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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d said to Moses: 'You shall speak to the Israelites telling them to observe My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations that it is I, G-d, who makes you holy'. (31:12-13)

Moses assembled… the Israelites and said to them: 'Work may be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be holy. You may not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings, on the Sabbath day'. (35:1-3)

The above are from two accounts of Shabbat. The first - in the previous Parasha - was G-d's communication to Moses on Mount Sinai, telling him how to present the concept of Shabbat to the Israelites. The second - in this week's double-Parasha - relates Moses' actual communication of the Shabbat to the Israelites after he descended the mountain for the second time. Though the two accounts are substantially similar, they contain the following differences:

(a) G-d communicated the Shabbat to Moses in the framework of 'ot' a sign - 'for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations that it is I, G-d, who makes you holy'. Moses did not use that word when he taught the Shabbat to the Israelites.

(b) Moses ordered the Israelites: 'You may not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings, on the Sabbath day'. There are no details of forbidden Shabbat activity in G-d's instructions to Moses: there is only the more general 'observe My Sabbaths'.

These differences may be accounted for in the following way.

G-d is the source of all things. Moses is (Rabbinically) referred to as Moses our Teacher. Moses, as Maimonides powerfully emphasizes, is also the greatest of all Prophets as he was unique in 'knowing G-d face to face' (Deut. 34:10). Thus Moses as a Prophet had the greatest access to the Creator, but Moses as a Teacher had the responsibility of presenting the Torah in a way that would promote its maximum observance. For manuals merely instruct, but real teachers inject spirit and inspire. And Moses, as the Teacher had the license from G-d to present the Shabbat to maximum impact.

Thus telling the Israelites that the Sabbath is a sign between G-d and His People is one thing. But activating it into a sign between G-d and His People is the work of the Teacher. By instructing them that one may not make a fire on Shabbat, he is as good as telling them that all cooking and baking for Shabbat must be done before Shabbat comes in. And it is the act of preparing for Shabbat that frames its importance. It gets people not merely exoterically, but physically involved in preparing to welcome the Shabbat before it comes in. And Moses, as a Teacher, presents the sign as something concrete - something his students - the Israelites - can relate to, from generation to generation… Especially related to food - as everybody eats…

Thus Moses the Teacher translated the 'sign' to 'active involvement' - a concept many successful teachers actively practice.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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