Framework and Content in Mitzva Observance - A Study of the Haftara of Yom Kippur

  • Rav Amnon Bazak

Framework and Content in Mitzva Observance –

A Study of the Haftara of Yom Kippur

 

By Rav Amnon Bazak

Translated by Rav Elli Fischer

 

 

A.    Introduction

 

The haftara of Yom Kippur morning comes from Yeshayahu (57:14–58:14). The main part of this prophecy is in Chapter 58, which describes the type of fasting that God desires. It rejects a fast which consists only of external signs:

 

Is such the fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict himself? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Do you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to God? (Yeshayahu 58:5)

 

In contrast to this fast, the prophet provides an alternative:

 

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you do not hide yourself from your own flesh? (6-7)

 

This principle needs no explanation, and dovetails with the prophetic rebuke against emphasizing ritualistic observance of commandments while neglecting the underlying moral values. As a result, we can understand why this prophecy was selected to be the haftara on Yom Kippur.

 

The last two verses of the chapter, however, are puzzling:

           

If you turn away your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat “delight,” and God’s holy day “honored;” and if you honor it and go not your ways, nor pursue your business, nor speaking thereof; then you shall delight in God, and I will make you ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Yaakov your father; for the mouth of God has spoken. (13-14)

 

These verses seem to deviate completely from the main topic of this chapter, which until this point discussed the ideal fast day. Why juxtapose Shabbat observance with fast days?

 

B. Proving the Connection Between the Subjects

 

In principle one could argue that there is indeed no connection between the two subjects, and that the treatment of Shabbat is completely disconnected from the issue of fasting, much as there is no connection between verses at the beginning of the haftara from the end of Chapter 57 and the topic of fasting. However, this argument can be discredited for several reasons.

 

a)         The same literary pattern appears in both of the two subjects, the ideal fast and Shabbat: “If” you uphold the set of behaviors surrounding the topic, “then” you will be rewarded with a special relationship with God, which will lead to a sense of wellbeing.

 

 

The Fast

Shabbat

Terms

… to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out to your house? when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you do not hide yourself from your own flesh… (6-7)

If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking wickedness; And if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul… (9-10)

If you turn away your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat “delight,” and God’s holy day “honored;” and if you honor it and go not your ways, nor pursue your business, nor speaking thereof. (13)

Reward

Then your light shall break forth as the morning, and your healing shall spring forth speedily; and your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of God shall be you rear guard. Then you shall call, and God will answer; you shall cry, and He will say: 'Here I am'... (8-9)

Your light shall rise in darkness, and your gloom be as the noon-day; God will guide you always, and satisfy your soul in drought, and give strength to your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring whose waters do not fail. Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins; you shall restore the foundations of long ago; and you shall be called “Repairer of walls, restorer of paths to dwell in.” (10-12)

Then you shall delight in God, and I will make you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Yaakov your father; for the mouth of God has spoken. (14)

 

In both subjects, the linguistic and substantive link between the conditions and their reward is prominent. In the first subject, there is an ideological connection between the first condition – “deal your bread to the hungry… do not hide yourself from your own flesh” – and its reward – “and your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of God shall be you rear guard. Then you shall call, and God will answer.” In other words, if you act righteously and do not ignore others, the God will deal righteously with you and will respond to your calls. In the second condition, this link is even stronger. If you “satisfy the afflicted soul,” then God will “satisfy your soul in drought.”

 

In the second topic there is also a link between the condition – “If you turn away your foot because of Shabbat… and call Shabbat ‘delight,’ and God’s holy day ‘honored;’ and if you honor it and go not your ways, nor pursue your business, nor speaking thereof” – and its reward – “Then you shall delight in God, and I will make you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Yaakov your father; for the mouth of God has spoken.”

 

b)         There is a clear linguistic connection in the transition between the end of the first part (12) and the beginning of the second part (13):

 

…and you shall be called “Repairer of walls, restorer (meshoveiv) of paths to dwell in (la-shavet).” If you turn (tashiv) away your foot because of Shabbat.

