Va’eschanan 5781

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The testimony of Shabbos[1]

Remember the Shabbos day, to sanctify it[2] זכור את-יום השבת לקדשו Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it…[3] שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו וגו’
Do not testify falsely regarding your fellow[4] לא תענה ברעך עד שקר Do not testify in vain regarding your fellow[5] ולא-תענה ברעך עד שוא

 

In the Shabbos morning prayers, we declare: ושני לוחות אבנים הוריד בידו, Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai two stone tables in his hand, וכתוב בהם שמירת שבת, and they are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos, וכן כתוב בתורתך ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת, and similarly it is written in Hashem’s Torah[6] that, “the Jewish people shall observe Shabbos”. We can ask a few questions on this declaration. First of all, why do we need to support the observance of Shabbos by bringing a verse? If the stone tablets, which were written by G-d Himself[7], command resting on Shabbos, what does a verse in the Torah add? Another question is with regards to the phrasing of the declaration. We say that they, the two stone tablets, are engraved with the obligation to observe Shabbos. At first glance this seems false. Only the first of the two tablets mentions Shabbos. How can we resolve these difficulties?

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Shelach 5781

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The reminder of tzitzis[1]

ויהיו בני-ישראל במדבר וימצאו איש מקשש עצים ביום השבת: דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על-כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם וגו’‏
While the Jews were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos…Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “In all generations, make tzitzis on the corners of your garments…”[2]

The Torah juxtaposes two seemingly unrelated and disconnected points. The first is an episode where a man was caught brazenly violating Shabbos. Immediately after this story is told, the mitzvah of tzitzis is described. Why are these two things put next to each other? One explanation is[3] that Moshe had a claim against Hashem[4]. The Jews are commanded to wear tefillin on their heads and arms six days a week. The mitzvah of tefillin reminds them to keep and observe the Torah properly. The one day that the Jews don’t wear tefillin is on Shabbos[5]. As such, this man was susceptible to forgetting the mitzvos. How could it not be expected for someone to desecrate Shabbos? Hashem responded with the mitzvah of tzitzis, which apply all seven days of the week. Tzitzis are also a sign that Jew wears to remind them of all the mitzvos. This way, there’s no need to worry about someone forgetting the laws of Shabbos, or any other mitzvah. The problem with this explanation is we are taught[6] that the person who desecrated Shabbos knew full well what they were doing. They didn’t forget anything. How then can we understand this approach[7]?

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Behar / Bechukosai 5781

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Revering Shabbos[1]

את-שבתתי תשמרו ומקדשי תיראו אני יקוק
You shall safeguard my Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary; I am Hashem[2]

The gemarra derives[3] a law from the juxtaposition of the mitzvah to safeguard Shabbos[4] and the mitzvah to revere the Holy Temple[5]. They teach that just like the safeguarding of Shabbos, it’s not that you’re to revere Shabbos itself, but rather the One who commanded it, so too with revering the Temple, it’s not the Temple that you are to revere, but rather the One who commanded it. We see it’s a given that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos, and the innovation is that the same holds true for the Temple itself. How do we know that there’s no idea to revere Shabbos? Rashi tells us[6] because we don’t find it written anywhere that we are to revere it. Sounds simple.

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Emor 5781

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Future allusions[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש יהיה לכם שבתון זכרון תרועה מקרא-קדש: אך בעשור לחדש השביעי הזה יום הכפרים הוא מקרא-קדש יהיה לכם וגו’ דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי הזה חג הסכות שבעת ימים ליקוק: אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי וגו’ ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי נחל וגו’‏
Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first of the month, it shall be for you a day of rest. A remembrance of shofar blasts, a holy convocation. However, on the tenth of this seventh month, it is Yom Kippur. It shall be for you a holy convocation…” Tell the Children of Israel, saying: “On the fifteenth of this seventh month, [it is] the festival of Sukkos, seven days for Hashem. However, on the fifteenth of the seventh month…you shall take on the first day a beautiful fruit, palm fronds, braided branches, and willows…”[2]

If we examine the description of the holidays, we’ll notice a strange inconsistency. The month of Tishrei contains many festivals. First there’s Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and then Sukkos. The Torah specifies that these holidays occur in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is on the first, Yom Kippur is on the tenth, and Sukkos starts on the fifteenth. When the Torah refers to Yom Kippur, it specifies that it is in this seventh month. For Sukkos, it first says the same as Yom Kippur, this seventh month. The second time it refers to Sukkos, in the context of the mitzvah of the four species, it just says the seventh month. Why is there this inconsistency[3]?

