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Anticipating Shabbat

V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

The Torah repeats the Ten Commandments in Parshas Va’etchanan, but with some significant changes. One of the most famous changes is in the Mitzva to keep Shabbos: In the Torah Portion of Yitro, it says, “Zachor et Yom HaShabbat Lekadosho…”1 – remember the Shabbat in order to keep it holy, yet in this week’s Portion it says, “Shamur et Yom HaShabbat Lekadosho…” – Guard the Shabbat to keep it holy.

Rabbi Aron Yehuda Leib Shteinman asks on the language of ‘Guard’ the Shabbat – in reality a person must guard himself from doing work (Melacha), not guard the Shabbat himself.2 He suggests an answer based on the Chizkuni.

The Chizkunu cites the verse in Bereishit regarding Yaakov’s response to the prophetic dreams of Yosef. “V’aviv shamar es hadvar”3 – his father ‘shamar’ the matter. Rashi explains that in this context, the word ‘shamar’ means that he waited and anticipated to see when the prophecies in the dream would come to fruition. In this vein, the Chizkuni explains that the exhortation of ‘shamur es Yom HaShabbat’ also means to wait and anticipate the coming of Shabbat. We generally understand that Mitzvot relating to preparing and waiting for Shabbos constitute Rabbinic Mitzvot relating to honouring the Shabbat (Kavod Shabbat), however, this Chizkuni indicates a Torah source to this idea.

The Ramban also finds a Torah source for the concept of thinking about Shabbat in the weekday in the other version of the Ten Commandments where the Torah says ‘Zachor es Yom HaShabbat’.4 The Ramban brings a number of interpretations of this command. His final interpretation is that it is a Mitzva to remember the Shabbos every day, because by constantly remembering it, we will remember the act of creation (Maaseh Bereishit) that culminated in Shabbos.

The halachic Authorities develop the idea of the Ramban. The Chachmat Adam5 writes that when one counts the days he should count from Shabbat, for example, on the first day of the week, one should say that this is the first day from the last Shabbat. The Shemirat Shabbos Kehilachata6 cites sources that if one counts each day mentioning the Shabbat, he fulfils the mitzvah of Zachor et Yom HaShabbat. This is done when one mentions the day before the daily psalm (Shir Shel Yom). The Mekor Chaim7 writes that even on Rosh Chodesh and Yom Tov when many do not have the custom to say the Shir Shel Yom, one should mention the day of the week from the previous Shabbos, in order to fulfil the mizvah of Zachor et Yom HaShabbat.

The question arises, why is it so important that, according to the Ramban and Chizkuni, on a Torah level, there is basis to anticipate and focus on Shabbos throughout the week? On a basic level, the answer is that Shabbos is the foundation of belief in the Six Days of Creation and namely that God created the world – by resting on the Seventh day we remember the fact that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

On a deeper level, this can be understood based on idea discussed in the Portion of Vayakhel. The Portion begins with an exhortation to observe Shabbat: "For six days work will be done and the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem…8" The commentaries ask that the wording of the Torah in this verse needs explanation; it should have said, "for six days you will do work" in the active sense, rather than saying that work will be done in the passive form9.

They explain that the Torah is teaching us about the attitude a person should have that will enable him to have the fortitude to refrain from doing melacha, work on Shabbat: Throughout the week a person is required to work in order to earn his livelihood, he cannot sit back and expect God to provide for him if he puts in no effort. He is required to put in effort because of the decree that God placed upon mankind after Adam’s sin. However, in truth, all his effort is not the reason for his success, rather God is its sole Source. On Shabbos, Hashem commands us to refrain from creative activity to acknowledge this and that all the work we do in the week is only part of the decree to work. However, if one comes to believe that his physical efforts are in fact the cause of his livelihood then he will find it very difficult to refrain from working on Shabbat; he thinks that the more he works the more he will earn and therefore it is logical for him to work on Shabbat as well as the rest of the week. In response to this erroneous attitude, the Torah tells us that one should view the work that he does in a passive sense - that in truth he does not do the work, rather that it is done for him. Hashem, so-to-speak, does the work and provides for each person's livelihood. If one recognizes this, then he will find it far easier to refrain from working on Shabbat because he realizes that in truth his work is not the cause of his livelihood10.

To take this idea one step further, when a person has this mindset, he realizes that the whole idea of working in order to earn a living, is an illusion, and the true existence is that of Shabbat, when everything is done for us. Rabbi Shalom Shwadron gave an analogy about this idea – he said that there was a man who was unfortunately not of sound mind, who would spend his days directing traffic at lights. Of course, the drivers ignored him, and followed the lights themselves, but the man let himself believe that he was directing the traffic. In the same way, a person can believe that he is directing his life, but in reality, he is directing traffic that does not need him – he needs to do his hishtadlut but he also needs to remember who is running the world. Shabbat reminds us of this fact.

By waiting and anticipating Shabbat for the whole week, a person reminds himself of the reality that is epitomized by Shabbat. May we all merit to experience the time when all existence will be one, long Shabbat.


  1. Devarim, 5:12.
  2. One possible answer to this question could be that one should guard the sanctity of Shabbat from being desecrated by doing Melacha.
  3. Bereishit, 37:11.
  4. Shemot, 20:8.
  5. Chayei Adam, Shabbat, Klal 1, Seif 1,
  6. Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata, Chelek 2, Chapter 42, He’arah 11:
  7. Simun 271, Seif 3: Written by the Chavot Yair.
  8. Vayakhel, 35:2.
  9. See Yitro, 20:9 where the Torah says, "you will work" and Ki Tisa, 31:15 where it says, "work will be done".
  10. See Tallelei Orot, Vayakhel, p.279; Darchei Mussar, Vayakhel, p.136-7.

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