Chasidim  quoting the Kedushat Levi explains the rationale in this statement. It is not keeping the Shabbat in isolation from the rest of life that achieves this result, but that in keeping Shabbat as befits it, we influence our behavior for the entire week to come, and the following Shabbat is elevated to a whole new level. We are thus creating an enhanced Shabbat each week, in a spiral effect from one week to the next, and making ourselves worthy of reciprocal blessings from Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

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. 

This is true of Shabbat. Shabbat is Hashem’s gift to us without any effort on our part. When we process the message of Shabbat, we realize that if Hashem is Master of the world, He is in control of everything. There is no reason for me to get angry at circumstances or at people, since Hashem is in control. When that process informs my actions during the week, I then enter the following Shabbat on a more exalted spiritual plane. 

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.”

Our challenge is to take the Shabbat experience and internalize it, so that the Havdalah ceremony does not separate us from the Shabbat experience and its spiritual underpinnings

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. 

But Shabbat cannot be truly experienced without involving thought and emotion. Only thought can impart sweetness to Shabbat, writes Rabbi Schwab in Maayan Beit Hashoevah, for without thought, Shabbat remains empty, without sanctity and without connection. Shabbat should be viewed as our time of intimacy with Hashem as the intimate moments bride and groom spend together after the wedding ceremony, writes Rabbi Pincus in Nefesh Shimshon.

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. 

By focusing on the majestic moments of Shabbat and making them meaningful and joyous, we and our children will not seek inappropriate happiness elsewhere, for we will reap the benefits of joy and happiness that will carry us through the routines and stresses of the week from one Shabbos to the next.