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Vayakhel/Pekudei 5781

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One mitzvah, or many?[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת וגו’ ויאמר משה אל-כל-עדת בני-ישראל לאמר זה הדבר אשר-צוה יקוק לאמר: קחו מאתכם תרומה ליקוק כל נדיב לבו יביאה את תרומת יקוק וגו’‏
Moshe gathered the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. He said to them: “These are the matters which Hashem commanded to do: Six days you shall work, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a Holy Shabbos”…Moshe said to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel, saying: “This is the matter that Hashem commanded, saying: Take for yourselves a donation for Hashem. All those with a generous heart will bring their portion for Hashem”[2]

This week’s parsha begins by speaking about the mitzvah of Shabbos. It then continues with a detailed description of the construction and materials of the Mishkan, the portable Temple the Jews built in the wilderness. There’s a discrepancy with how these two mitzvos are introduced. The mitzvah of Shabbos is described as, “these are the matters which Hashem commanded”, and the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan is described as, “this is the matter”. Besides the inconsistency, these descriptions are also counterintuitive. One would think that Shabbos is only one prohibition, to refrain from creative labor. This is unlike the construction of the Mishkan, which involves many parts, such as the Ark, the Altar, the Menorah. Why then is Shabbos described in the plural, and the Mishkan in the singular?

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Asarah BaTeves 5781

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When Asarah BaTeves falls on Shabbos[1]

בן-אדם כתב-לך את-שם היום את-עצם היום הזה סמך מלך-בבל אל-ירושלם בעצם היום הזה
Son of Man, write for yourself the name of today. On this very day, the King of Babylonia began his siege on Jerusalem, on this very day[2]

Of the four minor fasts in commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the tenth of Teves is unique. This fast, which is in commemoration of the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem[3], is the only fast in our present calendar that can fall on a Friday[4]. It creates an unusual situation where we go into Shabbos having not eaten the entire day prior. Usually, a person shouldn’t go into Shabbos hungry[5]. This day is the exception. While this in fact happens this year, 5781, it’s also a very infrequent occurrence. Although it will happen again in two years, it’s been 20 years since it last happened. Something else that’s unique about the fast known as Asarah BaTeves is that in our present calendar, it cannot fall on Shabbos. The other fast days can. However, since it is forbidden to fast on Shabbos (besides Yom Kippur), they get pushed off until Sunday[6]. This situation doesn’t occur for Asarah BaTeves, as it cannot fall on Shabbos anyways.

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Vaeschanan 5780

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Shabbos: which kind of rejuvenation?[1]

שמור את-יום השבת לקדשו כאשר צוך יקוק אלקיך: וזכרת כי-עבד היית בארץ מצרים וגו’‏
Safeguard the Shabbos day, to sanctify it, as Hashem your G-d commanded you…[So] you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt…[2]

The Ten Commandments make two appearances in the Torah. The first is parshas Yisro[3], when the Torah relates how the Jews heard Hashem speak at Mount Sinai. The second is this week’s parsha, where Moshe recounts that monumental event. A careful examination of the two listings will yield some slight but significant differences. Some of the most pronounced is with regards to the mitzvah of Shabbos. There are different themes and details that are chosen in the second instance, which don’t appear in the first. We are adjured to safeguard the Shabbos, instead of simply remembering it[4]. There’s also a focus on the fact that we were slaves in Egypt. What is the Torah highlighting with this connection to the Exodus?

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Behar-Bechukosai 5780

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The septennial Shabbos[1]

דבר אל-בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם כי תבאו אל-הארץ אשר אני נתן לכם ושבתה הארץ שבת ליקוק
Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land will rest a Shabbos for Hashem”[2]

This parsha begins by introducing the mitzvah of the Shemittah year. The land of Israel is to lie fallow for an entire year, with no agricultural work done to it. The year is described as a Shabbos for Hashem. What does that mean? Rashi suggests[3] that it means לשם השם, for the sake of Hashem. Regarding the Shabbos of the seventh day of the week, we also find[4] the expression “Shabbos for Hashem”. There it clearly means for the sake of Hashem[5], so that’s what it should mean here. The Ramban[6] has a problem with this, since we know the Festivals are also for the sake of Hashem. Yet, we don’t find the phrase “Shabbos for Hashem” associated with any of them. Is there any other way to understand this phrase[7]?

