Two Essential Themes of Shabbos

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

The נביא ירמיה, prophet Jeremiah, (17:19-26) admonishes כלל ישראל, the Jewish people, especially the inhabitants of Jerusalem including the monarchs, to observe the Shabbos. In a lengthy castigation, he repeatedly implores them to observe the prohibition of carrying objects form a public domain into a private domain (and vice versa) and carrying within a public domain, but unfortunately he wasn’t listened to. What is remarkable is the stress on this prohibition, while the remaining 38 other prohibited actions are “only mentioned”. In verse 22 and 24, after exhorting them not to disregard the prohibitions relevant to carrying, as a parallel he states the prohibition of מלאכה, which is translated as creative work, creativity as opposed to carrying, a “chore”.

We are being told of the two categories of activity that are prohibited on Shabbos. One is the reflection of our mastery over nature, our ability to create. We are not allowed to bake, cook, create a fire, to construct, to knot, to shear, to sew, to tan… all actions that manifest one’s ability to create using the “tools of nature”. To capture an animal, to gather crops, are creative means to have dominion over objects.

Carrying is none of these. In fact we can carry in our home or even in a city that has an eruv. Why is it forbidden in the above mentioned circumstances? The Talmud points out that in fact הוצאה, carrying, is termed a מלאכה גרועה, “activity that is a ‘poor’, ‘lesser’ example of what is termed activity.”

Another question is why does the first עשרת הדברות, Tablets state that, “…Hashem created the world in six days and ‘rested’ on the seventh” as being the reason for His blessing Shabbos and infusing it with holiness, whereas the second עשרת הדברות, Tablets state that “you shall remember that you were enslaved in Egypt and Hashem brought us out… therefore He commands you to “make” the seventh day Shabbos.

Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the idea of the 38 מלאכות of activity and creativity corresponds to the reason given in the first Tablets, while the prohibition of carrying corresponds to the exodus from Egypt.

One is the mastery of Hashem as the Creator of all. On Shabbos when we declare that He is the ultimate and only real Creator; we submit ourselves to Him by ceasing all creative productivity and rather focus on our life mission – to study His Torah, and to pray, thank Him, and to focus on one’s spiritual development. 

The second factor is in regard to the “social dynamic”. Whereas the tendency of mankind is to strive for control over the social interaction of humanity, Hashem implores us to inculcate in ourselves that He is in complete control… as we witnessed the miraculous exodus from Egypt. We therefore are instructed not to carry into the public domain or carry in it, thereby demonstrating that we are to focus inwardly on our individual commitment to the community, a symbol of our acquiescence to the idea of Hashem’s control.

The אלשיך הקדוש, Alshich, (1508-1593) teaches another profound lesson. 

On Shabbos we are endowed with the idea of a נשמה יתרה. The Alshich (של”ה, שפת אמת) explains that whereas during the week there is a constant tension between one’s spiritual journey and one’s physical and personal desires (fame, wealth), on Shabbos we are gifted with an acute appreciation of our essence, our spiritual נשמה, soul. On Shabbos Hashem benefacts to every Jew, according to their unique self, a connection to Him; a desire to emulate Him and to selflessly dedicate oneself to the mission that He has empowered us with. In this manner – yes, it needs thought and preparation – we disconnect ourselves from the physical universe and we once again are connected to the source of one’s נשמה, soul – Hashem Himself. “כי בו שבת מכל מלאכתו, For He rested” – when did He work? The meaning is that Hashem placed Himself in our world on Shabbos, we are reconnected to Him!

We therefore curtail all physical creativity, in effect declaring that our sole definition is that we are connected to You, Hashem. The idea of not “carrying” is a symbolic manifestation of our separation from the “world out there.” On Shabbos, when we are connecting to our Source, Hashem, we proclaim that we are in His domain, far away from the domain of people whose aims and goals – and נשמה – are antithetical to our plan and purpose, our life’s mission. We therefore don’t carry into the public domain or within it!

While one argue that the emphasis of the נביא ירמיה is on carrying due to the populace’s minimizing it due to it not being a “true creative activity,” we are taught a profound lesson.

Klal Yisroel is endowed with a profound, extraordinary gift- we can actually experience the נשמה, our metaphysical connection to Hashem on Shabbos. To actualize this gift necessitates a complete removal from the world… According to Rav Hirsch, to fully comprehend that only Hashem directs the social order of the world and according to the Alshich, to transcend the ordinary quest of the human being – that of those who don’t have the gift of Torah.

This is why the Torah commands us, “and the seventh day will be for Hashem, Your G-d” – it’s a day to study Torah, pray, and thank Hashem for our נשמה by celebrating with Hashem by truly appreciating the delicious food he has given us.


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