July 19, 2024
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Shabbat Shabbaton: Is Yom Kippur Really the Holiest Shabbat of All?

An exploration of the nature of the kedushat hayom of Yom Kippur.

For most of my life I have been under the impression that Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It’s powerful holiness was suggested by the Torah referring to it as Shabbat Shabbaton (Veyikra16:31, 23:32).This designation seemed to imply that although a regular Shabbat (Bereishit) was holy, Yom Kippur was in fact, the “Shabbat of all Shabbatot”—the holiest Shabbat of all.

This designation instilled in me the feeling, both emotionally and halachically, that Yom Kippur was tapping into, and even magnifying, the kedusha of Shabbat kodesh and therefore merited the designation of Shabbat Shabbaton. But a number of things always bothered me about this designation.

Firstly it was clear from the Gemara in Megillah that the number of aliyot mandated for a particular day was a reflection of its holiness. And if Yom Kippur was the holiest Shabbat of all, then why did Yom Kippur only have six aliyot while Shabbat has seven?

I was also bothered by a more fundamental issue: As the Gemara in Berachot (49A) demonstrates, the source and the very nature of kedushat hamoadim and kedushat Shabbat are vastly different. The Gemara explains that we are not allowed to end the bracha of the Shabbat amida, “Baruch ata Hashem mekadesh haShabbat v’Yisrael,” because the kedusha of Shabbat and the kedusha of Am Yisrael are two different themes, and you can’t end a bracha with two themes. On Yom Tov however, we are allowed to (and required to) end the bracha, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim” because the kedusha of moadim is a reflection of kedushat Yisrael and an extension of it. Were it not for Hashem vesting klal Yisrael with kedushat Yisrael, there would be no kedushat Yom Tov.

This Gemara makes halachically clear the fact that Yamim Tovim are only holy and only exist because of bechiras Am Yisrael. By contrast, Shabbat was kadosh chronologically and logically, before bechirat Am Yisrael, and would—and does—exist even without kedushat Yisrael. The bracha of Yom Kippur amida, “Mekadesh Yisrael v’Yom Hakippurim,” clearly puts Yom Kippur into the Yom Tov category—letting us know that it is a day that only reflects kedushat Am Yisrael but does not have any independent kedusha. So if Yom Kippur is indeed Shabbat Shabbaton, the most intense of all the Shabbatot, how could it not have any independent kedusha? If Shabbat Bereishit has independent kedusha, then certainly the holiest and most intense of all Shabbatot must have independent kedusha?

Other related questions bothered me. If Yom Kippur is a way of channeling Shabbat Bereshit, why don’t we sing “Lecha Dodi” and greet the Shabbat Queen on this day, the holiest of Shabbatot? I knew intuitively that we were not greeting the Shabbat Queen on Yom Kippur and yet I couldn’t figure out why, if Yom Kippur was in fact the Shabbat Shabbaton.


The True Meaning of Shabbat Shabbaton

To answer these questions we need to determine the true meaning and connotation of the term, Shabbat Shabbaton. In particular, one may ask, is the term Shabbat in the phrase Shabbat Shabbaton actually referring to Shabbat Bereishit (and by extension, designating Yom Kippur as a Shabbat or even as the Shabbat of all Shabbatot) or is it just a term denoting a complete cessation of activity but not really referencing any particular day.

To answer this question, we must see where else the Torah uses the term Shabbat Shabbaton. It turns out that the Torah uses it in three different contexts:

1) Yom Kippur: two times (Emor, Acharei Mos)

2) Shabbat Bereishit: three times (Ki Sisa, Vayakhel, Emor)

3) Shemitah: one time (Behar)

There are a number of conclusions one can clearly and definitively draw from the use of Shabbat Shabbaton in these contexts.

A. The term Shabbat Shabbaton used by Yom Kippur does not and cannot mean the Shabbat of all Shabbatot (i.e. the most special Shabbat of all), for the term is used to describe the day and the shevisa of a regular Shabbat Bereishit three different times.

B. The term as it is used in all of the pesukim (Yom Kippur, Shabbat Beresheit, shemitah) does not give a name to a day at all. Rather, it simply describes the type of rest (שביתה) that is required. (This usage is most clearly seen by the fact that the term is used to describe the rest of the land during shemitah and not the name of the year. The same is true for each of the contexts.)

The Illuminating and Revolutionary Insight of the Ibn Ezra

Having determined that in fact the Torah DOES NOT call Yom Kippur a Shabbat and that the designation Shabbat Shabbaton is simply a description of the level of shevisa, we can begin to appreciate the fabulous insight of Ibn Ezra.

The Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 23:32) points out that whenever the term Shabbat Shabbaton appears with regards to Shabbat Bereishit, it always is followed by the word ‘לַה   [‘שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַה‘ }. In contrast, whenever the term appears in context of Yom Kippur, it is followed by the term לָכֶ֔ם.

