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Reasons for Shabbat

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

This week's parsha's main themes are a repeated command to keep the Shabbat, and the sin of the Golden Calf. We will look at some main aspects of the Shabbat.



The mitzvah of the Shabbat is one of the Ten Commandments. It is found in Exodus 20:7 and again in Deuteronomy 5:12. In Exodus, the reason given for the Shabbat is that it is the day when Hashem rested after the week of Creation. As He rested, so too are we to rest. But in Deuteronomy, the reason given for the Shabbat is that we were slaves in Egypt and as remembrance of that experience and God's redemption, we are to keep the Shabbat.

How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction between the two reasons for keeping the Shabbat?

Look at both of these sections - read them carefully - and you should be able to understand why this difference exists.

An Answer: If you read both sections carefully, you certainly noticed that they both end with a phrase beginning with the word "Therefore." The Ten Commandments in Exodus, which speak of God creating the world and resting on the seventh day, ends with: "Therefore, Hashem blessed the Shabbat day and He sanctified it." The section in Deuteronomy, on the other hand, which speaks of the Jews being slaves in Egypt, ends with: "Therefore Hashem commanded you to keep the Shabbat."

Now it should be quite clear. The reason for the Shabbat is certainly that the world was created in six days and on the seventh Hashem rested. That is why the seventh day is holy. And that is what the verse says: "Therefore, Hashem blessed the Shabbat day and He sanctified it." But in Deuteronomy the reason is given to explain why this holy day was given to the Jews and only to them (even though all of mankind was created by Hashem). This is because God took us out of the slavery of Egypt and therefore we are beholden to Him. We alone, among all the Peoples of the world, have a covenant with Him. So there is no contradiction between the two reasons given.



In the Shabbat morning Shemona Esrei prayer we read a section from this week's parsha referring to the mitzvah of Shabbat. It says:

"...and two tablets of stone he (Moses) brought down (from Sinai) in his hand. And it is written in them about the observance of Shabbat. And so it also says in Your Torah (the following quote is from Exodus 31:16-17 - this is from our parsha):

'And the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat to make it an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever that in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'"



A Question: Why was this section from the Torah chosen for the prayer? It would seem more appropriate to choose the verses from the Ten Commandments which tell of the mitzvah of Shabbat.

Can you see the special relevance of this section?

Your Answer:

An Answer: This section, more than the verses in the Ten Commandments, stresses the special relationship between the Jews and Hashem. The covenant is mentioned and Shabbat is the sign of that special covenant. And since these prayers are from the Jews and are directed to Hashem, it is natural to mention our special relation with the God who is the object of our prayers. This section expresses that.

See the very next paragraph in the prayer. It stresses the exclusive privilege that the Jews have as being the only nation chosen to observe the Shabbat. This, as we said above, is unusual since the Shabbat really commemorates the creation of the world and of all mankind. We would expect that all Peoples would be obligated to observe the Shabbat. It is our special gift that we alone observe the Shabbat - this is our identity card as God's People - the Nation chosen to convey His message throughout the world.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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