David Walk

The Faces of Shabbat

Please, allow me to vent! I’m upset! This week’s Torah reading in Eretz Yisrael is Kedoshim, but those in the Diaspora (GALUT) will be reading Acherei Mot, which we read last Shabbat, while the outlanders were keeping the eighth day of Pesach. Now we could just have the Diaspora read both Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, which are sometimes read together. But noooo, the two communities will be on different readings for the next two months. There is a complicated formula for figuring out the readings sequence, which began in the period of the Geonim, over a millennium ago. This system was great and worked well in a world where funeral homes didn’t distribute Jewish calendars every September.  

Here are my problems: First of all, I write these articles for a mixed audience of those living in the Promised Land and those still living other places. Who should I write for? Well, both, but I’ll follow the Israeli system, and hopefully the outlanders will hold on to them for another week. Secondly, I’m going to be in America for part of this time, and will end up missing a reading upon my return to the Holy Land. I don’t mind hearing a parsha twice, but I do mind skipping one. 

These complicated rules were arranged in an era when few people travelled the world. Today, at least since the cooling of the Covid Crisis, we travel to Israel, and, sadly, from it with regularity. However, the outdated nature of these rules can’t be changed because we have no authority to do it. Granted, some people reading this will think: But we shouldn’t change things! That sentiment is often true, especially concerning Torah laws. However, this was a rabbinic enactment meant to simplify and unify Jewish communal practices. Today, these rules neither simplify nor clarify. They are an anachronism, which, I suppose, we must live with until the GEULA, may it be soon. 

It feels good to get that off my chest. Now, let’s take a look at Parshat Kedoshim which contains a few top ten verses. ‘Love your fellow as you do yourself’, ‘Revere your mother and your father’, ‘Rise before the white haired, especially on busses and trains (direct quote)’. But this year I’d like to analyze: My Sabbaths you shall observe and My sanctuary you shall venerate; I am the Lord (19:30).  

Many commentaries, rightly, concentrate on the similarities between the Beit HaMikdash and our Shabbat observance. I love the thought that just like Shabbat’s observance is eternal, so, too, the sanctity of the Temple Mount is permanent, even when, tragically, the Beit HaMikdash is not upon it. These analogies go both directions. Just like we must revere or venerate the location of the sanctuary, so we must have this YIRAH for Shabbat. 

How do we accomplish this awe for Shabbat? Well, the YIRAH for the Temple included not carrying a stick there or wearing a knapsack or using it as a shortcut. We could, therefore, be careful about what we wear on Shabbat and try not to shorten it on either end. But I like the idea of the Sefer Yerei’im (the name implies connection to YIRAH), who suggests that a person should reflect on how to honor and observe it. That’s great! Besides the objective and Halachic practices on Shabbat, we should endeavor to add subjective touches to make this holy day more meaningful. I love it, and would appreciate hearing ideas from dear readers on how to accomplish it. 

But I’m interested in a fascinating idea in the Netivot Shalom, the Slonimer Rebbe, OB”M: 

It says: My Sabbaths you should observe. Why Sabbaths in the plural? There is the aspect of Shabbat mentioned in the first Tablets, ‘that God created the world in six days’. There is also the aspect mentioned in the second Tablets: Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. We mention both Creation and the Exodus in Kiddush Friday night… 

The Rebbe’s point is crucial to our understanding and observance of Shabbat. There’s also a lot going on there philosophically and theologically. We enshrine these different approaches to Shabbat in our davening as well. In the Friday night Amidah, we discuss God’s completion of the Cosmos on that first Shabbat. In the AM Amidah, we discuss the receiving of the Torah as the culmination of the Exodus experience. 

 The Creation text emphasizes the universality of God and Torah. This aspect is called HASHGACHA KLALIT, general Divine supervision, like nature and science. The Exodus and Epiphany material, on the other hand, is about the God of the Jewish Nation or HASHGACHA PRATIT, personal Divine supervision, like miracles. Generally, we even use different names for God in these differing scenarios: Elokim for nature and justice; YUD HEY VAV HEY for miracles and love. 

So, it would appear that Shabbat presents a philosophic dichotomy. But that’s not really true, because we have a third Amida, on Shabbat afternoon. At Mincha, we recite: You are One, and Your Name is One. Yes, our world presents us with dichotomy and paradox. But that will not always be true. There will be a time, again, please, let it be soon, that we will be able to understand the chaos which our world presents us with. In Kabbala, these different times of Shabbat present different Faces of God. 

Shabbat is about so much more than cessation from creative activity. It’s about taking a timeout from weekday chaos to think about the world and our reality. Universal time and Jewish history both present the serious observer with dilemmas galore. Shabbat is about finding the serenity to contemplate the Cosmos. 

Let’s make our Shabbat about more than mere observance. Let’s make it about awe for our Omnipotent Creator and our Benevolent Divine Lover. Then we can forget about my complaints about which parsha to read.  

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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