May 30, 2024
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In this week’s parsha, Moshe recalls for Am Yisrael the seminal events of Har Sinai and reviews the 10 commandments given by God to the Jewish nation.

The commentaries note several discrepancies between this version of the 10 commandments and the version in Parshat Yitro. Perhaps the most prominent is in the commandment of Shabbat. Whereas in Parshat Yitro, it says “Zachor et yom hashabbat,” “remember the Shabbat day,” in our parsha the commandment opens with “Shamor et yom hashabbat,” “guard the Shabbat day.”

Which text is correct?

Rashi quotes a Midrash that explains that “both [zachor and shamor] were said in the same utterance….” According to this Midrash, God miraculously uttered both words at the same time and Am Yisrael heard them as two distinct words. Therefore, both textual versions in the Torah are correct.

Yet another question arises. Why did God relay the commandment in this way? Why not just say one after the other: “zachor v’shamor et yom haShabbat,” “remember and guard the day of Shabbat?” Why did both words need to be said “in the same utterance?”

The Gemara Shabbos 20b provides an answer. The gemara asks whether women are obligated in the positive commandments of Shabbat, as generally women are exempt from time bound positive mitzvot. The gemara answers that the positive and negative commandments of Shabbat are fundamentally intertwined; one cannot have one without the other. Therefore, since women are commanded in the negative commandments of Shabbat, they must also be commanded in the positive commandments. The gemara proves the connection between the positive and negative commandments by noting that “shamor,” which represents the negative commandments, and “zachor,” which represents the positive commandments, were said “in the same utterance.”

This gemara highlights a crucial lesson learned from the fact that “zachor” and “shamor” were said together – that these two imperatives are two sides of the same coin, both integral to the Shabbat experience. To fully experience Shabbat, one must observe both its positive and negative commandments.

Yet the gemara fails to address another question. Why are the positive and negative mitzvot so connected that one cannot truly experience Shabbat without both? Observing the negative commandments alone, by ceasing to create on Shabbat, would teach a valuable lesson. So why do Chazal insist on the need for the positive commandments as well?

The answer, it seems, is obvious yet incredibly profound. Proper Shabbat observance must include a balance of both the positive and negative, the active and inactive. Shabbat shouldn’t be defined by the things we cannot do, rather also by the beauty that can be created on this day. Simply refraining from certain actions would not create the aura of sanctity that we should strive to achieve on Shabbat. One would be “keeping” Shabbat but wouldn’t be truly experiencing Shabbat. While the negative commandments set the general parameters for what Shabbat should look like, the positive commandments infuse the day with meaning and depth.

This is an incredibly important point for us parents as we strive to create the proper Shabbat atmosphere in our homes. For many young (and even older) children, Shabbat is a day of “no’s,” with a focus on those things prohibited on Shabbat. This could cause the child to become frustrated, perhaps even leading to diminished observance of Shabbat as he gets older.

Instead, we must strive to create a meaningful and positive Shabbat experience within our homes. The focus should be on the opportunities that Shabbat gives us: the ability to reconnect with ourselves, each other and God. Shabbat must be a special time in the family, both in the things we do and the way in which we do them.

Rav Soloveitchik, in a eulogy for the Rebbetzin of Talne, speaks movingly about the things he learned specifically from his mother. He notes that whereas his father taught him the halachot of Shabbat, his mother taught him the experience of Shabbat. “The laws of Shabbat, for instance, were passed on to me by father…The Shabbat as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother…The fathers knew much about the Shabbat; the mothers lived the Shabbat, experienced her presence, and perceived her beauty and splendor. The fathers taught generations how to observe the Shabbat; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbat and how to enjoy her 24-hour presence.”

Doing this requires that we think deeply about what we want Shabbat in our home to look like. What should our Shabbat meals contain, what should Shabbat afternoons consist of? What does Erev Shabbat feel like in our home; do we enter Shabbat in the proper mindset? What experiences do we wish to transmit to our children on Shabbat, and how/when can we do so? How can we incorporate values such as Torah study and family time into our Shabbat? For each family, the answers to these questions may differ. But the success of our goals will ultimately depend on parents both setting the tone by example and putting in the time and effort to plan properly.

Rav Shlomo Carlebach once said, “You can keep every Shabbos to the letter of the law, but unless Shabbos reaches the deepest and highest place in your heart, you haven’t kept Shabbos.” Let us all continue striving to help our children, and ourselves, truly keep Shabbat.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

Rav Yossi Goldin

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