TIME OF ONE
Rabbi David Walk
To Chasidim, Shabbat is much more than just a time for recharging batteries. It is central to their lives and their philosophy. Over the years I've come to love trying to unravel the Torah thoughts of the Sfat Emet, the second Rebbe of Gur, and one of the things I've noticed is how many of these divrei Torah move inexorably towards a Shabbat idea. The reason for this is that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries life was pretty miserable for the Jews of Eastern Europe. Poverty was widespread and the next pogrom was never very far away. The respite from the misery was Shabbat. On Shabbat one could sit at the head of one's table and imagine a different life, so vastly different from the Hell they were living. This also explains the present day Hasidic garb we find so strange. This is how the local nobility dressed, and on Shabbat we were members of the second estate, at least in our minds. [So,] Since our Torah reading begins with a reprise of the mitzva of Shabbat, I thought it would be appropriate to analyze at least one aspect of this critically important concept.
Before I begin, I must acknowledge gratitude to Rav Itamar Eldar, who writes articles about Chasidut on VBM, the Yeshivat Har Etziyon's marvelous website. He got me thinking about this issue by discussing the prayer recited in the Sephardic rite on Friday nights called Kegavna. This excerpt from the Zohar states the following powerful idea: As they are united above in One, so she is unified below in the mystery of One, to correspond to them above...It is the mystery of Shabbat, which is united with the mystery of the One so that it may be the organ of this Oneness (Zohar, parshat Teruma). I'm not sure I totally understand the idea, but clearly Shabbat achieves a unity between heaven and earth, spiritual and physical. This is a very powerful concept. As the Sfat Emet wrote: The Sages of blessed memory wrote: 'I have a good gift in my treasure house, called Shabbat; go tell them (TB Shabbat 10b).' This means: In everything in the world there is hidden supreme illumination and holiness. And through Shabbat this becomes known. And through the observance of Shabbat a person can find the illumination of Shabbat even during the week (Sfat Emet, Ki Tisa, 5631) Somehow Shabbat puts all of our activities in perspective, and we are able to see and comprehend the unity in our world. As Reb Nachum of Chernobyl said, 'Shabbat amazingly and incomprehensibly brings together the material and spiritual in a harmonious and non-contradictory manner.' Without Shabbat we couldn't understand that all of our actions contribute to make our lives part of a bigger picture.
Although the Zohar seems to assume that all this happens spontaneously, our ability to benefit from this reality requires us to do certain things to heighten our spiritual sensors. Therefore we wear our best clothes, light candles and use our nicest utensils. But the most important physical act which contributes to our appreciation of what Shabbat accomplishes is, of course, eating. Because nowadays we eat so well during the week, perhaps, we miss the significance of Shabbat meals, but historically Jews saved their best food for Shabbat. Reb Natan, the student of Rebbe Nachman wrote: This is the aspect of eating on Shabbat, for through the holiness of Shabbat the simple unity is revealed out of the different actions, as stated above. Therefore, it is then a great mitzva to eat, and the primary honor of Shabbat is eating (Likutei Halachot).
I find all of this fascinating, but there is a problem. This week's double parsha has 220 verses, and only three of them are concerned with Shabbat. So, what do the other 217 discuss? They talk about the mishkan or the portable temple used in the wilderness. These issues are related, because the five last Torah readings of Exodus present the details of the mishkan twice and they present the mitzva of Shabbat twice. What is the relationship between the Mishkan and Shabbat? Although there are many possible answers to this question I'd like to present the two most popular. First, we learn about the relative levels of Kedusha or sanctity. Shabbat and the sanctity of time is higher than the mishkan, the sanctity of place. The other relationship is more technical. We learn the definitions of melacha or creative work from the mishkan, and apply it to Shabbat. If they did it in the mishkan, it's prohibited on Shabbat.
But here's the real connection, they both represent unity. The Zohar reveals that to us about Shabbat; the Torah relates that to us about the mishkan. In the first of this week's double parsha we are told that all the parts of the Lego-like mishkan must put be assembled so that the mishkan will be one (Exodus 36:13). In the mishkan we take all of the disparate material, the gold, silver, wood, cloth, hides, and dyes, and we combine them all into a unity. Similarly, we take the 39 human technical talents and weave them into the fabric of God's house on earth. This home connects heaven with earth. The ability of the Temple to act as a portal to precincts Divine isn't based upon its location. It's based upon the human effort to make a unity out of the disparate parts of this realm. Then God reciprocates by allowing a glimpse into what's behind the curtain.
The mishkan couldn't be built on Shabbat, because the sanctity of time is greater than the holiness of place. But the greatest sanctity in this world is the human soul. That's why we can abrogate the rules of Shabbat to save a life. So, the greatest unity with God's Oneness can neither be achieved by Shabbat or the mishkan, but by the efforts of our soul to commune with God. We call that prayer; our Sages called it the service of the heart. And it can be more miraculous than anything which ever occurred in the Temple and more powerful than the spirit of Shabbat. Shabbat and the mishkan just point us in the direction of uniting with God.