This week’s portion is host to the monumental foundation of our belief in G-d and the source of our direct relationship with G-d, when we became His ambassadors to fulfill and adhere to His Mitzvos and Torah. This colossal event is when G-d declared the Ten Commandments in the presence of the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai.
The fourth Commandment is to observe the holy day of Shabbos.
Interestingly, there is reference that our forefather Avraham already observed the Shabbos, passing this tradition to his son Yitzchok, who passed it to his son Yaacov, with Yaacov giving it over to his children, the 12 tribes of Israel. Even while in slavery in Egypt, the Jews were afforded the day of Shabbos as an off day. This was procured by Moshe during the time he was raised in the Pharoh’s palace. He proposed to the Pharoh that it would be to his benefit to give the Jews a break so that they could recoup their energies. When Moshe was asked which day should be designated, he chose the seventh day of the week.
Shabbos was basically given to them as a day off from work similar to any society that allots a given day of the week as a day off.
When the Jews exited Egypt and were traveling in the desert towards Mount Sinai, the Torah tells us that they came to place called Marah. At Marah they were first introduced to some preliminary rules about how they should spend their traditional day off of Shabbos.
Says Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. we find that a bit further in their travels toward Mount Sinai the Jews were introduced to a new and elevated aspect of Shabbos. This was when they received their daily Heavenly sustenance of the Manna. On the first Friday after they began receiving the Manna, each person came home and discovered that they received a double portion of the Manna. They asked Moshe about this and he told them that the second portion was for the next day’s Shabbos meals and unlike the other days when any Manna that was left overnight would turn wormy, the second portion would remain fresh for the next day.
Moshe explained and introduced to them the concept that from now on the Shabbos is not just a day of rest as they were familiar with, rather it was infused with Kedusha – holiness. Moshe explained to them that from now on, even transporting the Manna or any item from a public domain to a private domain – even if no effort is exerted, it is forbidden. Why? Because Shabbos is a Holy and Sanctified day. The Jews were introduced to this concept along with witnessing the miracle that the Manna that was left over Friday night remained fresh unlike the other days of the week.
At this point the Jews were only introduced to certain laws which served to elevate their experience of restfulness of the Shabbos in the realm of Kedusha – holiness. The idea of holiness for a day of the week was introduced to them gradually so they would get used to it.
When G-d proclaimed the Ten Commandments and gave the law of Shabbos, the Jews were finally exposed and commanded to adhere to all the laws that encompass the Shabbos. At that point they could reach the ultimate levels of Holiness and connectivity to G-d that the Shabbos affords.
Shabbos to the Jews was no longer just a day off with a few laws; it became for them a day that is totally elevated due to refraining from the 39 categories of creative activities – even those that require no effort at all. With the giving of the Torah, Shabbos became G-d’s prescription as to what He allows and forbids. He granted our Sages the wisdom to institute laws in order to preserve the sanctity of Shabbos.
G-d tells us, “Yes, during the six days of the week I permit you to do all the creative work you wish to do. However on the holy day of Shabbos – I want you to revert back to an existence similar to when I concluded six days of creation. I ceased from creation in honor of the Seventh day – the Shabbos.”
Shabbos is a capsule of holy time when we elevate ourselves, our speech and our environment. It is when we live in a sphere detached from the standard earthy realm and grind.
I quote Rabbi Berel Wein: “The Shabbos is not a cerebral event. It is one that must be experienced on a regular basis for its meaning to take hold in the life of a Jewish individual and family!”