By Avner Friedmann
The Torah portion this week states, “Keep My Sabbath’s, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to make it known that I am HaShem who sanctifies you”.
The story is told of a king who once sent his son on an important mission to a distant part of his kingdom. His task was to do everything he could to increase the rule and influence of his father, the king. Being that this province was very far from the royal capital; the inhabitants were very unruly and did not take the edicts of the king too seriously. It was so remote that many people were quite rebellious and acted as if there was no king.
For his protection, the king equipped his son with the proper weapons and shields and with a special manual, written expressly for him, so that he would never forget his royal mission. In addition, to instill him with the fortitude and inspiration to accomplish his goal, he commanded his son to meet him face to face at regular intervals.
Now, the king of our story is HaShem, the King, King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. His son is the Jewish people, whose souls literally are a part of G-d above, as the verse states, “For You are our father” – which means literally “You”. Our souls were sent down from a lofty spiritual existence to this lowly, physical world; a world fraught with the dangers of the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) and physical lusts and desires.
However, He equipped us with Torah and mitzvoth to protect us and to combat the “other side”, so to speak. The positive mitzvot are like weapons that dispel evil through the power of goodness and the negative mitzvot are like shields that protect us from negative influences. As our sages tell us, “I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as its antidote”.
Through Torah HaShem instructs us on how to live our lives and fulfill our holy mission. He also gives us a special day every week in which to meet Him “face to face” and be recharged and re-inspired with our holy mission. This is the holy day of Shabbat.
Shabbat is a precious gift. The Talmud states that Hashem said to Moshe, “I have a wonderful gift in my hidden treasure house. Shabbat is its name and I wish to give it to the Jewish people; go and inform them. Tell them that I want to sanctify them through the holy day of Shabbat”. Why is it called a treasure? Because a treasure house is where the king keeps his most precious valuables. And why is it called gift? Because unlike all the other mitzvot in which a person receives reward for what he does, Sabbath is given to the children of Israel purely as an expression of HaShem’s love and kindness.
Shabbat is a day of connection between Hashem and Israel, as the Torah states, “It is a sign Between Me and the children of Israel”. A Jew who experiences Shabbat can surely appreciate the wonderful gift Hashem has bestowed upon him.The Zohar states, “Fortunate are Israel that Hashem chose them from all the nations to be close to Him; He gave them the Torah and the holy Shabbat not because of their deeds, but because of His love for them”.
The Zohar adds that Shabbat is comparable to the entire Torah and that whoever keeps Shabbat, it is as if he kept the entire Torah. Moreover, Hashem comes as a guest to the home of those who prepare for Shabbat and honor it properly. When a guest comes to visit, it is not proper to neglect him by being preoccupied with other matters. It is important to give him care and attention. If this is the case with a human guest, how much more so is it the case when Hashem, the King, King of kings is your guest? If a Jew honors HaShem by honoring Shabbat properly, certainly Shabbat will satisfy him with true pleasure (עונג) both physically and spiritually.
The whole rest of the week we may be preoccupied with many difficulties, burdens, worries, confusions and pursuits, and we could be subject to all sorts of physical problems or temptations. At such times, it may be difficult to see the G-dliness in the world. However, at the end of the week Shabbat comes to our rescue; we shake off the “dust” of the weekdays and our minds and bodies become settled, making it easier to see the Creator in everything.
Just as the body needs physical sustenance to survive, so too, our soul needs spiritual sustenance for its survival. Communing with Hashem on Shabbat provides that sustenance. On Shabbat the “spiritual batteries” of the soul are recharged by reconnecting to HaShem, the ultimate power source. Without the Shabbat it would be impossible to develop any awareness or feelings of yearning for Hashem. Shabbat is the foundation of our service and helps us attain faith, holiness and closeness to Hashem.
Quoting the Zohar, the Ohr Hachaim states that on Shabbat abundance comes down from above and gives sustenance and existence to the other days of the week. This has been so since the first Shabbat of creation. Without the Shabbat the world could not have existed beyond that first week.
The Ohr HaChaim brings proof for this by citing the verse “And G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He abstained from all His work which G-d created to do”. “On it” means that the six other days of the week are established “on” Shabbat and exist because of it. However Shabbat only fulfills this purpose if it is observed by the Jewish people. This teaches us that by keeping Shabbat, a Jew makes it possible for the world to exist. In other words, by keeping Shabbat we literally become HaShem’s partners in the creation of the world!