THE ESSENCE OF SHABBAT
Rabbi Binyomin Friedman
To the student of Torah, extraneous and redundant words are the keys which Hashem has left us to unlock the doors to the Torah's treasures.
To the student of Torah, extraneous and redundant words are the keys which Hashem has left us to unlock the doors to the Torah's treasures. The opening verse of Parshat Vayakhel contains one such key: "Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them, 'These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do them: Six days shall you work, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem'" (Exodus 35:1-2). Why the words "to do them"? In addition, one might ask why the Torah needs to again repeat an admonition to keep Shabbat?
Much has been written about the fact that the exhortation to observe Shabbat precedes the instructions for the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle). Our sages understand that we are prohibited to build the Tabernacle on Shabbat, and as a matter of fact, entire books are devoted to analyzing the prohibition of constructing the Tabernacle on Shabbat. However the Or Hachaim, the 18th century classic Torah commentary, points out that the Shabbat admonition preceding the mishkan instruction is only half of the story. It is also significant to note that this mitzvah of Shabbat comes on the heels of the story of the Golden Calf at the end of last week's Torah portion.
The Torah writes elsewhere, "When you sin and do not do all of the mitzvot. . ." (Numbers 15:23). Our sages ask which one sin could the Jewish people have done to transgress all of the mitzvot? They answer that the sin of idolatry is considered tantamount to a rejection of all 613 commandments. It only follows that one wishing to atone for the grievous sin of idol worship must repair his performance of all 613 commandments. How could the repentant idolater possibly accomplish this? Even if we were humanly capable of perfectly performing all of the mitzvot, no one individual is capable of such a feat since various mitzvot can only be performed by particular people in specific situations. Our sages respond with the solution: Shabbat. Its observance is all-encompassing. One day a week we arrange all of our endeavors and desires to serve our Creator. Shabbat observance therefore, to a certain extent, equals all of the other 612 mitzvot. With this in mind, the Or Hachaim explains, we can understand the extra words in the opening sentence of Parshat Vayakhel.
The Children of Israel had committed the horrible sin of idolatry in building the Golden Calf. If they were to regain Hashem's glorious presence in their midst through the confines of the mishkan, then they needed to atone. Therefore, Moses gathers the people and repeats the mitzvah of Shabbat whose observance will serve as a correction for their past mistakes. Shabbat enables the Jewish people "to do them" -- to observe the rest of the Torah's mitzvot and to fill their spiritual vacuum.
As a people, we have wandered away from the Torah, by and large abandoning its 613 directives. However, our generation is attempting to find its way back to its Torah roots. How does the repentant Jew begin to atone for abandoning the ways of Hashem? Certainly, in our weakened spiritual and moral state, to take on the entire 613 commandments seems impossible. Yet we see that there is another solution. There is one mitzvah that equals the 612 others - Shabbat - the only mitzvah that says to Hashem, "I wish I could dedicate my entire life to You, but right now I dedicate this one day." For twenty-four hours we commit ourselves to enjoy Hashem's creation and appreciate His role in it. Shabbat observance is the mitzvah of a generation seeking to return. Perhaps this is why our sages state that were the Jewish people to observe just two Sabbaths, the Mashiach (Messiah) would immediately arrive.
Rabbi Binyomin Friedman, a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel, is spiritual leader of Congregation Ariel in Dunwoody.
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