Shabbat, A Precious Gift Taken for Granted

Suppose your father, someone you highly respect and trust, gives you a gift and tells you this is the most precious gift you will receive from him. Then he tells you that if you promise to take great care of this gift, he will give you a huge home next to the beach, on fertile land, with the greatest security system that exists. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is true, true for the Jewish people.

You see, our father is Hashem.  This “most precious gift” is the Torah, and this “huge home” we were promised is Israel.  After Hashem took us out of slavery in Egypt, He gave us the Torah and we promised to take good care of the Torah, and in turn Hashem gave us this beautiful land that we live in now.  The problem is that lately, we haven’t been keeping our promise.

We live and breathe on the holiest land in the world, a land given to us by Hashem, and yet we not only take it for granted, we are also quick to desecrate the holiest day of the week and as a result, insult the Holy One, Blessed Be He.

Before I move on though, let me just save some people some time and say that if you do not believe in a single, all-powerful, all-knowing GD Who gave His people, the Jewish people, an eternal guide to live by, the Torah, through Moses His messenger, then you can stop right here.  Otherwise, please hear me out.

Not one letter, let alone one word, is wasted in the Torah.  If anything is repeated in the Torah, believe that there is a special significance to it and if two consecutive sentences appear numerous times, believe that there is great significance in the order of those sentences.

In the Torah (Devarim 4:40), it says “You shall observe His statutes and His commandments that I command you this day, so that He will do good to you and to your children after you, and so that you will prolong your days on the land that Hashem, your God, gives you, for all the days.”  Numerous times in the Torah, Hashem promises us the land of Israel as long as we observe His commandments.

We find proof in the Torah, in the Prophets and in the Writings (Ketuvim), that Shabbat is equal to all of the other commandments in importance.

In Exodus 16:28-30, “Hashem said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?”  And what is stated immediately thereafter? “See that Hashem has given you the Shabbat.”

In Ezekiel 20:13 it is stated, “But the House of Israel rebelled against Me in the Wilderness: They did not follow My decrees”.  What is stated immediately thereafter? “And they desecrated My Shabbat.”

In Nehemiah 9:13 it is stated, “You descended upon Mount Sinai and spoke to them from Heaven; You gave them righteous laws and true teachings, and beneficial decrees and commandments.”  What is stated immediately thereafter? “You made known Your sacred Shabbat to them”.

Our Sages tell us in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:34 that “Desecrating Shabbat is like denying the truth of the entire Torah.”  This is because Shabbat is as important as everything put together and so it is the weightiest of all the mitzvot.

In Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 3:9), our Sages extolled the value of the Shabbat day, teaching us that the value of the mitzvah of observing Shabbat is equivalent to that of all the other mitzvot combined.

So what we know so far is that Hashem gave the Jewish people the land of Israel and all He asks from us is to honor Him and observe His mitzvot.  We also know that Hashem has placed great emphasis on one particular mitzvah, Shabbat.

On Shabbat evening, we sing Lecha Dodi.  The first line says “Come, my beloved, to greet the bride.” The last line says “Come O Bride! – the Shabbat queen”.  Here, “my beloved” is a reference to the Jewish people, and the “bride” is a reference to Shabbat, which is called the “bride” of Israel.   This hymn is based on the passage in the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat, 119a): “Rabbi Hanina would enwrap himself in beautiful garments as Shabbat approached, and would say, ‘Come, let us go out to greet the Shabbat queen.’ Rabbi Yanai would don his robes on the Shabbat eve and say, ‘Come O bride! Come O bride!’ “

Before Shabbat begins, Shabbat is considered to be “betrothed” to Israel; once the Shabbat begins, Shabbat becomes “married” to Israel and since Israel are called “the sons of kings,” Rabbi Hannina referred to the Shabbat as a “queen,” since it is married to Israel.  And when Shabbat ends, we escort her out with a special meal called the Melaveh Malkah, “the escorting of the Queen.”  So we see that Shabbat conducts itself as a person, coming and leaving.  No other mitzvot are depicted as personalities, besides Shabbat.

There is even a special halachah to remember Shabbat on all six preceding days.  No other mitzvah has such a halachah.  It’s not written that we must remember Pesach all year, or any other holiday, for that matter.  Only with Shabbat do we have such a mitzvah.  Every day in Shacharit we recite the shir shel yom and say: “Ha-yom yom rishon b’Shabbat,” “Ha-yom yom sheini b’Shabbat…” All week long we remember Shabbat.  Shabbat is unlike anything else.

According to Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus (Nefesh Shimshon – Shabbos Kodesh), virtually every type of kedushah we know of is “man-made.”  The kedushah of Eretz Yisrael was produced by Yehoshua bin Nun.  Then it was lost during the Babylonian exile and reproduced by Ezra HaSofer.  The Kedushah of the Beit Hamikdash was created by Shmuel HaNavi and Shlomo Hamelech.  In order for a material thing to be filled with kedushah, it requires a Jew to come and dedicate it to kedushah.  This is true for Eretz Yisrael, for the Beit HaMikdash, and for korbanot.  This is also true for the Yomim Tovim.  Their Kedushah is generated when the Jews declare the new month, which happens when the Sanhedrin accepts the witnesses who’ve seen the new moon. There is one kedushah that Hashem produces all by Himself: that of Shabbat Kodesh.  Shabbat was created by Hashem alone, at the beginning of Creation.  It is zeicher l’ma’aseh Bereishit – a remembrance of Hashem’s original act of Creation.  In the 10 commandments, as written in Sefer Shemot, Shabbat is described as zeicher l’ma’aseh bereishit, “A remembrance of the creation of the world.”

There are only three mitzvot, out of 613, that Hashem refers to as covenants, and all three of these mitzvot are represented by the word Shabbat.  The Shin corresponds to Shabbat, the Bet corresponds to Brit Milah and the Tav corresponds to Tefillin.

The Ben Ish Hai said that the Jewish nation has no mitzvah so precious as Shabbat.  Hashem gave us the land of Israel, NOT to do whatever we want with it whenever we want.  He gave it to us on the condition that we observe His mitzvot, especially Shabbat.  Knowing this, how is it that there are people representating the nation of Israel who are ok with desecrating Shabbat by actively promoting businesses to remain open on Shabbat, construction be performed on Shabbat, public transportation to run on Shabbat, and concerts and other large-scale social events to be performed on Shabbat?   How can we insult the One who gave us this land in the first place, break our end of the deal and still expect to receive this gift again every day we wake up?  Israel was not discovered by a human being.  Israel was not given to us by any one human being or any one nation.  Israel was given to us by Hashem, and all He asks from us in return is to Honor Him.

About the Author
Adrian Javaherian made Aliyah from Los Angeles, California almost seven years ago. He is currently working in the biotechnology industry in Rehovot. He lives with his wife, also an Olah who he met at a Shabbat meal when they were both at Bar Ilan University, and their baby.
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