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Anticipating and Appreciating the Gift of Shabbos

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Feb 18, 2011

In Parshas Ki Tisa the Torah reiterates the obligation and significance of Shabbos. Most well known are the teachings which are derived from the juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbos to the construction of the Mishkan. However, there are a number of other important – though more subtle – lessons that can be gleaned from inferences in the text as well.

 “Ve’shamru Benei Yisrael es ha-Shabbos,” the Children of Israel shall observe Shabbos, la-asos es ha-Shabbas le’dorosam beris olam,” to make Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations (Shemos 31:16). A number of commentators have taken note of the Torah’s choice of the word “ve’shamru” in describing the people’s observance. The Ibn Ezra, for example, suggests that this implies a more comprehensive obligation which includes thinking about Shabbos throughout the week and making sure that all necessary preparations are taken care of before Shabbos (see also Mechilta Yisro #7).

The Chizkuni adopts the same basic approach as the Ibn Ezra, but in his presentation he adds one word, noting that we are obligated to “observe and anticipate it (Shabbos) all of the days of the week.” The Chizkuni is making the important point that it is not enough to simply observe Shabbos – even with all of its dos and don’ts – but it’s also about our attitude; we must anticipate Shabbos, excitedly awaiting its arrival each week. The notion that we should anticipate Shabbos adds an important dimension to our religious outlook as it highlights that Shabbos is not a burden but a special gift which – like other gifts – we should look forward to.

Aside from the impact that such a mindset has on our own observance, it will undoubtedly also impact the way our children view Shabbos. Perhaps that is why the immediate continuation of the pasuk focuses on the “eternal covenant” that Shabbos will “be for their generations.” In light of the Chizkuni’s explanation perhaps the message is that if we truly look forward to the arrival Shabbos this will inevitably impact and influence our children so that the observance of Shabbos is maintained “le’dorosam,” throughout the generations.  

Another important – and related – insight focuses on a similar word choice just a few pesukim earlier. “Ach es Shabsosai tishmoru,” however, you must observe my Shabboses, “ki os hi beini u-veineichem le’doroseichem,” for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations (31:13). The Midrash (Mechilta Ki Tisa #1) maintains that the word “tishmoru” alludes to the fact that aside from biblically prohibited melacha there are additional rabbinic prohibitions that further limit the work which can be done on Shabbos.  

The “Reisha Rav,” Rabbi Aaron Levine (Ha-Derash Ve’Ha-Iyun) notes that the cumulative impact of these prohibitions guarantees that Shabbos is a day of rest and free from work. Yet, explains R. Levine, rest is not necessarily a good thing; it all depends on what we do when freed from work. Sometimes the “shevisa atzmah,” the rest itself causes a person – without the regular structure of responsibility and with excess free time – to sin. The goal of Shabbos is, obviously, not to be an unproductive, let alone destructive, day of rest. The real purpose of Shabbos, maintains R. Levine, is to take advantage of the rest and free time to devote energy to spiritual pursuits that aren’t given enough attention during the busy work week.

Rav Avraham Pam (Atarah La’melech) cites a beautiful teaching of the Chafetz Chayim which makes this very point. In one of the most famous Shabbos zemiros we declare that, “kol meakdesh shevi’i kara’uy lo, kol shomer Shabbos ka’dos me’chalelo. The Chafetz Chayim explained that this refers to two different types of Shabbos observance. On the one hand, some people avoid all of the prohibitions of Shabbos – “shomer Shabbos ka’dos” – and therefore avoid its desecration, “me’chalelo.” However, there are other people who go even further and are “meakdesh shevi’i,” who don’t just avoid violating Shabbos but appreciate its spiritual potential and observe Shabbos the way it was truly intended, “kara’uy lo.”  

The ability to focus on and deepen our relationship with Hashem is one of the beautiful gifts of Shabbos. If we truly appreciate this opportunity we will both anticipate and take advantage of the special power of Shabbos.



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