by R' Yerachmiel Kram
The Choicest of Days
Reasons for the Commandment of Shabbos
"Between Me and the Children of Israel it is an everlasting
sign" (Shemos 31:17).
The commandment of Shabbos was included among the Ten
Commandments and even preceded the giving of the Torah at
Sinai. The Jews were commanded regarding Shabbos at Moroh.
The Torah states two reasons for keeping this seventh day:
the first appears in the commandment of the Aseres
Hadibros in Yisro and the second, in the
commandment appearing in Voeschanon, namely: "For [in]
six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and
all they contain, and He rested upon the seventh day.
Therefore did Hashem bless the Sabbath day and sanctified it"
Abstaining from work on Shabbos is designed to affix in our
hearts the realization and the belief in the renewal of the
world, which was created during six days by a Creator, Who
also rested from His work, as do we abstain from work on this
seventh day. Shabbos is, therefore, an appointment in time
whose purpose is to strengthen faith in the Creator.
In the Ten Commandments of Voeschanon, we read an
altogether different reason: "And you shall remember that you
were a slave in the land of Egypt and Hashem your G-d took
you out of there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm.
Therefore did Hashem your G-d command you to make the day of
Shabbos" (Devorim 5:15). From here we infer that
observing the day of Shabbos serves as a remembrance of the
exodus from Egypt. What, then, is its real purpose?
Shabbos Cannot Only be a Day of Abstaining from
The Jewish people are commanded to abstain from all labor and
to totally shun any creative work. By the very fact of his
ceasing to do all labor, a Jew remembers that Hashem also
desisted from further creation on the seventh day. In this
manner, a Jew establishes in his soul the faith that there is
a Creator to this world, a Being Who preceded this world and
created it, One Who made, does make and will make everything
in the world. This is the main purpose of Shabbos: Shabbos is
a basic principle of Jewish faith.
On the other hand, merely abstaining from all toil which one
is accustomed to do throughout the six days of the week,
would present a danger to the soul and spirit of a person,
for idleness leads to sin. Boredom and lack of productivity
is certainly the mother of all sin. Therefore Hashem saw fit
to fill the vacuum that was created by abstention from toil
with a positive entity; to pour content of spirituality and
holiness into the Sabbath day.
We are all familiar with the wonderful work of the kiruv
seminars. Within their framework, participants listen to
a battery of lectures, they pray together, eat together and,
after two or three days, feel a tremendous spiritual
exaltation that gives them the strength and impetus to
continue on and on.
They return home, but the impression of the seminar has made
its mark upon their thoughts. They will return to work the
following day, to their respective positions in education,
clerical work, hi-tech, but the seminar will have left a
strong imprint upon their lives. Even after they return home,
they will attempt to clarify, investigate, ask and seek to
learn more, all based on the impression of that seminar.
Shabbos is the Time for Torah
That is the nature of Shabbos. It is not simply a day of rest
and leisure, of idleness. The day serves as a day of
introspection. On this day a Jew severs himself from the
material world and ascends to a world that is wholly pure. He
exits the common cycle and is able to draw close to the
sources of his soul. He then fills his reservoir and
recharges his spiritual batteries with energy that will last
him for the six days of activity in the coming week.
This is how the Ramban explains it in his commentary to the
"The Torah writes `to sanctify it' so that the memory of the
Shabbos be holy in our eyes, as it is said, `And you shall
call the Shabbos `a pleasure' to the Holy One, Hashem . . . '
That the resting shall be in our eyes for the sake of its
being a day of holiness, to divert all of our idle thoughts
away from the vanities and the times, and to provide our
souls with spiritual pleasure in the ways of Hashem, to go to
the sages and the prophets to hear the word of Hashem, as it
is written, `Why are you going to him [Elisha] today? It is
neither Rosh Chodesh nor Shabbos.' For that was customary.
Chazal also said we see from here that on Rosh Chodesh and
Shabbos it is fitting to go" (Ramban, Shemos 20:8).
