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Parshas Vayakhel/Pekudei

Illuminating the Shabbos
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Before instructing the Bnei Yisrael to build the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu reminded them to observe Shabbos. Despite the importance of the Mishkan, its construction did not override the Shabbos. The sanctity of Shabbos supercedes even Hashra'as HaShechina (Divine Presence). We refrain from melacha on Shabbos to commemorate the fact that when Hashem created the world, He rested on the seventh day. In this way, we testify that it was Hashem who created the world.

The Malbim (Shemos 20:8) asks a fundamental question: How does Hashem resting on Shabbos prove that He is the Creator? One who believes the Torah's account of the six days of creation, does not require further proof that Hashem is the Creator and one who does not accept the Torah's account would not be convinced when told that Hashem rested on Shabbos. Further, don't the acts of creation, all the wonders and intricacies of nature, attest to a Creator more so than His abstaining from work on the seventh day? We might also ask, we say in Shacharis, the daily prayers, "Hamechadeish b'chol yom ma'asei B'reishis" - Who renews every day the acts of creation. This includes Shabbos as well. So what is meant when we say that Hashem rested on Shabbos?

The Malbim explains that during the six days of creation, Hashem continuously created new elements and species. This process continued until the first Shabbos arrived. With the onset of Shabbos, Hashem abstained from creating new beings, FOREVER MORE; not even one new species has been found since then. This is the proof that Hashem is the Creator. If the world came into being on its own, why haven't any new beings emerged in the last 5762 years? The same force that brought the world into existence and formed life, should continue to create new forms of life. (Conveniently, evolutionists claim that the world is billions of years old and that it takes millions of years for even one species to evolve or develop. In this way there is no possible way to dispute their claim.)

In Primary School we learnt about many of the discoveries and inventions of modern times. We all know that James Cook discovered Australia in 1770 and Columbus landed on the Americas in 1492. We learnt how Louis Pasteur came to the realisation that heating liquids kills bacteria. We call this process pasteurization. We marvelled at Edison's many inventions including the first light bulb invented in 1879. We were amazed with Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone call in 1876. We heard about Eli Whitney's, cotton gin. His machine could clean cotton as fast as fifty people. We also discovered that although two wrongs don't make a right nevertheless, two Wrights- Orville and Wilbur- flew the first airplane in 1903!

However there are some inventions that we never learnt about. For example, who baked the first loaf of bread? If we stop and think about it, it is simply amazing! Who would think that a stalk that was growing contained seeds that can be processed and eaten? Once it was picked, one would have to separate the seed. Then it would have to be ground. (And exactly how was it ground?) And why would someone consider mixing this ground powder with water? After kneading the dough, how would one know to bake it in an oven? And what is an oven? (It would appear that Adam indeed had bread-"B'zei'as apecha tochal lechem"- By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.)

I don't know when the first loaf of bread was baked, but I do know when the fire to ignite that oven was discovered. Chazal tell us that on the very first Motza'ei Shabbos after creation, Adam rubbed two stones together to produce the first man-made fire -man's first invention. Although Hashem decided not to alter the world with the commencement of Shabbos, He bestowed Man with control over his surroundings. From that night until the present, man constantly strives to improve and better his lot by enhancing the world that Hashem has bequeathed him.

It is no coincidence that man's first innovation was fire. Fire or light symbolises chachma, wisdom. Interestingly, Chazal refer to Yavan, the nation that represents chachma, as choshech, darkness.

During the six days of creation, Hashem implanted every being and every element with their potential that would later be discovered by man. He not only gave man the wisdom and intellect to invent but He also instilled in man the nature to be inquisitive and the desire to better his lot. Man can go on to make great discoveries and inventions. He then has a choice. On the one hand he can see Hashem hidden in creation. Man can perceive Hashem's greatness, the attributes that He has infused into the world and the wisdom, yearning and curiosity to seek out new frontiers with which that He has endowed man. Alternatively, he can focus on his achievements, his inventions and his discoveries. The other nations, headed by Yavan do not ascribe their successes to Hashem. Rather, they take full credit for all of their accomplishments. Normally, light enables one to see. However, an extremely bright light can have the opposite effect. Not only does it impair vision, it can actually cause blindness. Yavan is blinded by their inventions and their wisdom. Not only do they fail to see Hashem, they actually come to deny Him. That is choshech. Our task is to see the Inner Light, the wonders of Hashem and to realise that our intelligence was bestowed upon us by Him.

