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15 Adar I 5768 - February 21, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Shabbos As A Basis For Faith

By HaRav Y. D. Rosenberg

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 respect."

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 punishments.

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 lot.

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 weltanschauung.

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 seventh day.

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, constantly deluded.

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 easily.

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 nations.


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 day?

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).

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