In other words, we were not forbidden to work in plowing or
harvesting simply to have a reprieve from work and to idle
away our time, but to "Go to the sages and the prophets in
order to hear the word of Hashem."
In this aspect, there is a great similarity between the
exodus from Egypt and Shabbos. There, some three thousand
three hundred years ago, the Jews left the bondage of Egypt
for freedom. But Jewry purchased its freedom at the price of
a new yoke which they were commanded to place upon their
shoulders. While it was not one of bricks and mortar, of
brutal taskmasters forcing them to produce a daily quota, it
was the yoke of Torah and mitzvos, the yoke of tefillin,
tzitzis, mezuza, Shabbos, korbonos and the rest. A
liberation from the backbreaking bondage of Egypt exchanged
for a spiritual bondage which reached its peak at Mt.
The relationship between Shabbos and the weekdays is similar,
for on Shabbos we are commanded to rest from the weekday
toils -- but this does not mean we are supposed to twiddle
our thumbs. The reason for our desisting from toil is to free
us to acquire more knowledge, to elevate ourselves
spiritually, to store up reserves of spiritual treasures to
tide us over the coming weekdays.
In this aspect, the ushering in of the Shabbos does resemble
the exodus from Egypt, for in both, the Jew divests himself
of his work clothes in order to enter the beis
hamedrash and lift himself up a tefach from the
grey reality of the weekday world.
The Unique Property of Shabbos is a Rapid Ascent in
If you will, the Torah alludes to another reason why it
mentions the historic event of yetzias Mitzrayim as
the central purpose of Shabbos. This attempts to provide an
answer to those who think that one single day is not powerful
enough to effect a significant change upon a soul that was
designed for a mundane existence in weekly toil.
What, after all, can a simple Jew attain, they ask, during
the one day of severance from the mundane and adherence to
holiness that will continue to sustain him during the coming
week? How much can the wisdom of the sages and the
exhortation of the prophets avail to one steeped in the
From a logical standpoint, they might be right in asking that
question. Mathematically speaking, it is one against six; how
much of an impact can this Shabbos pack to exert its
influence across the weekdays that take up most of a person's
The answer is that Shabbos contains a special power, the same
power that attracted the Jews and held them in thrall to the
worship of Hashem after their emergence from Egypt. Then too,
they were immersed in the forty- nine depths of spiritual
pollution and every vestige of holiness and purity was far
Who would have believed that a group of men, products of the
depraved Egyptian society would, within a short space of
time, reach a prophetic level greater even than that attained
by the prophet Yechezkel? In the span of seven weeks, a tribe
of slaves, abused, wallowing in a spiritually-deprived
morass, rose to participate in a historic, momentous, unique
and exceptional occasion, an all-time event in all the annals
of mankind's chronicles: the revelation of the Divine
Presence upon Har Sinai and the giving of the Torah! Such an
event is totally inconceivable, according to our grasp. And
similarly by analogy, in nowaday experience, can we imagine
an Israeli youth, steeped in the paganism of distant India,
suddenly taking himself in hand, returning to his roots and,
after less than two months, being able to grasp concepts at
the level of what the Chazon Ish grasped, for example, or
some other erudite Torah sage?
The answer is, under normal circumstances, totally negative.
But it happened at the liberation of our ancestors from
Egypt. Apparently it is this kind of phenomenon that Hashem
alluded to when he said to Moshe before the Giving of the
Torah, "And I lifted you upon the wings of eagles and I
brought you to Me" (Shemos 19:4). This expressed the
rapidity of the polar change that took place amongst the Jews
in their metamorphosis from decadence to holiness and from
idolatry to prophecy.
This is also the inherent power and property of Shabbos. With
just a little effort and within a short time, it can uplift a
Jew from the bleakness of his weekday life to great spiritual
heights, to an expanded spiritual capacity. He must merely
create a needle-thin aperture in order that [Heaven] expand
it to the size of an auditorium. This power is the blessing
of Shabbos, which showers a munificence of holiness and
spiritual capacity unattainable during other times.
