There is a truly beautiful and heartwarming piece of Talmud that I would love to share with you:
“The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moshe: I have a good gift in My Treasure House and Shabbat is its name, and I request to give it to Israel. Go and inform them about it.” (Tractate Shabbat 10b)
Where does one even begin speaking of Shabbat?
Shabbat cannot be spoken of per se; it must be experienced and remembered. It must be observed and safeguarded. It must be treasured and cherished. And not just once a year, when the hype is up and it is popular to do so, but once a week. Each and every week without fail for all time and for all eternity.
The sanctity of Shabbat is so powerful and so unique, that it overrides fast days by advancing or postponing them and delays or cancels many of the mitzvot that would violate the sanctity of Shabbat, such as blowing the Shofar or shaking the Lulav. Shabbat belongs to the Creator of the world, and we are humbled, privileged and blessed to have been given this treasure to safeguard and cherish.
Even Yom Kippur, the most holy and most unique day in our Jewish Calendar, is referred to in the Torah (Leviticus 23:32) as “Shabbat Shabbaton” – “the Day of Complete Rest” (i.e. the Shabbat of all Shabbatot), and makes serious concessions with Shabbat – should it occur on Shabbat itself. Even though one may not fast on a regular Shabbat, Shabbat allows the fast day of Yom Kippur that occurs on it, to proceed. Yet, the recital of ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ – considered a pivotal part of our atonement – is not said throughout the day, until the Ne’ilah service.
Perhaps one of the most misleading statements about Shabbat is the one from Ahad Ha’am who writes, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” It sounds so heartening and right and may make a lot of sense, but the Truth is that Shabbat was created (and apparently hidden in the Treasure House of the Almighty) at the very beginning of Creation – long before Abraham, the first Jew, arrived on the scene. As we sing at the Shabbat table the words of an age-old song, “Shabbat Hayom Lashem” – “Shabbat is a day for God”. (Song: ‘Shimru Shabtotai’)
Shabbat is a living entity, much like the Land of Israel and the Nation of Israel and the Torah and the Almighty, who are all inextricably bound to one another in an everlasting relationship. We refer to Shabbat as “Shabbat Hamalka” – “The Shabbat Queen”. Shabbat is our bride. Shabbat is our partner. Shabbat is our beloved who we welcome each week.
“L’cha Dodi Likrat Kalah
P’nei Shabbat N’kab’lah”
“Come my Beloved, let us embrace the bride!
The face of Shabbat, we shall welcome her with pride!”
– (‘Welcoming the Shabbat’ Service)
Shabbat is a loving relationship, and as with all loving relationships, we strive to gain as much insight, knowledge and understanding about every aspect and every facet of that relationship. But first and foremost is love.
Tractate Shabbat is 157 double-sided pages long (according to the Romm edition of the Talmud). Having studied it as part of the Daf Yomi, I can tell you that there are an absolute untold fortune of details therein. Measurements and scenarios; case-studies and stories; verses and explanations; history and context; debates ad infinitum about every single fine detail regarding Shabbat – and that’s only the Talmud! Following that are all the commentaries and all the discussions throughout the ages, and on and on and on. Why? Why all of this? And I answer with a well-known cliché, but oh so relevant here: What wouldn’t you do for the one you love? …
Shabbat is beyond time and space. Shabbat is full of beauty and love. Shabbat cannot be retained or ‘kept’. Shabbat can only be lived through, experienced, observed, safeguarded, protected, secured, remembered and enjoyed. The nature of Shabbat is completely out of our hands, save to live the moment with all its ordinances and intricacies and our yearning the whole week long to do it all over again.
“And on the Seventh, You desired it and made it unique; You called it, ‘most treasured of days’; a memory to the Act of Creation” – (Morning Service, Shabbat)
You may remember this love story, that I wrote:
“I have been waiting for her the whole week. To welcome her, to embrace her, to observe her in all her beauty and stillness, to safeguard and protect her and to realise that even though she’ll only be around for one day, that day is worth eternity. I enjoy all the time I spend with her, because deep down she is an integral part of my soul. I think about her the whole week, I patiently wait and yearn for her arrival with much anticipation. I must run now, as she’ll be here any moment… Oh Shabbat, how I love you!”
That is the relationship we have with our treasured bride. That is the level of connection that we are fortunate to be able to attain. That is the partnership that was formed at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Torah and the Torah gives us two unique ways of connecting fully with Shabbat:
“ZACHOR et Yom HaShabbat L’kadsho”
– “Remember the Shabbat Day to sanctify it / make it unique.” (Exodus 20:8)
“SHAMOR et Yom HaShabbat L’kadsho”
– “Safeguard the Shabbat Day to sanctify it / make it unique.” (Deuteronomy 5:12)
‘Zachor’ is about creating memories. Each person, each family, each generation creates beautiful and positive and incredible memories of Shabbat that bring forth the Original Memory of the Act of Creation itself. For it is that Seventh Day of Rest after six days of Creation that we remember each and every week. We give testimony to the whole world that no matter what the trend, what the fashion, what the season may bring; this world and this reality were created by One Creator and Shabbat gives us the chance to embrace that Truth.
‘Shamor’ is about protecting and securing the boundaries of Shabbat, that they not be breached for the duration of Shabbat. It is not about ‘not using technology’ or ‘not driving to Shul’. It is about something much greater than that. Imagine watching the most magnificent sunset with your beloved and intimate one. The silence. The sacred moment shared. The deep feelings of love. The experience embedded into your memory and etched into your soul, forever. Who would even think of disturbing or desecrating such a moment?
That is what it means to be ‘shomer’ Shabbat. An adored and devoted bond; part of our very core that deeply desires this connection once a week, each and every week, always.