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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Sisa: Shabbat, a family day and much more
This past Monday was proclaimed family day by the provincial government of Ontario, Canada. Our Torah proclaims a weekly family day, Shabbat. It is a day of spirituality and holiness when every individual, family and community can get closer to G'd and to one's purpose in life. There are two kinds of Shabbat observers. Besides the Divine rewards every Shabbat observer receives, there are many physical benefits that a person has by observing the Shabbat. Many people do not observe the laws of Shabbat simply because their evil inclination interferes with their decisions. Shabbat is the foundation of our beliefs. The evil inclination challenges us more in our Shabbat observance than in other areas. The Torah obligates us to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for generations. It is important that the spiritual dimension of the Shabbat table is well prepared. As long as a person observes Shabbat the sign is there that this individual accepts that there is a Creator Who is in charge of all affairs of the world. We have to make Shabbat into a family business with every member of the family involved. It is impossible to observe the laws of Shabbat unless we continuously study them. The Jewish people will be redeemed from our exile in the merit of Shabbat observance.
This past Monday was proclaimed family day by the provincial government of Ontario, Canada. On this statutory holiday many businesses, schools and other institutions were closed and employees were more than happy to have an extra day off. It seems that the local provincial government felt that it is important to give people the opportunity to take off from work to spend time with their families.
Instead of just once a year, our Torah proclaims a weekly family day. In this week's portion (Shemos 31:12-17) we find one of twelve places in the Torah where G'd instructs Moses to teach the Jewish people about our special family day, Shabbat. We live in an era in which family values have seriously diminished. It is incredible to see how this weekly day of rest gives every Jewish family a unique opportunity to strengthen their family unit. Throughout the other six days of the week, every member of the family has their busy schedule and often do not have the chance to spend time together at a meal or in the family room. As the sun sets Friday night, the Torah obligates us to cease any creative physical activity and to consider it as if all our obligations and responsibilities have been completed and taken care of. This continues until nightfall the following evening and gives both mind and body an opportunity to rejuvenate itself and be ready for the new week.
Obviously, the Shabbat is much more than just a family day and a day of rest. It is a day of spirituality and holiness when every individual, family and community can get closer to G'd and to one's purpose in life. In many homes it is the custom to sing special songs at the Shabbat meal. This in itself binds the family together as everyone joins in the singing. In the first song on Friday night, known as Kol Mekadesh, it says "Whoever sanctifies the seventh day as befits it, whoever observes the Shabbat according to the law and does not desecrate it, his reward is very great, each one according to his deeds."
Two kinds of observers
The Chofetz Chaim explains that this refers to two kinds of Shabbat observers. The first one not only refrains from doing prohibited activities on Shabbat, but sanctifies it with spirituality. He says the special prayers and spends time studying Torah, and even during the Shabbat meal he elevates it to a higher dimension with words of Torah and the Shabbat songs. When such a person enters Shabbat, it is like he enters a sanctuary in the fullest sense of the word. The second kind of person also observes the Shabbat. He does not desecrate the Shabbat laws by doing anything prohibited. However, this person is missing the added dimension of holiness and sanctity. True he does not go to work, but he spends the day sleeping and taking it easy. Both will receive great reward for their Shabbat observance, but as the author of the Kol Mekadesh says, "Each one according to his deeds."
Besides the Divine rewards every Shabbat observer receives, a person has many physical benefits by observing the Shabbat. There is a definite therapeutic effect when one distances oneself from business and work. As one stops the hectic activities such as shopping, cooking and carpooling, one relieves a lot of stress and regains one's calm and serenity. Even the quiet atmosphere, created by not making or receiving phone calls, text messages and emails, gives one peace of mind and enables one to look at the world from a different angle with a fresh mindset.
Scared to make commitment
The benefits are so great that the only way one can understand why many people do not observe the laws of Shabbat is simply because their evil inclination interferes with their decisions. They are scared to make the commitment and instead of focusing on all the beautiful physical benefits, as mentioned above, they only see the restrictions of Shabbat observance.