Shabbos is Like a Minuscule Maamad Har Sinai
It is most apt to quote here the marvelous words of R' Chaim,
brother of the Maharal of Prague, as it appears in his work,
"A person's heart harbors its doubts regarding the Divine
origin of Torah and mitzvos. Any belief that is imposed upon
a person from the outside must necessarily arouse within him
a measure of doubt or skepticism unless he experienced it
firsthand and arrived at the realization and faith on his
own, as did our ancestors whose very feet stood on Har Sinai
and who were all exalted to a level of prophecy and heard the
voice of a living G-d speaking directly to them.
"Out of His great love to the Jewish people, and in order to
remove all doubt from their hearts, Hashem granted us the
Shabbos, which is a sign of the covenant between us, and in
whose repose a gentile is forbidden to partake. In this
repose, every Jew feels in person the Divine bounty, the glow
of the Divine Countenance shining upon him and the added joy
which permeates him, involuntarily even, immediately with the
onset of the Shabbos. The night of Shabbos, entirely, is
light and strength and joy wherever we are. Undoubtedly, this
is nothing but a spark of light and joy that glimmers from
the source of all prophecy, for even if we have no prophets
and no seers and we are on tainted soil, still, He has not
withdrawn from us His kindness and truth to continue to
shower upon us a Divine light, Shabbos after Shabbos.
"We, in particular, who are weary from this bitter exile, are
able to find surcease for our souls on this holy day. And by
this very reality, we can conclude, without any room for
doubt, that our Torah is a Torah of truth."
To these words it is fitting to add what is told about Count
Potocki, the famous convert known as Avrohom ben Avrohom:
even before he actually converted to Judaism, he would
experience an inexplicable fervor every Friday evening
without knowing or understanding wherefore. He would pace the
floor restlessly, emitting an occasional roar in Polish,
"Tzu-ta za Sobota?" (What is the nature of this
Sabbath?) There existed a subconscious feeling in the mind
and heart of one of the greatest sanctifiers of Hashem's Name
throughout history. And even if not everyone feels the
pleasant sweetness of the Shabbos, there are many reasons for
it. But great people do sense it and react accordingly, each
one according to the degree of his spiritual sensitivity.
A Goodly Gift in My Treasure House
Upon the verse, "So that you know that I am Hashem Who
sanctifies you" (Shemos 31:13), Chazal say that Hashem
said to Moshe: "I have a goodly gift in My treasure house;
Shabbos is its name. I wish to give it to Yisroel. Go and
inform them about it" (Shabbos 10:b). How does the
Shabbos serve as a good gift? Is the prohibition to grind and
to sort considered a gift? And if, indeed, we regard it as a
gift, is it then a greater one than the prohibition to eat
creeping and crawling creatures?
In reality, it is not the prohibition of grinding and sorting
per se that are considered goodly gifts, but the
special bounty that is shed and spread by the Shabbos. The
neshomoh yeseiroh, the extra measure of intellectual
insight that is given on Shabbos and the feeling of that
"spark of light and joy that gleams from the very source
wherefrom prophecy originates" are what cause people to look
forward to its advent and to regard it as a day of a
Some small-minded people do not understand that it is really
a gift. They regard it as no more than a day of restrictions
and barriers. In their eyes, everything is forbidden and
prohibited. And when the heart is impervious to the good for
various reasons -- as some hearts are -- it is unable to feel
the wonder of that gift. Such people need to have the essence
of this gift spelled out for them, as in a promotional
brochure that highlights all the beneficial features of this
This is necessary for others as well, namely, those who are
willingly abstaining from work and truly wish to know how to
relate to the Shabbos. They also need guidance in recognizing
the value of this gift. This is why it was necessary for
Hashem to tell Moshe to inform the Jews about the nature of
the gift before they received it.
What is the significance of that announcement? What function
does it fill?
The Rebbe R' Shmelke of Nikolsburg once sought to illuminate
this idea with a story that happened to him the previous day.
