The True Essence of Shabbat by Tzvi Silver


In Parashat Yitro, the Torah commands, “Sheishet Yamim Ta’avod VeAsita Kol Melachtecha VeYom HaShevi’i Shabbat LaShem Elokecha… Ki Sheishet Yamim Asah Hashem Et HaShamayim VeEt HaAretz Et HaYam VeEt Kol Asher Bam VaYanach BaYom HaShevi’i,” “You shall work for six days and the seventh day is Shabbat for Hashem your God… Because in six days Hashem created the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything in it, and on the seventh day, He rested” (Shemot 20:9-11). These Pesukim, found in the Aseret HaDibrot, comprise one of the major textual sources for why we rest on Shabbat. There are a few different outlooks on how we can explain practically the Mitzvah to rest on Shabbat.

        The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 32) explains that we rest on Shabbat to remind us that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The Mitzvah of Shabbat, therefore, is intended for us to remember Hashem and acknowledge his dominion over the world. Shabbat is designed for such an approach, as the day is conducive to discussions and discourses on holy matters.

However, Seforno explains that the Mitzvah of Shabbat is not just a reminder of Hashem’s actions but also a means of becoming closer to Him. By resting on Shabbat, we make ourselves similar to Hashem and thereby enable ourselves to come closer to Him. Seforno’s explanation teaches us that Shabbat, like many other Mitzvot, is motivated by the dictate of “VeHalachta BeDerachav,” “You shall walk in His [Hashem’s] ways” (Devarim 28:9), which teaches us to conduct ourselves in the paradigm that Hashem establishes for us. Since Hashem “rested” on Shabbat, we do as well.

The Mitzvah of Menuchat Shabbat contains more facets than remembrance and VeHalachta BiDerachav. First, it is a unique Mitzvah in that it involves almost our entire body. It encompasses how we speak, how we walk, what we eat, and what we read. Every part of our bodies is involved in the actions and prohibitions of Shabbat. This provides us with a better opportunity to come closer to Hashem than many other Mitzvot do. On Shabbat, we are able to achieve VeHalachta BeDerachav with our whole selves, minds, and bodies and truly remember and acknowledge HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Based on a Dvar Torah in the Sefer Al HaRishonim by Rabbi Aryeh Brueckheimer.

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