Chazal's teaching is replete with statements portraying the
sublime value of Shabbos observance. The Rambam (Mishneh
Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 30:15) bases his ruling on the
gemora's conclusion in Chulin 5a: "Both Shabbos
and idolatry are each one as weighty as all the mitzvos of
the Torah taken together. Shabbos is the eternal sign between
HaKodosh Boruch Hu and us." (The Rambam goes on to
explain the practical difference between Shabbos and other
mitzvos.) "Anyone transgressing another mitzvah is,
therefore, included in [the group of] Jewish reshoim,
but one who publicly desecrates the Shabbos is like an
idolater: both of them are like gentiles in every
What is the significance of Shabbos? Why is it tantamount to
all the other mitzvos of the Torah, and why is one who
desecrates it publicly compared to one who serves idols?
The Maggid Mishneh (Mishneh Torah, ibid.) cites a
reason for the above, one that the eminent rishonim
ve'achronim cite in their works. "The reason for Shabbos
[being given as a mitzvah] is that it signals the fact that
the world was created. One who denies the world having been
created denies the entire Torah. A person must, therefore,
both believe and deeply instill into his soul belief in the
Creation, and observe the Shabbos, the faithful sign
attesting to [the Creation]."
The concept that Shabbos demonstrates Hashem's creation of
the world is explicitly written in the Ten Commandments
(parshas Yisro). "Remember the day of Shabbos to
sanctify it; six days shall you labor and do all your work,
and the seventh day is a Shabbos for Hashem your Lord. You
shall not do any work, you, and your son, and your daughter .
. . [and the reason is] because in six days Hashem made the
heaven and the earth, the ocean and all that is therein, and
He rested on the seventh day. Therefore Hashem blessed the
day of Shabbos and sanctified it" (Shemos 20:8-11).
Similarly in parshas Ki Siso the Torah writes:
"Bnei Yisroel shall keep the Shabbos, to observe the
Shabbos throughout their generations as an everlasting
covenant. It is an [eternal] sign between Me and bnei
Yisroel; [the reason:] for in six days Hashem made the
heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and
was refreshed" (Shemos 32:16-17).
These pesukim, clear as they may seem at first glance,
require explanation. How does Shabbos indicate that the world
was Divinely created? In addition, why did the Torah,
contrary to its usual procedure, give a reason for the
mitzvah of Shabbos being mandated?
Our faith is unique in that it shows us how history functions
according to exact rules. It is appropriate, in this
connection, to cite what the Malbim zt'l (Shemos 20:8)
writes about the nature of the Jewish faith. His explanation
shows clearly the sublime nature of our Torah, and
demonstrates indisputably that our faith is at the summit of
achievement that a human being can possibly climb to. How
backward are those who refuse to accept the Torah's truth!
They are simply failing to grasp the actual nature of life. A
person who, choliloh, disassociates himself from
belief severs himself from the accurate perception and clear
thinking required of a member of Am Yisroel.
A miraculous phenomenon, says the Malbim, is easily
noticeable in our world: no new sorts of creature have
appeared since the time Hashem created the heaven and earth,
almost six thousand years ago. According to the fools who
deny Divine creation, mutation will inevitably bring about
new species or at least subspecies on earth occasionally
— something detectably different from what we have
always seen. The fact that this has not happened is proof
that the world was Divinely formed, rendering null and void
the degrading Theory of Evolution concocted in the nineteenth
century by the English naturalist Charles Darwin.
This explanation casts a clear light on the depth of meaning
in the pesukim cited above: "You shall not do any
work, you, and your son, and your daughter . . . because in
six days Hashem made the heaven and the earth, the ocean and
all that is therein, and rested on the seventh day. Hashem
therefore blessed the day of Shabbos and sanctified it." The
Creation continued for six days and on the seventh day there
was a total cessation of creative activity; the forming of
nature was brought to a standstill. HaKodosh Boruch
Hu's terminating His work and ending the world's creation
provided conclusive proof of the Divine creation of the
world. If new creatures had continued to develop even today,
then this could have been used as an argument for the
scientists' perverted hypothesis.