 שַׁבַּ֨ת שַׁבָּת֥וֹן הִיא֙ לָכֶ֔ם 

Here are the words of the Ibn Ezra:

תשבתו שבתכם. זה,  (כי) יום השבת לא יקרא שבת ישראל כי אם שבת ה׳:

This brief insight of the Ibn Ezra is of fundamental importance. It highlights the vastly different nature and motivation of the complete cessation of work (Shabbat Shabbaton) that is required for Shabbat (Bereishit) and for Yom Kippur.

With regard to Shabbat, the phrase the Torah uses is שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַ֑ה- כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת. Framing the Shabbat Shabbaton as something that is for Hashem actually has a double meaning. The secondary meaning is that we are observing Shabbat as a day dedicated to Hashem. The primary meaning is that Hashem is the “person” who is totally ceasing activity. Shabbat Bereishit is a day where Hashem stopped creating and had a Shabbat Shabbaton. To acknowledge and perhaps mirror Hashem’s Shabbat Shabbaton, we are commanded not to do melacha. The purpose of bnei adam not doing melacha on Shabbat is not, at its source, focused on creating a Shabbat Shabbaton for us, but is rather to make sure we are aware that Hashem experienced a Shabbat Shabbaton on the seventh day when he created the world (Shabbat Bereishit). The motivation of the issur melacha on Shabbat is to acknowledge Hashem’s shevisa, not to create a shevisa for humankind.

On Yom Kippur however the motivation and focus of Shabbat Shabbaton is not at all reflecting something Hashem did. Hashem did not kavyachol rest or experience any Shabbat Sabbaton on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is only a holiday relevant to the Jewish people and not part of the creation fabric that would show up on the “Divine only” calendar. The mitzvah to refrain from melacha on Yom Kippur is so that we, Am Yisrael, human beings, can and must experience a Shabbat Shabbaton. This is a humanly focused and defined Shabbat Shabbaton and it is us, and only us, who are connected to this shevisa, not Hashem. (See the Rambam in Hilchot Shevisas Hasor Perek 1:Halacha 4 who says that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur is also called “shevisa”! The Rambam seems to be suggesting that a human Shabbat Shabbaton goes beyond simply refraining from melacha.)

The Unique Obligation, Opportunity and Power of Yom Kippur

At first glance, accepting this reality, that Yom Kippur is not the Shabbat of all Shabbatot was a bit deflating. The splendor, the glory of a Shabbat Shabbaton, a Shabbat to sit atop all Shabbatot, sounds so powerful and so holy. And the realization that this was not really what the Torah meant, felt disappointing.

But upon reflection, there is no need for this disappointment. For although the term Shabbat Shabbaton is not unique to Yom Kippur the term שבת שבתון לכם is! Although we are not being asked to experience, channel or mirror the divine splendor of Shabbat Bereishit, we are, in a certain sense, asked to go way beyond that. We are being asked to create a Shabbat Shabbaton of our own. Creating a human Shabbat Shabbaton, a day where we disengage from olam hazeh, requires much more disengagement (five innuyim) than what is required from us on Shabbat Bereishit. For the experience is our own.

Hashem gave us this amazingly special day, once a year, to step away from our normal existence and go to a much deeper place in our own hearts and minds. That is the unique avodah of Yom Kippur. It is the only day of the year where we must actually experience a human Shabbat Shabbaton with the goal of realigning our relationship to olam hazeh and thereby transforming our relationship with Hashem. And in that light, perhaps Yom Kippur is the most relevant and powerful Shabbat Shabbaton of all.

May we be zoche this Yom Kippur to feel the closeness and grace of Hashem through our experience of Shabbat Shabbaton.

Gmar Chasima Tova.

Torah’s Usage of Shabbat Shabbaton in Reference to Shabbat Bereishit

Vayikra, Emor, 23

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ ו????????? ????????????? ּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ כָּל־מְלָאכָ֖ה לֹ֣א תַעֲשׂ֑וּ -ש??????? ????? ????????????? ????????????????? (?)ַׁבָּ֥ת הִוא֙ לַֽה’ בְּכֹ֖ל מֽוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶֽם׃ (פ)

Shemot, Ki Tisa, Perek 31

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ יֵעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֧ת שַׁבָּת֛וֹן קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַה’- כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֧ה מְלָאכָ֛ה בְּי֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃

Shemot, Vayakhel, 35

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַה’- כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃

Torah’s Usage of Shabbat Shabbaton in Reference to Shemitat Ha’Aretz

וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗ת שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה לָאָ֔רֶץ שַׁבָּ֖ת לַה’ שָֽׂדְךָ֙ לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔ע וְכַרְמְךָ֖ לֹ֥א תִזְמֹֽר׃

Rabbi Scheinfeld is a Judaic studies teacher at SAR High School and is founder of Camp Kanfei and Camp Bnos Kanfei, a ski and travel adventure camp founded in 1994.

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