by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Ki Sisa
Rashi's unique interpretation gives insight
into the deeper meanings of Shabbos.
You shall speak to the Children of Israel saying: 'However, you must observe My Sabbaths , for it is a sign between Me and you, for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.'
For it is a sign between Me and you. Rashi: It is a great sign between us, that I have chosen you by letting you inherit for rest that day on which I rested .
Can you rephrase Rashi's comment in your own words?
What Is Rashi Saying ?
Rashi is telling us that the sign here is not the Sabbath, as it is usually interpreted to mean, rather the sign is "letting you inherit for rest the day on which I rested." That is to say: when Jews keep the Sabbath this is a sign that G-d has chosen them.
A Question: What forces Rashi to ignore the more likely interpretation: that Sabbath is the sign? Ordinarily we consider the Sabbath to be a sign that G-d created the world. Yet Rashi clearly doesn't say this. Why not?
What Is Bothering Rashi ?
An Answer: The words at the beginning of this verse "My Sabbaths" are in the plural. But the words " it is a sign" on the other hand, are in the singular. Therefore Rashi realized that "sign" cannot refer to the Sabbaths.
An Answer: The sign, according to Rashi, is the (singular) fact "that I have chosen you to inherit My day of rest." This is a singular item and thus the word "it" is also in the singular, and is grammatically appropriate.
Now, reread the whole section from 31:13 to 31:17.
"You shall speak to the Children of Israel saying: 'However you must observe My Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem Who makes you holy. You shall observe the Sabbath for it is holy to you; its desecrator shall be put to death, for whoever does work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among its people. For six days work may be done and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, it is holy to Hashem; whoever does work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. The Children of Isarel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever...
Do you see any redundancy regarding the phrase "it is a sign"?
A Closer Look
An Answer: See verse 17 where it says "Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever..."
Why is this concept repeated?
An Answer: To answer this question we must digress.
"Keep" and "Remember" in One Utterance
The commandment of keeping the Sabbath is repeated in the two editions of the Ten Commandments in different ways. In the Book of Shemos (20:8 ff) it says:
"Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days you may labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of Hashem, your G-d; do not do any work, neither your son , nor your daughter, your servant, nor your maidservant, your beasts nor the stranger in your gates. For in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day; therefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it."
However in the second Tablets (Deut. 5:12ff) we find a different reason given for the mitzvah of the Sabbath.
"Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as Hashem , your G-d, has commanded you. Six days you may labor and do all your work. On the seventh day is the Sabbath of Hashem your G-d; don't do any work , neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your servant, nor your maidservant nor any of your oxen, nor your ass nor any of your animals, nor the stranger in your gates, in order that your servant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. And you shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt and Hashem your G-d, brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, Hashem, your G-d commanded you to keep the Sabbath day."
In the first Tablets the reason given for the Sabbath is that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. While in the second tablets the reason given is that we were slaves in Egypt. This discrepancy has given rise to many attempts to reconcile it.
An Answer: A close look at the Torah's words will reveal that there is no discrepancy whatsoever. In the first Tablets it speaks of the creation and at the end it says: "Therefore Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it." Meaning, the reason for the Sabbath is that it commemorates creation of the world by G-d.
In the second Tablets it speaks of the Israelites' slavery and G-d's redemption of them. At the end it says: "therefore Hashem your G-d commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." Meaning, the reason the Jews, among all the nations of the earth, are commanded to keep the Sabbath (after all, the Creation was a universal event, not exclusive to the Jews), is that we have a special indeptedness to G-d and He commanded us to proclaim His Divinity in the world.
In summary: There are two reasons for the Sabbath:
1) The reason there is a Sabbath - the Creation
2) The reason the Jews alone are commanded to keep it - their redemption from Egypt.
Let us, now, return to our verses in Parashas Ki Sisa.
A Deeper Look
The first verse (31:13) "It is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, Hashem, have made you holy."
The second verse (31:17) "Between Me and the Children of Israel it is an everlasting sign, that Hashem made the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day He ceased and rested."
Which verse corresponds to the reason in the first Tablets?
Of course, the first verse ("that I, Hashem, made you holy") corresponds to the reason in the second Tablets (that Israel alone was chosen to keep the Sabbath) and the second verse ("that Hashem made the heavens and the earth") corrresponds exactly to the reason given in the first Tablets (that G-d created the heavens and the earth). Amazing how precise the Torah is in its choice of words!
Remember, it was Rashi's unusual interpretation of the first verse (31:13) that started us on this journey, by telling us that the sign is meant to signify the connection between G-d and His people. Not so the second time the sign is mentioned in verse 17; there it symbolizes the creation of the world by the Almighty.
Subtleties of the Text
Do you see another subtlety in the text that substantiates the difference between the two verses. Look very closely!
An Answer: The first verse, which speaks of G-d's special relationship with His people, is written in the more personal, second person - "Between Me and you....who makes you holy."
The second verse which tells of G-d's lofty, supernatural powers as the Creator is written in the impersonal, third person - "Between Me and the Children of Israel." This form is used, it would seem, because a person cannot have a personal relationship with G-d as Creator. We can, on the other hand, have such a relationship with G-d as our personal redeemer. The choice of words in each phrase reflects precisely its deeper meaning.
The Torah nevers ceases to amaze one by its precise and subtle use of words.
No matter how familiar you are with the Torah parashah, search it again and again to find its hidden treasures.