The day of Shabbos, on which Hashem stopped His creation of
the world and its creatures, is therefore conclusive
testimony to the world's Divine creation and necessitates
faith in Hashem.
What a glow of brilliance shines from the Malbim's words! The
Creation itself compels us to have faith in HaKodosh
Boruch Hu, Who carried it out. Furthermore, the
miraculous way that Hashem conducts the world day by day
leads us unswervingly to the conclusion that Hashem is the
source of truth and that Moshe Rabbenu accurately transmitted
His Torah to us: a Torah of truth.
The punishment for one who desecrates the Shabbos is death.
What is the reason for such a harsh punishment, comparable to
the punishment for murder?
Our people, being a discerning people, is required to live on
a lofty spiritual and intellectual level. Our duty is to
prove to all nations that the world was Divinely created. Not
fulfilling our task is a misdeed deserving the harshest of
Then again, Chazal (Sanhedrin 58b) rule that a non-Jew
who refrains from doing work on Shabbos deserves the death
penalty. This severe punishment is at first sight quite
baffling. After all, how did he sin? He only acted as the
Jews do, despite his being a Gentile.
But other nations, unlike the Jews, are unable to recognize
the Creator through contemplating the world's created nature;
their beliefs are only based upon what they can physically
perceive, only on what is tangible and concrete. Even if they
should adopt the Shabbos, its essential nature is
incompatible with their natural lack of intellectual
sensitivity to spiritual values. They cannot possibly attain
the goal for which the Shabbos was given and are therefore
harshly punished for observing it.
Rabbenu Bachya in Chovos Halevovos (Sha'ar HaYichud,
chap. 2) remarks that only exceptional persons, like a
prophet or a philosopher who have somewhat perceived the
essence of the Creator and of His creations and the
attributes that only He possesses, can truly worship Hashem.
Nevertheless, all Jews believe in Him to the best of their
capabilities and scorn the other nations' celebration of the
forces of nature. The Meshech Chochmoh (Shemos 12:21)
goes to great pains to discusses the differences between
Am Yisroel and the other nations, and upon his
discussion the preceding paragraphs are based.
The Jewish people are therefore obliged to establish their
lives on a faith built upon intellectual perception: proving
the truth of Hashem's essence through the Creation itself,
comprehending that He created the world and caused everything
to function. The Torah specifically mentions the reason for
Shabbos in the Torah so that we will be aware of this duty of
ours. We are, consequently, commanded to observe Shabbos,
which itself shows HaKodosh Boruch Hu's guidance of
the world and His Divine Providence in every detail.
Abstaining from performing work is the opposite of what
intellect, based upon physical perceptions, guides one to do.
A person who acts only according to these understands only
that through physical labor he can earn his livelihood, and
he deduces that solely by working harder will he improve his
The gemora (Me'ilah 17a) relates how the Romans once
forbade the Jews to observe the Shabbos. R' Reuven Itztrobuli
cut his hair like a Gentile in order to disguise his Jewish
identity. Then he challenged the Romans with a convincing
argument, offering logical grounds for annulling the decree.
He asked them: "Does a person want his enemy to be rich or
poor?" The Romans answered: "Poor." "If so," claimed R'
Reuven, "let the Jews work only six days a week, and in that
way they will become destitute."
Now that R' Reuven had presented a "financially sound
argument" which made sense to the Romans, they immediately
repealed their decree. The non-Jewish logic and
considerations fitted in well with their
Nevertheless, when they discovered that R' Reuven was Jewish
they reenacted the decree. After this discovery they realized
that R' Reuven's arguments were only intended to persuade
them, since they functioned according to material
considerations. Such considerations would not destroy the
spiritual level of Am Yisroel gained by its Shabbos
observance — something far above natural forces. (The
additional two matters mentioned in this passage can also be
explained along the above lines.)
