Said R’ Levi: If all Israel would keep Shabbat properly, even just one day (kara’ui, afilu yom ekhad), the son of David would come (Shemot Raba 25:12) R’ Yochanan said in the name of R’ Shimon bar Yochai: If all Israel would keep just two Sabbaths (sh’tai Shabatot) according to halacha, they would be redeemed immediately. (Shabbat 118b)
We appear to have a clear contradiction between the Midrash which requires the keeping of just one Shabbat in order for Mashiakh to arrive, and the Babylonian Talmud which demands the keeping of two. How can we resolve this discrepancy?
A key may be found in the strange circumlocution (kara’ui, afilu yom ekhad) found in the Midrashic text. One would have expected the Midrash to use the simple term shabbat ekhad, “just one Sabbath”. Indeed the parallel Talmudic text presents that very simplicity of expression, shtei Shabbatot, “just two Sabbaths”. Is there some significance in the way the Midrash expresses itself?
I would like to suggest there is. The phrase yom ekhad is used at the end of the first day of Creation (Gen 1:5). Rashi, wondering why the expression “the first day” isn’t used to match the end-phrases of the subsequent paragraphs (the second day, the third day, etc.) concludes that yom ekhad actually means “the day of the One”, i.e. a day of G-D or a “Godly day”. (of an incalculable Godly length as my teacher R’ Munk ztl extrapolates to advance his theory that the Creation days are not to be counted when reckoning the age of the universe.)
Could it be that the Midrash is hinting that Mashiakh will only come if a Shabbat is kept by all of Am Yisrael as purely a “day of G-D”, a Shabbat which we keep not simply in response to a challenge, intending to revert to old habits thereafter, but as a real commitment to our Creator to be maintained evermore?
This could be the answer to our dichotomy The Talmudic statement is a consequence of the Midrashic one. If “just one Shabbat is kept for the sake of G-D, lish’ma, as it is meant to be kept, the corollary is that a second one will certainly ensue seven days later! Then, seeing as Am Yisrael has made a real commitment to Shabbat observance, Mashiach will immediately arrive in tow!
Additionally, in the Midrash there is that striking extra word kara’ui. The “just one day” needs to be celebrated in a proper, fit and desirable manner. That can only mean with joy, love and devotion as well as with care and respect with regard to halachic parameters. Such a Shabbat is absolutely bound to lead to another of the same ilk, seven days later!
An Amazing Project Which Needs A New Breath Of Life
In 2013, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein pioneered the “Shabbos Project”, challenging first his community, then world Jewry, to commit to keeping “just one Shabbat” early in the new Jewish year when the “high” of the Tishri season has still not dissipated. It has been an amazing success for many years. Yet. to quote Hillel in Pirkei Avot, (1:13), de-lo mosif yoseif, what isn’t increased is decreased. With “Shabbos Project Shabbat” becoming a routine fixture in the calendar, both the concept and the event have somewhat ossified. in Sydney this year everything was very low-key. Communities appear to be homing in one or other aspect of Shabbat – candle-lighting, Havdala or challa-baking – rather than seeking to promote its strict observance from beginning to end as was the case originally. Sadly, Hlllel’s dictum does appear to have been corroborated.
Trick or Treat?
I apologise to my readers for borrowing a catch-phrase from a pagan ‘festival’ that I absolutely loathe, but the phrase does appear to fit the bill here!
Earlier I questioned whether a Shabbat kept in response to a challenge was the real deal. Allow me an analogy. When children raised in traditional Jewish home reach ten or eleven, they will often tell their parents they intend to fast this year on Yom Kippur at least most of the day. They may (inadvertently) trick their doting parents into believing that they are raising a tsadik in their home. But often the truth is that fasting for them is a challenge or, if you like, a game. They are in competition with their friends to see who can fast the longest. Don’t get me wrong: I am not decrying their motivation – not at that age! Mitokh she-lo lish’ma ba lish’ma! Hopefully when they are bar/bat mitsva or maybe a little older than that, as they come to a more mature understanding of the significance of the day, they will be fasting for all the right reasons!
The Shabbat Project has also become something of a game. Many in our communities are up for the challenge. They are in it together with their peers, and they want to demonstrate to themselves and to their friends that they can keep at least part of a Shabbat as it is meant to be kept. Great! But if there is no follow-through, if the next Shabbat it’s back to work, back to the iPhone, back to the car, then it has all, in a sense, been a bit of a trick.
If however the Shabbat was kept not as a challenge but as a real attempt at commitment, to connect with G-D, if it is seen as a treat, a real delight, a “paradise island in time”, then the chances are that this “just one Shabbat” will be the – perhaps tentative – springboard towards a beautiful romance with the greatest gift G-D has given to Am Yisrael. If so, no trickery was involved at all! The connection both to Shabbat and to its Bestower is now deep and meaningful!
(Note: I am using 22/7 rather than “7 October” as a shorthand for the Hamas atrocities of a month ago as it seems more appropriate to refer to the Hebrew date of 22 Tishri, given its significance.)
I believe we now have a whole new meaning and motivation for the keeping of Shabbat post 22/7.
The Hamas murderers planned their rampage for Simchat Torah deliberately. It suited their purpose because it happened to mark exactly fifty years by the solar date since the Yom Kippur War (the date of which was of course also chosen purposefully). But their main ‘thrill’ came from the fact that they sabotaged the most joyous day in the Jewish calendar. What is more, it also coincided this year with Shabbat. Between 2010 and 2049 (an average fifty-year span) Shabbat and Simchat Torah coincide (in Israel – in the Diaspora they never do) only eight times. Hamas really “struck gold” – in their perverted minds – this year! The day marking a quintessence of menukha (spiritual rest) and simcha (joy) was mercilessly ravished.
Of course pikuakh nefesh dictates that the Shabbat laws be set aside in every necessary way to minimise loss of life and thus the army were hastily mobilised. But the Hamas butchers did the job they set out to do. Not only did they slaughter 1,400 Jews and take 240+ Jews captive, they forever ensured that Jews all over the world would associate Shabbat Simchat Torah not with rest and joy but with carnage and brutal murder.
Klal Yisrael (we are all one people) forfeited the peace and joy of that Shabbat. Now we have to pay Shabbat back with tons of interest! I hereby testify as a rabbi that while hilkhot ribit, the laws of interest) are very strict when it comes to material matters, they do not apply to spiritual ones. As the Talmud declares (Yoma 85b): “Negate one Sabbath (when you need to in order to prevent loss of life) so that you will be able to observe many more Sabbaths!”
The challenge for our nation, which always somehow succeeds in forging triumph out of adversity, is to use 22/7 as a springboard to enhance our shemirat Shabbat, our observance of Shabbat, on whatever level of shemira we find ourselves. If we are already barukh haShem fully Shabbat-observant, let us infuse our Shabbat with more simcha, more zemirot, more Torah, more materially/emotionally/spiritually-needy guests (if we are able) and less mundane talk (and no lashon ha-ra!). If we are not yet quite there, let’s try to ascend a rung by taking on one or two more planks of melakha (creative and productive work)-avoidance. If we have not yet discovered the beauty of Shabbat, let’s try to, let’s reach out to those in our communities who would be only too willing to share their Shabbat table and/or their knowledge and advice. And let’s do more each week. Not just one Shabbat. Not even two. But forever!
As well as bringing us closer to G-D and to each other, this message to our enemies that they cannot break our Shabbat, they cannot destroy our simcha, they cannot crush our spirit, is another powerful nail in their coffin. It may even bring Mashiakh!