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Vayakhel / Shekalim 5779

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Universal labor[1]

ויקהל משה את-כל-עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר-צוה יקוק לעשת אתם: ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת שבתון וגו’‏
Moshe congregated the assembly of Israel and said to them: “These are the matters to which Hashem commanded, to perform them: Six days your work shall be done, and the seventh day shall be Holy, a shabbos of rest…[2]

This week’s parsha begins with a strange combination of verses. First, we are told that what follows are the commands which Hashem expects us to perform. Then, we are warned against performing work on shabbos. This is telling us not to do something. This anomaly forces us to read the verses in their proper context. This parsha details the vessels and materials that went into the creation of the Mishkan. What this verse is referring to is that the Jews were adjured to construct the Mishkan and all that went into it. However, the verse is followed by another command: to observe shabbos properly by refraining from work. We learn from here that the very constructive activities that go into the creation of the Mishkan are the forms of creative labor which are forbidden on shabbos[3].

This understanding by our Sages goes further than expected. Not only are the acts of construction for the Mishkan forbidden on shabbos, they are the sole criteria for defining what the Torah means by “work”. That is, anything that wasn’t involved in the creation of the Mishkan, is permissible on shabbos. Furthermore, acts similar to those involved in the Mishkan, if they are lacking the essential characteristics of that particular form of labor, are permitted on a Torah level (although usually forbidden Rabbinically). For example: digging a hole in the ground for agricultural purposes is forbidden, as that is what they did for the Mishkan. However, digging a hole to retrieve and use the dirt, is permissible (again, on a Torah level). This begs the question: if the purpose of shabbos was to give us a day of rest, why did Hashem make the forbidden labors dependent on what was necessary for the Mishkan, regardless of their necessary level of exertion? Why is it so dependent that the same act, with the slightest of changes, can change from absolutely forbidden to completely permissible?

It is revealed in many sources, some of them exegetical[4], some of them more esoteric[5] and Kabbalistic[6], that the Mishkan wasn’t just a portable Temple structure for the Jews’ travels in the wilderness. It was a microcosm of the universe, and of all the sub-universes within, both the spiritual and the physical. Its physical structure was aligned with all the aspects of the spiritual and physical universe. Not only that, but Betzalel, the chief architect of the Mishkan, used the very acts that went into the creation of the universe to create the Mishkan[7].

What’s the essence of the day of rest known as shabbos? It’s testimony that there’s a Creator in this world[8]. The Torah tells us[9] that He created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh. This “rest” meant cessation from creative activities. By following suit throughout or lives, by working throughout the week, being involved in creative tasks, and resting on the seventh day, we are mimicking our Creator. By doing so we are demonstrating our belief that Hashem created the universe.

If so, Hashem wants us to rest from the very creative activities that He used to create the universe. Only then will there be proper testimony through observing shabbos. However, how could we ever know which creative acts were used to create and form the universe? We learn it from the Mishkan. It’s form and structure are a microcosm of the universe, and it was constructed the same way as the universe. By studying and observing the creative labor that went into the Mishkan, we can deduce how to properly observe shabbos. Doing so will testify to all that there is a Creator, who rested on the seventh day.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Exodus 35:1-2

[2] Exodus loc. cit.

[3] Mechilta ad. loc. See Ramban and Malbim ad. loc.

[4] Shemos Rabbah 33:4; Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei § 2. See also Megillah 10b

[5] Nefesh HaChaim 1:4

[6] Rabbeinu Bachaye to Exodus 25:9; Shnei Luchos HaBris Torah Shebiksav Terumah, Vayakhel and Pekudei

[7] Berachos 55a

[8] Mechilta to Exodus 20:14

[9] Genesis Chapter 1

Ki Sisa 5779

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Order of greatness[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה לאמר: ראה קראתי בשם בצלאל בן-אורי בן-חור למטה יהודה: ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל-מלאכה: ואתה דבר אל-בני ישראל לאמר אך את-שבתתי תשמרו כי אות הוא ביני וביניכם לדרתיכם לדעת כי אני יקוק מקדשכם
Hashem said to Moshe, saying: “See that I have called to prominence Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur, from the tribe of Yehudah. I will fill him with a spirit of G-d, with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and every workmanship [ability]…And you shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, guard my Shabbos, since it is a sign between Me and You, for your generations, to know that I am G-d, who sanctifies you’”[2]

This week’s parsha contrasts the construction of the Mishkan with the observance of Shabbos. The Mishkan was an incredibly complicated structure, with intricate details to its vessels and overall set-up. Hashem chose Betzalel to be the master architect behind the project. In order for him to be fit for the job, it wasn’t enough that he be the most talented and qualified individual. He had to receive Divine assistance. The Torah tells us that he received an extra level of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

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