 

c)         Various forms of the Hebrew word ‘chefetz’ (which has a dual connotation of desire or eagerness on one hand, and business dealings on the other) appear five times in the chapter: three times in the first part (“they seek Me daily, they are eager [yechpatzun] to learn My ways… they ask Me for the right way; they are eager [yechpatzun] for the nearness of God…because on your fast day you see to your business [chefetz] and oppress all your laborers” [2-3]), and twice in the latter part (“If you turn away your foot because of Shabbat from pursuing your business [chafatzecha] on My holy day; and call Shabbat ‘delight,’ and God’s holy day ‘honored;’ and if you honor it and go not your ways, nor pursue your business [cheftzecha], nor speaking thereof” [13]).

 

In light of this, the question is sharpened: why were these two subjects juxtaposed?

 

C. “You Shall Sanctify the Day of Shabbat”

 

The key to understanding this issue seems to be the manner in which the prophets related to the mitzva of Shabbat. Yirmiyahu prophesied:

 

Thus said God to me: Go, and stand in the People’s Gate, whereby the kings of Yehuda come in and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Yerushalayim, and say to them: Hear the word of God, O kings of Yehuda, and all Yehuda, and all the inhabitants of Yerushalayim, that enter in by these gates; thus says God: Guard yourselves for your own sake by not carrying any burden on the day of Shabbat, nor bringing any into the gates of Yerushalayim, nor shall you carry forth  burdens from your houses on the day of Shabbat, or do any work. Rather, you shall sanctify the day of Shabbat as I commanded your fathers. (Yirmiyahu 17:19-22)

 

Why did Yirmiyahu sense a need to admonish the people about carrying burdens on Shabbat? It would make sense that he was addressing the phenomenon of people doing business in “the gates of Yerushalayim” on Shabbat. Since, at first glance, this does not constitute a violation of a biblical commandment, the residents of Yerushalayim thought that there was no prohibition. However, even though the Torah only prohibited labor on Shabbat, commercial activity, which became more prevalent with the trend toward urbanization that continued throughout the First Temple Era, created a situation in which the Shabbat became just like any other day of the week. Therefore, Yirmiyahu had to admonish the people that observing the sanctity of Shabbat went beyond merely refraining from labor and also included a prohibition against doing business.

 

This trend continued into the Second Temple Era. Nechemia describes his battle to preserve the character of Shabbat, also fighting primarily against the phenomenon of business on Shabbat:

 

In those days saw I in Yehuda some treading winepresses on Shabbat, and others bringing in heaps of grain, and loading them onto asses, along with wine, grapes, figs, and sorts of loads which they brought into Yerushalayim on Shabbat. I admonished them there and then for selling provisions. Tyrians who lived there brought fish and all sorts of wares, and sold them to the Jews of Yerushalayim on Shabbat.

Then I censured the nobles of Yehuda, saying to them: “What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning Shabbat? This is what your ancestors did, and because of it our God brought all this evil upon us, and upon this city. Yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning Shabbat.”

When the gates of Yerushalayim began to grow dark before Shabbat, I commanded that the doors be shut, and commanded that they not be opened until after Shabbat. I stationed some of my servants at the gates, so that no loads could enter on Shabbat.  So the merchants and vendors of all kind of wares spent the night outside Yerushalayim once or twice. Then I warned them, saying: “Why are you lodging next to the wall? If you do it again, I will lay hands on you.” From then on they did not come on Shabbat. I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and guard the gates, to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat… (Nechemia 13:15-22)

 

Both Yirmiyahu and Nechemia used the expression “to sanctify Shabbat” when relating to their prevention of commerce; clearly, this references the Torah’s commandment to “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it” (Shemot 20:7). However, whereas the Torah’s ordinance finds expression through abstaining from work (“and the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord, your God: you shall do no work,” 20:9), over time it became clear that this abstention was insufficient to sanctify Shabbat and differentiate it from the weekdays.

