Parshat Beshalach speaks of Bnei Yisrael’s departure from Mitzrayim and of the celebrated miracle of Keriat Yam Suf. After recounting these miracles, the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael traveled to Marah, where they complained to Moshe that the water was extremely bitter and not potable. Hashem complied with Bnei Yisrael’s request by having Moshe throw a tree into the bitter water and thereby sweeten the water. Immediately after this incident, the Torah states, “Sham Sam Lo Chok UMishpat,” “There Hashem established a decree and a law” (15:25). Rashi explains that we were given at this point the Mitzvah of Shabbat (and Parah Adumah and Dinim).
An obvious question arises from this episode. Virtually all other Mitzvot were commanded at Har Sinai. What was unique about Shabbat that it was isolated from all other Mitzvot and issued at Marah?
The Sidduro Shel Shabbat quotes a Midrash that states that at this time, Hashem told Moshe to inform Bnei Yisrael that He would be giving them the special gift of Shabbat. This, says the Sidduro Shel Shabbat, explains the fundamental difference between Shabbat and other Mitzvot. The other Mitzvot were only commanded as result of Bnei stating “Na’aseh VeNishma.” Shabbat, on the other hand, was not given based on an achievement of Bnei Yisrael. Rather, it was a pure gift from Hashem.
Hashem is considered a father to Bnei Yisrael, a notion which the Mitzvah of Shabbat highlights. There are two types of love which a father expresses towards his son: there is love that comes in response to the son’s actions, and there is undeserved love. The latter type stems from the mere fact that the father has a biological connection to his son. This is precisely the type of love that Hashem shows for Bnei Yisrael through the Mitzvah of Shabbat. We did not earn the Mitzvah; it was given simply as a pure, loving gift.
In Sefer Devarim (14:1), the Torah writes, “Banim Atem LaShem Elokeichem,” “You [Bnei Yisrael] are children to Hashem your God.” Based on this Pasuk, we can glean a profound lesson from Shabbat. Since Hashem is the father of all of Klal Yisrael, the gift of Shabbat is given to all of His children. This gift is intended to unite us. Shabbat is a time when all of Klal Yisrael come together to accept the incredible gift of Shabbat from our Father.