Ki Tisa – the primacy of Shabbat

The work of building the tabernacle in the desert had to stop on Shabbat. There was a lot of discussion about the phrase “Ach et shabtotai tishmeru” meaning “however you must observe my Shabbatot”. R’ Munk wrote that when in the course of Jewish history, the tabernacle and the temples disappeared, there was a significant decline in the spiritual level of the people. It did not mean a break in the covenant with G-d. The Shabbat is a perpetual and immutable sign of the covenant which accompanies Israel at all times and in all places throughout history.


The verse went on “My Shabbatot are a sign between Me and you for your generations to know that I am G-d who makes you holy”. This implies that the Shabbat remains the key to sanctification and an eternal sign of the covenant with G-d. The word “keep” (the Shabbat) was mentioned three times in these sentences to underline this important point.


These sentences are recited on erev Shabbat before the kaddish preceding the Amidah, and again on the Shabbat day kiddush.The second sentence is translated as “Between Me and the children of Israel, it is a sign forever that in a six day period, G-d made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed”.


Nechama Leibowitz wrote that the Shabbat is grounded in the mystery of creation, is inspired by social justice and is a symbol of the bond existing between G-d and His people,”between Me and the children of Israel”.  She wrote that there is no true Shabbat where the community does not welcome it and make it.  Leibowitz quoted Saadya Gaon who wrote that the Jew would not be known except through the observance of the Shabbat, if in town with the shop shut, and if on the road by not travelling. Ibn Ezra explained that the Shabbat was not designed as a demonstration to the world, but that we should know that we are sanctified to G-d.  Ibn Ezra observed that the Shabbat is a sign to us by the diversion of our energies to spiritual matters, “an island of holiness in a sea of worldliness”. It is an opportunity for refreshing the spirit, to enable the coping with the challenges of the mundane existence again when Shabbat ends.


Rashi commented on the connection between the verb “nafash” , rested, and the noun “nefesh”, soul. One restored the soul on the Shabbat with rest and the cessation of work.


Rav Kook wrote that quality of life can only be improved by affording a breathing space from the bustle of everyday affairs. In this way, the individual recovers from the influence of the mundane at frequent intervals, every Shabbat day. It is a holy day, providing an opportunity for the nation to give expression to it’s true self, and to its natural spiritual aspirations. Shabbat in Israel still has that impact on an individual or family and can do so in the Diapora too.

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