SHABBAT & JEWS
Rabbi David Walk
Over the years I have quoted from the Sfat Emet in these articles many times. He was the second Rebbe of the Chasidim of Gur in Poland, and he was scion of an incredible dynasty of Jewish leaders and scholars. In many of these quotes I was a little dishonest by leaving out references to Shabbat which abound. These Torah bytes were presented on Shabbat. I took what I needed to make whatever point I was trying to make. But the Rebbe and the Chasidim knew that the real point was always Shabbat itself. Shabbat in the latter part of the nineteenth was important in ways that we can hardly imagine. Life was hard and cruel. Shabbat was the antidote to these tribulations. For us Shabbat provides other satisfactions. It is a respite from the tyranny of electronic ubiquity and provides the quiet family time our hectic world lacks. For them Shabbat was recreation in an oppressive environment; for us often Shabbat saves us from the recreation which can be more exhausting than work. In any case Shabbat is a refuge. This week I will try to present the Rebbe's take on how Shabbat figures into these Torah readings about building the Mishkan or portable Temple.
In 1889, the Rebbe commented on last week's parsha, Ki Tisa by explaining a major connection between Shabbat and the Mishkan. He begins by pointing out that the verse 'however, you must observe my Shabbat which serves as a sign between you and Me (Exodus 31:13),' means that work on the building of the Mishkan must cease on the Shabbat. The Rebbe then explains that we don't work on the Mishkan on Shabbat because they both accomplish the same spiritual need. That need is to connect to God. Shabbat is referred to as ot or sign between us and God, which means that on Shabbat we don't need an intermediary to help us be close to God. Which is why we also don't wear tefilin on Shabbat, we're already in communion with God. Our Shabbat accomplishes the same goal as the Mishkan. The Rebbe says that we can find sanctity on Shabbat just like people found holiness in the Mishkan and later the Holy Temple. He brings an interesting proof from the following verse, 'The eunuchs (also: officers) who keep my Shabbat I will allow them into My house and My walls.' The Rebbe says that Jews in exile are called eunuchs or infertile, but through keeping Shabbat even outside of Israel we are able to both connect back to our holy roots and to produce future generations. The Rebbe teaches that in the Diaspora it's Shabbat or disconnect.
But in this week's parsha the Rebbe again makes a very powerful pitch for the importance of Shabbat to our spiritual survival. The Rebbe is puzzled and intrigued by the repetition of Shabbat in this long section of Exodus describing the Mishkan. In 1887 the Rebbe quoted from his beloved grandfather, the Chidushe HaRim, who added another question to the connection between Shabbat and the Mishkan. The problem his grandfather began with was about the order of the material. When the Mishkan instructions were presented in the readings of Teruma, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa first we have the building directions and afterward we have the mention of Shabbat and its importance. However, here in VaYakhel and Pikudei when the whole thing gets repeated, first we have the verses about Shabbat and only afterward do we have the review of the instruction manual about constructing the Mishkan. The Rebbe wants to know why that's true.
Before the Rebbe presents his answer to this conundrum, he explains that the first set of instructions were given before the sin of the Golden Calf and the second set came after the sin. The difference is significant. Before the nation jeopardized our relationship with God through infidelity, we saw Shabbat as the culmination and fulfillment of our behavior during the week. Our activities during the week were leading toward a beautiful and meaningful Shabbat. Weekday actions and Shabbat observance were seen as complementary. Sadly after the cosmic indiscretion there was a dissonance between Shabbat activity and weekday behavior. These two realms were at odds with each other. Previously the chol or profane nature of weekdays was seen as relative to the greater holiness of Shabat. Now, weekday and Shabbat were seen as two totally separate realms. Shabbat's only relationship with weekdays was a tikun or repair for the distance from God which these six days had caused.
This is a very important and profound idea. Just because we're out there in the world of business and work doesn't mean that we must feel distant from God and spirituality. The Rebbe is teaching us that once there was a time when Shabbat wasn't a time so very different from Wednesday or Thursday. They both were times that we used for achieving a proximity to God. We just did in a different iteration. It's wonderful that many of us see Shabbat as a refuge and shelter from the dizzying pace of life. But it could be more. It could be a confirmation of the moral and ethical practices we adhered to all week. We could see our lives as a seamless continuum of following in God's path. It's just that sometimes we walk and sometimes we drive.
The Rebbe made one more point about Shabbat which I'd like to share. In 1891 the Rebbe explained that placing the laws of Shabbat right next to the terumot or donations for the Mishkan teaches us that the gold and silver were gifts of stuff and Shabbat is a gift of our time. Even though I don't feel that I'm contributing to Shabbat as much as Shabbat is giving me a most special gift. The Rebbe is teaching that we must invest in Shabbat to receive from Shabbat. And the Rebbe spent much of his active life teaching us how to make the best of God's great gift.