 

Let us now return to the prophecy of Yeshayahu. We will see that here, too, the prophet addresses the need to maintain the special character of Shabbat, and that refraining from work alone is insufficient. Thus, Yeshayahu emphasizes abstention from weekday engagements on Shabbat:

 

If thou turn away your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat “delight,” and God’s holy day “honored;” and if you honor it and go not your ways, nor pursue your business, nor speaking thereof…

 

Chazal’s well-known explanation of this verse expresses the ideas contained therein very aptly:

 

“If you honor it” – your Shabbat clothing should not be like your weekday clothing… “and go not your ways” – that the way you walk on Shabbat should not be like the way you walk during the week. “Nor pursue your business” – your business is forbidden; God’s business is permitted. “Nor speaking thereof” – that your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech during the week. (Shabbat 119a)

 

Eventually, the laws of muktzeh would be introduced, their purpose being to preserve the character of Shabbat in an ever-changing reality, in which one could engage in weekday activities without violating any specific Shabbat prohibition:

 

The Sages forbade manipulating some things on Shabbat in the manner that you would do so during the week. Why did they address this prohibition? They reasoned, if the prophets admonished and commanded that the way you walk on Shabbat should not be like the way you walk during the week, and that your conversations on Shabbat should not be like your conversations during the week, as it says: “Nor speaking thereof,” then obviously the way you manipulate things on Shabbat should not be like the way you manipulate things during the week. Thus, [Shabbat] will not be like a weekday to him, leading him to lift and repair vessels, move them from corner to corner or house to house, bury rocks, and the like. Since he is sitting idly at his house, he will look for something to occupy him, and it will turn out that he did not rest and that he ignored the meaning given by the Torah “so that he may rest” (Devarim 5:13)… Furthermore, some people are not professionals. They remain unemployed their whole lives, traveling and lounging around; their whole lives are a break from work. If it would be permitted for them to walk, speak, and manipulate items as on a weekday, they will not have rested in a recognizable manner… (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabbat 24:12-13)

 

Throughout history, there has been a need to preserve the framework of Shabbat as a day of rest. As reality changes, Shabbat is in danger of becoming just another routine day, even if one observes the prohibitions that had been in effect until then. Israel’s prophets and sages stood for the preservation of Shabbat over time, and concerned themselves with preserving its inner content in every generation.

 

D. Framework and Content in Fasting and Shabbat

 

We can now return to our opening question and address the ideological connection between the admonition about keeping Shabbat and the rebuke regarding fasting. Both mitzvot emphasize the need to be dissatisfied with the mere external framework, which can be upheld without attaining the underlying ethical goals. Just as a proper fast day is not achieved just by refraining from food and drink, a display of meekness, and wearing sackcloth and ashes, but by accompanying acts of righteousness and kindness, so, too, the mitzva of Shabbat is not fulfilled simply by refraining from work, but by preserving its character and transforming it into a holy and special day.

 

There also seems to be a special significance in the juxtaposition of these two subjects, which contrast in two ways. First, whereas the fast day seeks to instill the importance of interpersonal obligations (“to loose the fetters of wickedness, … to let the oppressed go free, … to deal your bread to the hungry, and [to] bring the poor that are cast out to your house”), Shabbat is a mitzva entirely between man and God. The lesson taught by bundling these two subjects together is that “prophetic morals” do not only insist on the mitzvot between man and his fellow, but are concerned with man’s relationship with God as well. Those who emphasize the importance of the inner substance that accompany the external framework must internalize the prophetic message that this principle exists for every mitzva. Man’s actions must be coupled with spiritual content both in his obligations toward his fellow man and in his obligations toward God.

 

Secondly, whereas a fast is “a day for a man to afflict himself” (Yeshayahu 58:5), Shabbat is a day of “delight” (13). The emphasis on preserving the inner substance does not only pertain to demands that one afflict himself, but also to days which call upon man to enjoy. Neither of these feelings – affliction and enjoyment – stands alone as an independent value. Both must be accompanied by actions which provide spiritual meaning through the ideas that underlie both fast days and celebrations – “your fast day” and “My holy day.”