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THE UNITY OF SHABBAT
(‘שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַה'” (שמות ל”ה: ב”
The first of this week’s two פרשיות, which mainly discusses משה’s commanding בני ישראל in the construction of the משכן, opens with a somewhat repetitive reminder to the Jewish People: “ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי… שבת שבתון לה’- Six days you will do work and on the seventh day… will be a holy day of rest for G-d.” While the connection between שבת and the משכן is obvious- the 39 מלאכות that we cannot do on שבת all originate in work done to construct the Tabernacle- we still must wonder why בני ישראל needed to be reminded here again, for the umpteenth time, that they must keep שבת. Why did G-d need to go out of His way to remind בני ישראל again that they must rest on the Seventh day?
רש”י answers that the reason that בנ”י needed to be reminded of their obligation to keep שבת as the משכן’s construction begins is to show them that despite the fact that G-d, through משה, had commanded them to build the משכן, this directive did not supersede the מצוה of שמירת שבת- even as they began to build the Tabernacle, its construction could not be done more than 6 days each week.
אור החיים, delving a little deeper into the meaning of שבת, gives a slightly different answer. He quotes a teaching in מסכת הוריות which shows that for one who is עובד עבודה זרה, it is as if he rejected and violated all תרי”ג מצות, so for בני ישראל to do כפרה for their idol worship, and for them to be זוכה to have a משכן, they had to once again accept all תרי”ג מצות- through this re-acceptance, starting with שבת, they could merit to have G-d’s presence near them again. Or Hachayim takes this idea a step further by quoting aשמות רבה (כ”ה:י”ב), which teaches that by G-d reminding בני ישראל of the שבת at this point, He was hinting to them that the מצוה of keeping שבת is considered to be equal to all of the rest of the מצות- that one’s keeping שבת is equal to keeping all of the מצות, and conversely, for one who violates שבת, it is as if he rejected all of the מצות. As G-d, through משה, reminded the Jewish People to keep the Holy day, He gave them a chance to quickly earn having the משכן built by re-accepting the one מצוה that is equal to all of them, and through this merit, they were זוכה to have G-d’s presence in their midst again.
This powerful statement of the אור החיים helps give us some idea of the true implications of guarding and violating the שבת, but leaves us with another question: How is שבת such an important מצוה that violating it is equal to violating all 613 מצות? What is so special about this commandment to raise it above all the others?
Rav Yisrael Meir Hakohen Kagan, author of the חפץ חיים, gives a unique answer to our question. He quotes a גמרא (שבת י עמ’ ב):
אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה: מתנה טובה יש לי בבית גנזי ושבת שמה, ואני מבקש ליתנה לישראל – לך והודיעם
Hashem said to Moshe: I have a good present in my treasure houses called Shabbat, and I want to give it to Israel- go and tell them
Rav Kagan explains that from here we see the שבת was a “good gift” from G-d. He then explains through a משל of a woman who recently became engaged to get married and received a gift she did not like from her fiancé. If she returns the gift, she is not just saying that she didn’t like what he gave her- she is also saying that she is no longer as interested in their relationship as before. So too, with our relationship to G-d, if we ever reject His gift of Shabbat, we are also showing Him that we are not interested in having a close relationship with Him. Similarly, one who is extra careful to be שומר שבת shows G-d that he is very interested in their relationship, and his connection to G-d will only grow from that. This teaching of the חפץ חיים sheds an interesting light on our relationship with G-d; that our lifelong attempts to fulfill all 613 of His מצות are not just to finish a checklist or to follow a rulebook-they are a means of strengthening our relationship with our creator.
מסכת מכות, an interesting tractate which discusses the rules of Jewish civil punishment that I was recently זוכה to complete, ends on an oddly positive note:
רבי חנניה בן עקשיא אומר רצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצות
R’ Chananya ben Akashia said: G-d wanted to increase the merit of Israel- therefore He increased their Torah and Mitzvot (מכות ג’:ט”ז)
This teaching, quite possibly the most commonly known משנה in סדר נזיקין as it usually signals the end of the pre-מעריב drasha in shul, pre-enforces the lesson of the חפץ חיים; that G-d gave us the מצות as a chance to increase our merits and get closer to Him- as a lifestyle, not as a rulebook. We can learn from both this משנה and the חפץ חיים’s teaching that Judaism’s perspective of עבודת השם is not just about our actions- it is also equally, if not more so, about our attitudes. As we go about our day-to-day lives trying to be the best Jews that we can be, we cannot merely settle for serving G-d without thinking about what we are saying and doing- we must remember the last משנה of מסכת מכות and why G-d gave us these מצות; to build a relationship with Him. Through this added awareness in our עבודת השם, we can all continue to build a stronger and more meaningful relationship with הקדוש ברוך הוא, and through that, hopefully become more aware of His role in our day-to-day lives.
I believe that this lesson does not only apply on a בין אדם למקום level- it applies equally, if not more so, for בין אדם לחבירו in our interpersonal relationships. Just as we occasionally have difficulties understanding and appreciating the details of our עבודת השם, we also periodically have a difficult time understanding and appreciating people around us, especially those who are very different from us.
In his recently-published sefer “A Light Unto the Nations,” Rav Binyamin Kwalwasser, the Mashgiach of Yeshivat Lev Hatorah and a rebbe of mine, writes of the ideal role, status, and traits of the Jewish People, both now and in the ימות המשיח. In a chapter about relationships between Jews and non-Jews, Rav Kwalwasser writes that the first and most important thing to note is that man was created “בצלם אלקים”- all humans were created in the image of G-d, not just Jews. This is an important lesson for the Jewish People to remember- that even though we are the Chosen people, we are not the only people- that there is an important concept of כבוד הבריות, of giving a basic level of respect to all people, no matter what their background. The chapter continues by listing different examples where Jewish leaders, whether willingly or unwillingly, interceded to prevent harm from coming to נכרים. Though the first time this occurred was אברהם אבינו voluntarily beseeching G-d to save סדום and עמורה when G-d was ready to destroy them, we can learn a bigger lesson from the story of יונה הנביא. G-d commanded Yonah to go to ננבה to warn them to abandon their evil ways, and יונה, so unwilling to help a fellow person because of their beliefs and traits, went out of his way to defy G-d’s word, and we know how well that turns out for him. His story shows us how wrong this perspective is- that we cannot refuse to help a fellow human being, especially a Jew, because we don’t agree with them and can’t appreciate their views- we must go out of our way to help them anyway, and in the process, we can gain a greater understanding and appreciation of them.
One of the most predominant problems in the Judaism now is one of attitude. Many Jews on all levels of the religious spectrum believe that their way is the only way of serving G-d and, through this attitude, they mistreat and reject their brothers who have a different relationship with their creator. We must learn from the lesson of the חפץ חיים that in Judaism, one’s attitude is as important as his actions, and that whether one serves G-d through earning a living, learning תורה, or both, the most important thing is that he does it לשם שמים. Once we reach this level of understanding of our fellow Jew, it is almost natural that we will begin to appreciate our brothers not as we’d previously labeled them, but just as אחינו כל בית ישראל- united in our service of G-d and our relationship with Him.
With השם’s help, we will see all of the Jewish People reaching this ideal level of appreciating each other, so that we can all unite לעשות עבודתו בלבב שלם as a single nation and a single people doing His מצות, and through this, we will hopefully bring the גאולה very soon. Shabbat Shalom.