Nevertheless, after toiling an entire week, one may easily forget that Hashem is the true source of his sucesses. This is why we abstain from melacha on Shabbos. Melacha is one of those words that do not translate well from the original Hebrew. Melacha does not refer to "work" in the sense of physical and manual labor. Based on Rav Hirsch's understanding, Dayan I. Grunfeld defines melacha as follows: "An act that shows man's mastery over the world by the constructive exercise of his intelligence and skill ("Meleches machsheves assra Torah", The Sabbath p.29)." by refraining from melacha for an entire day, we demonstrate that Hashem is the source of our wisdom. Shabbos affords us the opportunity to reflect on all the gifts that Hashem has bestowed upon us. We can see His hand guiding us. We praise Him for the wisdom He granted us so that we can improve our lot and learn to seek Him.

In this week's Parsha, an additional Shabbos restriction is mentioned "lo siva'aru eish b'chol moshvoseichem" - do not light fire in all your dwellings. The Tana'im, Sages of the Talmud, dispute why the Torah mentioned hava'ara, kindling fire, inasmuch as as it was included in the original ban on melacha. According to one opinion, we derive from here that hava'ara is not a full-fledged melacha; one who lights a fire on Shabbos only transgresses a negative commandment, but does not receive the death penalty (hava'ara l'lav yatzas). According to this view, the passuk comes to teach us a halacha that is only applicable to hava'ara. The second opinion (which is the view that the halacha follows) explains that the Torah repeated hava'ara to teach us a principle that is relevant to all the melachos; each of the thirty-nine melachos is considered a separate melacha. One brings a different chata'as (Sin-offering) for each av melacha that he transgresses (hava'ara l'chaleik yatzas, although this law was mentioned in regard to hava'ara, we learn from the thirteen middos, principles that R' Yishmael taught that the Torah can be expounded). According to the latter view, since the passuk comes to teach us a general principle, why specifically was hava'ara selected as the source of this halacha?

Adam understood that his intellect was a gift from Hashem. The first time he used that gift to manipulate nature was with the invention of fire. The melacha of hava'ara thus demonstrates to us the purpose of our refraining from melacha on Shabbos; to serve as a reminder that Hashem is the source of our wisdom. This is also why we light the havdala candle at the conclusion of Shabbos. Before we begin a new work-week, we proclaim one last time that the "light", the wisdom, that we possess is not of man's own doing, rather, it is a gift from Hashem and we must thank Him and recite a bracha before we benefit from it.

Once we realize that Hashem granted us our wisdom and that it was He who instilled in Creation the potential for future discoveries and inventions, we must stop and think what was Hashem's purpose in doing so? He wants us to use the means that He provided to better serve Him. We should utilise His gifts to enable us to learn Torah and to perform the mitzvos.

This is another purpose of our Shabbos rest. Shabbos provides us with the opportunity to focus on spiritual pursuits. "Mizmor shir layom HaShabbos: Tov l'hodos LaHashem." - A song for the day of Shabbos, It is good to praise Hashem. We have more time to catch up on our learning and the relaxed atmosphere of Shabbos enables us to concentrate more on our davening. However, we need to realise that we must also attribute our spiritual accomplishments to Hashem. He enabled us to comprehend the Torah and He gave us the strength to overcome our yetzer hara, evil inclination. Since it is possible for us to forget, Hashem forbade the construction of the Mikdash on Shabbos to serve as a reminder for us to thank Hashem for these spiritual gifts as well. Although Hashem yearns to dwell in our midst and the korbanos we would offer there help sustain the world, it is more important for us to remember that Hashem is our creator who provides for us, both physically and spiritually.

Chazal revealed to us that Shabbos is Hashem's special gift to us. Let us take advantage of Shabbos and thank Hashem for all His gifts. Let's use these gifts to better learn His Torah and serve Hashem. Then may we realise that Torah and avodas Hashem are the biggest gifts of all.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper, provided that this notice is included intact.

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