Observing the holy Shabbos obliges a Jew to work six days and
on the seventh day to suspend all work according to Hashem's
command. He will manage to obtain his livelihood during the
six days of the week, although a person's crude understanding
instructs him to work also on the seventh day. Abstaining
from work shows genuine faith in Hashem Who created the
world. A Jew is rising higher than the physical world by
relying on HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Who leads the world, to
supply him with ample sustenance.
Our Holy Torah elevates the Shabbos and its observers to a
towering height. Shabbos was not established merely as a day
of rest; it was intended to be used for spiritual
improvement, for reaching higher levels in avodas
Hashem. A Jew is not idle during Shabbos; he sits in his
house engrossed in his Torah studies. "Who is like Your
nation Yisroel, one people in the world?" (II Shmuel
7:23). There is nothing that can be compared to the level of
Am Yisroel, a level on which an entire nation is
obligated to acquire knowledge and wisdom during its day of
rest. A Jew's house is a permanent sanctuary for attaining
Torah knowledge, a meeting place for sages.
In the passages of Torah read on Shabbos even a commonplace
Jew discovers significant points that enrich his soul and
satisfy his cravings for spiritual wisdom. We all
daven inspiring tefillos that praise and offer
thanksgiving to Hashem, the Creator of the world. Even our
meals are no mundane affair; they are accompanied by Torah discussions and holy songs that laud the One who ceased His creation on the
A Jewish soul inevitably aches when it sees brethren who have
wandered so far astray as to cease Shabbos observance. These
pitiful people even debase and mock our Holy Shabbos. They do
not understand that Shabbos separates us from the nations,
owing to both our faith in the Creation that is proven
through it, and the special qualities that Am Yisroel
enjoy on this day. Only the observers of the Holy Shabbos are
true men of intellect, who envision the world lucidly; its
desecraters, on the contrary, live in a world of fantasies,
Such secular Jews have lowered the level of Klal
Yisroel from that of a nation abounding with wisdom to
that of soccer fans. They occupy themselves with seeing how
grown men spend a whole afternoon kicking a ball around
— a practice far more appropriate for small children.
This sort of preoccupation is fitting only for nations that
possess no elevated spiritual level and do not engross
themselves in wisdom — nations altogether severed from
any spiritual character. The bookshelves of such nations
— and of those Jews who imitate them — contain
mainly two types of books: the top shelf houses cookbooks of
all nations in all lands, while the other shelf is brimming
with diet books showing a person how to lose weight
They are unable to see even the most basic matters, such as
the obvious demonstrations of the Divine character of
Hashem's holy nation. They cannot understand that
transforming the holy and elevated Shabbos day to one devoted
to physical pleasures and unruly behavior is a cultural sin
of such magnitude as can never be forgiven.
Their degenerate culture spreads like leprosy through their
lives, rendering tomei their houses, their clothing,
and themselves with the tumah of the nations. Yet
Eretz Yisroel was promised to us only because we promised to
separate ourselves from the decadent culture of the
We pray in Shacharis every morning ". . . and He made
a covenant with us, to give the land of the Canaanites, and
the Hittites, the Emorites . . .." (Nechemia 9:8). The
obvious question is, since these nations were destroyed and
in fact disappeared thousands of years ago, what connection
do we have today with these once-upon-a-time nations? Second,
what is the significance of our mentioning this covenant each
Those nations were permeated with base character traits and
immorality. Hashem made a bond with Avrohom, whereby he
agreed to uproot those imperfections from himself and from
his offspring forever. We therefore mention each day that
bond, which was intended for our character correction, a task
that constantly changes its form.
How foolish are our straying brethren who are seeking
satisfaction in Western culture, which is full of vanity and
wanton behavior. They have forgotten that of the Jewish
nation the Torah says, "Surely this great nation is a wise
and understanding people" (Devorim 4:6).