In his introduction to the laws of Shabbat, the Chofetz Chaim explains that Shabbat is the foundation of our beliefs. By observing Shabbat we acknowledge what it says in this week's portion: (Shemos 31:16) "And the children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for generations between Me and the Children of the Israel. This is a sign for eternity, that in six days G'd made Heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested …" Obviously, G'd did not need to rest, but the Torah describes G'd in human terms to give us the opportunity to emulate His rest every Shabbat.
The evil inclination challenges us more in our Shabbat observance than in other areas. This is due to the fact that when someone observes Shabbat, it is tantamount to making a public proclamation that one believes in G'd as the Creator of the universe. On the other hand, when someone publicly desecrates Shabbat, it is as if he proclaims that he does not believe in G'd. According to halacha (Orach Chaim 385:3) such a person has the same status as an idol worshipper.
As mentioned above, the Torah obligates us to observe the Shabbat and to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for generations. This teaches us that it is not sufficient for us to merely observe the laws of Shabbat. Rather, we have to create an enjoyable Shabbat atmosphere. This will ensure that future generations will follow in our footsteps, and that the Shabbat will be observed for generations to come. The Shabbat table provides the perfect forum for the family as a unit to bond together through the special meal, the singing, and with the words of Torah thoughts appropriate to the weekly portion.
Everyone understands that no meal can be served without prior preparation, it is equally important that the spiritual dimension of the Shabbat table is well prepared. If children find the meal boring it is definitely not conducive to ensure that they will continue with their Shabbat observance. On the other hand, if they are inspired and involved at the meal, they will find it an enjoyable experience. They will look forward to it every week, and as such it will be something they will like to continue into their adult life. To some extent the same applies to every synagogue, where it is important to conduct the service in a way that every congregant feels the joy and special atmosphere of the Shabbat.
Sign still hanging
The Torah refers to Shabbat as a sign between G'd and the Jewish people (see above). The Chofetz Chaim uses a parable to teach us how this shows the significance of Shabbat. Every store has a sign hanging outside to make people aware of the service being provided or merchandise being sold by the store. As long as the sign is there, people know that this store is still functioning. Even if the storekeeper for some reason has to close the store for a little while, it is understood that the store still exists and is only temporarily closed. However, if the sign is removed, it is a clear indication that the store is not operating anymore. Says the Chofetz Chaim, as long as a person observes Shabbat the sign is there. It shows that this individual accepts that there is a Creator Who is in charge of all affairs of the world. Even if this individual from time to time stumbles and transgresses one of the commandments of the Torah, the sign is still hanging. However, if G'd forbid, a person openly desecrates Shabbat, it is as if he removed the sign.
There is a famous saying "Rome was not built in one day." Similarly, our Shabbat is not complete in one week. Every step we take towards honouring Shabbat and observing its laws is an effort to keep the sign hanging in front of the store. But there are many different kinds of stores with different kinds of signs. Some stores are built by individuals and others are family businesses. In general, a family business is more trustworthy and reliable. So it is with Shabbat. We have to make it into a family business with every member of the family involved. And when it comes to the sign on the store, some are simple and some are more elaborate. As we try to improve how we observe and honour Shabbat, our sign becomes more and more beautiful.
The Chofetz Chaim writes that it is impossible to observe the laws of Shabbat unless we continuously study them. Only then can we know what activities are permitted and what activities are not. We must always remember what we sing in Kol Mekadesh that every Shabbat observer will receive a great reward, but each one will be according to the person's deeds. The more preparation and effort we put in, the greater the reward and benefit.
Redeemed from exile
The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 3:1) states that the Jewish people will be redeemed from our exile in the merit of Shabbat observance. Let us all make an effort to help to bring this about, so that we can celebrate the Shabbat in its fullest sense at the time of the redemption also referred to as the Day that is Completely Shabbat.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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