S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 25 February 2017 / 29 Shevat 5777

The Shabbat Connection

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

In the Shabbat morning prayer we say, “And the Jewish People shall observe the Shabbat, to do (la’asot in Hebrew) the Shabbat throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the Jewish People for all time, that in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.” (Ex. 31:16-17)

Let’s examine these words more closely and try to understand:

  1. How are we, the Jewish People, connected to our Creator through Shabbat, i.e. how does observing Shabbat establish the connection between us?
  2. Why do the words in verse that we say state “to do Shabbat”, instead of to “observe Shabbat”, “remember Shabbat” or “keep Shabbat”? “Doing Shabbat sounds “hip” perhaps, but what special message does it convey?
  3. And in what sense in Shabbat an “ot” — a sign — between G-d and the Jewish People that we recognize Him as the Creator all existence?

What is the Jew’s connection to Shabbat? A midrash teaches that when G-d created the world Shabbat came before the Creator to complain. Each day had a “mate”. Sunday had Monday, Tuesday had Wednesday, Thursday had Friday — but Shabbat had no mate! It was the odd day out. G-d told Shabbat not to worry, that He would give Shabbat to the Jewish People as its mate.

How can we understand that humans are paired with a day? Apples and oranges, as different as they may be, are still in the same category, as they are both fruits. But how can Shabbat being mated with Jewish People? How can a 24-hour period of time be married to a group of human beings?

It’s important that we note that the verse does not say “b’sheshet yamim (in six days) G-d created the universe, but rather states that He created “sheshet yamim” (six days). This means that the Torah is telling me about three creations: 1. Six days of the week (i.e. time) 2. Heavens (i.e. spiritual worlds); 3. Earth (i.e. physical world). In other words, the verse is teaching us about the creation of time, space and eternity.

Shabbat is not a day like the other days. In fact, it is not really a “day” at all. The Torah doesn’t state about Shabbat “V’yehi erev v’yehi boker” like it does regarding the other six days. There was no evident creation during that 24-hour period.There was just “rest”. G-d, it says, “Shavat v’yinafash” — He desisted from creating and entered into a less physical manifestation of Himself, a “nesfesh” existence. Shabbat is not “in time”. It is “outside of time”. It is part of eternity. In that sense we say it is “ma’ein olam haba” — “akin to the World-to-Come”.

By not doing any creative act and mentally entering into the eternity that is the Shabbat day we connect with G-d by being part of the eternity and timelessness that He “inhabits”. In that respect we become the partner of Shabbat, which is not really a day, just as the Jewish People are not, in essence, part of the natural, physical world. Shabbat and the Jewish People are both part of eternity. We achieve eternity through our entering into the Shabbat, just as Shabbat celebrates its eternity through its observance by the Jewish People. We are truly its mate.

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