He had been sitting in his home when a poor man entered,
asking for a handout. There was not a penny in the house. R'
Shmelke turned his pockets inside out but nothing fell out
and he was greatly distressed. Finally, in the recesses of a
drawer, he found a gold ring with a brilliant gem which
belonged to the Rebbetzin. He seized it joyfully and gave it
to the poor man. When the Rebbetzin returned home shortly
after and heard what had happened, she was greatly
distressed. "How could you have given such a precious item to
a simple beggar who expected no more than a few pennies?" she
When the Rebbe realized the great value of the ring, he
rushed out of the house and went searching for the poor man.
The beggar thought the Rov regretted having given him the
ring and ran away, with R' Shmelke hot on his heels. He
finally overtook him and, panting heavily, said, "I only
wanted to let you know that the ring I gave you is very
valuable; it is worth a great deal. Don't let anyone cheat
you out of its real value."
A Pity for Every Moment Wasted
Even one who is very meticulous and precise in observing the
Shabbos to the letter of the law, a truly G-d-fearing person,
is not necessarily aware of the tremendous spiritual bounty
the Shabbos embodies. He may be punctilious in areas of
shehiyoh, chazoroh, hatmonoh, and be most cautious
against intimating to a gentile that he wishes something to
be done even in times of stress and emergency, and still
while away most of the Shabbos in sleeping or reading
newspapers. The precious hours of Shabbos pass by without him
being aware that they are being wasted and dissipated.
It was to these people that Moshe was sent. They had to be
informed of the value of the gift of Shabbos lest it slip
between their very fingers. They were made to realize that
this gift was very precious; they should not let themselves
be shortchanged or `sell it' for less than it was worth. They
must know enough to utilize every single moment for spiritual
ascent that is acquired on this day with much greater
facility than at any other time.
The Chofetz Chaim of Radin used another parable to drive the
message home. A beggar came to a certain city in the hope of
earning some money to help him marry off a daughter. He
knocked upon the door of a wealthy man, who answered the door
and asked what he wanted. A genial person, he engaged the
beggar in pleasant conversation and asked him where he hailed
from. When he heard the name of the city, his eyes lit up:
this was the very place where he had been born.
The rich man invited the beggar in. After a few minutes of
additional conversation, the beggar excused himself and said,
"I came here to collect money for my daughter's dowry. My
time is very precious as the wedding day is fast approaching.
I am afraid that I cannot sit and talk any more."
The rich man thought for a moment and asked, "How much do you
think you can make in an hour of door-to-door collecting?"
The poor man quoted a sum, wondering what his host was
leading up to.
"I'll tell you what," he suggested. "You remain here and tell
me about life in my home town. Tell me about the people I ask
you about; fill me in on the latest news, and I will give you
what you would have collected during this time."
The beggar agreed willingly. Cold and weary, he could sit
here and relax in a comfortable, well-heated room, without
having to trudge about and knock on doors. All he had to do
was to talk!
The host asked about this person and that, and the poor man
replied according to his knowledge, enthusiastic at this easy
deal. But when the novelty wore off, he began to tire. His
attention wandered. He became bored and soon his head nodded;
his eyes closed of their own accord.
The rich man grew incensed and said, "Here I am paying you
for listening to my questions and answering them. I am paying
for every moment of your time, for your slightest effort.
Isn't it a pity for you to foul up this opportunity by
falling asleep on me?"
A person who sleeps away the Shabbos is like one who bought
an expensive ticket for a cruise. He prepared himself for the
excursion, packed a lot of clothing -- but as soon as he
boarded the ship, he settled down and went to sleep. He
misses out on the beautiful scenery, on the exhilarating
experience and, lulled by the motion, just sleeps on. Why did
he have to spend so much money to begin with when he could
have just crawled into a sleeping bag and hit the sack?
And if someone says, "What can I do? I'm exhausted." He may
be telling the truth, but the opportunity will not return and
the experience will have been wasted. He is advised to find
himself a different time for sleeping; not on Shabbos!
All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.