The Ultimate Transition by Sruli Farkas


The Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments that Hashem gave to Bnei Yisrael on Har Sinai, serve as some of the fundamental principles of Judaism. These commandments are presented twice in the Torah, once in Parashat Yitro at Har Sinai and once in Parashat VaEtchanan in Arvot Moav. Even though they are similar to the originals, numerous differences exist in the Aseret HaDibrot described in Parashat VaEtchanan compared to the originals described in Parashat Yitro, one of which is the reason for the obligation to keep Shabbat. In Parashat Yitro (Shemot 20:10), the Pasuk states, “Ki Sheishet Yamim Asah Hashem Et HaShamayim VeEt HaAretz…VaYanach BaYom HaShevi’i Al Kein Beirach Hashem Et Yom HaShabbat VaYekadesheihu,” “For Hashem created the heavens and the earth over six days and rested on the seventh (day); therefore, Hashem blessed the Shabbat and made it holy.” The focus in this context is placed on Beri’at HaOlam. On the other hand, the text in Parashat VaEtchanan focuses on Hashem’s redeeming us from Eygpt, as the Pasuk states (Devarim 5:14), “VeZachartah Ki Eved Hayitah BeEretz Mitzrayim VaYotzi’achah Hashem Elokechah MiSham BeYad Chazakah UViZro’a Netuyah Al Kein Tzivecha Hashem Elokechah La’asot Et Yom HaShabbat,” “And you shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and Hashem, your God, brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; because of this, Hashem, your God, commanded you to keep the day of  Shabbat.” Are these two reasons truly separate aspects of Shemirat Shabbat, or are they merely two sub-reasons for keeping Shabbat that possess a unifying factor?

In his commentary on the VaEtchanan version, Rashi explains that Yetziat Mitzrayim is the reason for why we must keep Shabbat; the keeping of Hashem’s Mitzvot is what we “owe” Him for taking us out of Mitzrayim. In his commentary on Yitro, Rashi states that since Hashem, who did not need rest even after creating the universe, still rested on Shabbat, all the more so human beings should rest on and observe Shabbat. Both of these explanations imply that the only reason for keeping Shabbat is in response to a single act of Hashem, either His creation of the universe or His taking us out of Mitzrayim. According to these reasons, there is no strong intellectual argument for our observance of Shabbat; rather, it is more of a Chok.

Ramban takes a different approach. He states that the two events connected to Shabbat both express that Hashem is the ultimate creator, not only a creator of the past, but also a constant creator and upholder of the world. Leaving Mitzrayim removed us from the burdens of working all day and gave us control of our own time. Shabbat is the time that we use to recognize all the kindness Hashem does for us, including creating us and making sure that we have the ability to allot time to ourselves. We recognize that Hashem is in constant control, and we thank Him for giving us so much. Ramban does not focus on the fact that we are no longer in hard labor; rather, he dwells on the fact that we were missing our time, and now we have it and can (and must) use it for much-needed rest. With this extra rest, we can truly thank Hashem by focusing on His ability to create and maintain.

While Rashi seems to place focus on the physical work and toil of human beings in explaining why we rest on Shabbat, Ramban places the focus on Hashem as ultimate creator. The difference of focus can be explained by a difference of understanding in regards to balance of physical and spiritual freedom. While both are important, which is more of a direct result of Hashem’s freeing us from slavery in Egypt? Could Hashem have made us spiritually free even in Mitzrayim? The original plan seems to have been to take only a small journey out of Eygpt to serve Hashem and then to go back. If He could have instilled spiritual freedom in us even in Egypt, then the more impressive feat is that Hashem took us out physically, as Rashi seems to contend. Ramban seems to put more focus on the more spiritual freedom. Pirkei Avot (6:2) states, “Nobody is truly free except the one who is involved in studying Torah.” Perhaps, Hashem needed to harden Paroh’s heart to give us complete freedom. Perhaps, from the start, the plan was to remove the nation from Egypt completely because a small journey would not enable Bnei Yisrael to receive the Torah and have the time to study it properly and delve into its depths.

We must be thankful for the physical and spiritual freedoms Hashem gave us by taking us out of Egypt, and we must commemorate these freedoms on Shabbat. On Pesach, we must recognize the changes Hashem effected by freeing us from slavery by recognizing our ability and obligation to use our time properly. We retell the story of the drastic change that transpired during Yetziat Mitzrayim to recognize the freedoms we acquired when Hashem took us out of Egypt.

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