"Remember the Shabbat Day to Sanctify It" [Shabbat - Part 3]

  • Rav Ezra Bick


            At the beginning of the first shiur on Shabbat, I mentioned that the verse "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it" is understood by the Sages to refer not to the obligation to "keep" Shabbat by refraining from melakhot, but to the positive aspects of Shabbat observance, which add content to the day.  Today, we shall discuss several aspects of this side to Shabbat.

I.  Kiddush

            The Talmud derives the recitation of kiddush at the start of Shabbat from this verse: "'Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it' - remember it over wine at its commencement" (Pesachim 106a).  Rashi explains that the phrase "to sanctify it" implies at the beginning of the day (i.e., at nightfall), when the day becomes holy.  The name (kiddush = sanctification), the verse ("to sanctify it"), and the time (at the very beginning), combine to suggest that we humans are the instruments of the sanctification of the day.  Of course, even if one does not sanctify Shabbat, it is still a holy day.  At the time of creation, before there were Jews, when Adam and Eve were only minutes old, it is written that God "blessed the seventh day and sanctified it."  Nevertheless, there is apparently a mitzva for us to confer sanctity by remembering, that is by declaring, that the day is holy in our eyes as well.  We are not meant to rely on God's sanctification alone, but must take responsibility for the holiness of the day.

            Now if this is true, it must be noted that the actual text of this "sanctification" appears a little odd.  Kiddush has the form of a berakha, a blessing.  In any blessing, the "chatima," the seal of the blessing, as expressed in the final sentence, contains the essence of the berakha.  The chatima of kiddush is "Blessed are You, God, who sanctifies the Shabbat."  In other words, WE sanctify the Shabbat by stating that God has sanctified the Shabbat!

            This will not seem strange at all, if we remember the meaning of the word "holy," a word which in modern parlance has lost almost all meaning, except as an expletive, or as a synonym for "special."  We will discuss the specific content of the holy below, but even now it must be emphasized that holy means having to do with God, with that which is above and beyond the natural, with that which is not at its source part of this world at all.  Notice: When God created the world, on each day it says that He looked at what He had done and "it was good."  Good - but not holy.  When Shabbat came, God "blessed and sanctified the seventh day."  Holy does not mean good, or nice, or valuable, even in the eyes of God.  The natural world of six days is good, but not holy.  Shabbat, which, as we have seen, is separated from the natural world of six days, is sanctified by God.  Hence, in order for me to sanctify something, I have to connect it to the name of God.

            This is a necessary correction to what may have appeared to be the conclusion of the previous shiur.  If the cessation of melakha on Shabbat celebrates human inner creativity, one might conclude that the holiness of Shabbat is a human creation.  In kiddush, we affirm that this very quality, creativity and growth, is basically divine.  Man is created in God's image; he has the ability to grow towards Him.  Because God has sanctified aspects of the world, we can sanctify our own world.

            Implicit here is one of the great themes of Judaism, and surely a basic idea of Shabbat.  Both sides of the equation - Man must sanctify Shabbat by declaring that God sanctifies Shabbat - are meant in total seriousness.  Even though all sanctity is from God, I can make something sacred.  Man, created in the image of God, can infuse the world, himself, time, and place with the presence of God.  There are many ideologies which have set man on a search to find the holy place, the outpost of heaven to which he must ascend.  There are many humanist counter-ideologies which state that if anything is holy, it is the here and now, man as he is, the pure natural world as we find it.  In Judaism as well, there can be a holy mountain, Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem, to which I must ascend (three times a year, as we shall see when we discuss the festivals).  But there is also Shabbat, when we do not travel to God's place, but rather sanctify our own place, our own existence, which is not holy in its natural state, by dedicating it in God's name.  Man is not holy.  He is "God's image," and hence he is able to create holiness by being the bridge between God and the world. A world which reflects the creativity and transcendance of God within its own natural existence is holy with the holiness of God. This reflection is found within man, the image of God.

            Man, created on the sixth day together with the animals, is able to infuse his surroundings with the presence of God, who is not part of any day of creation.  The natural world, our world, is not holy - but it can be sanctified by Man, in the name of God and with the spirit of God, and not only by the descent of God from on high.  My master, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l, expressed this pithily when he said that on the pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot) we go to visit the house of God; on Shabbat, He comes to visit ours.  The mitzva of kiddush says - Do not leave the holiness of Shabbat to a unilateral act by God; rather, actively adopt it, declare it, taking upon yourself the task of proclaiming the blessing and sanctity of God's rest on Shabbat.

            For this reason, the Jewish Shabbat cannot be designated "the Lord's day."  In the kiddush, we begin by saying that "You have sanctified US ... and have deeded us Your holy Shabbat."  The word I translated as "deeded" (hinchilanu) is from the Hebrew root "nachala," which means property, legacy, referring usually not to a mere accidental possession, but to one's ancestral portion, the family estate, so to speak. Shabbat is owned not by God but by God's holy people.

            The Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 12th century Egypt; also called Maimonides) places an interesting spin on this definition of kiddush.  We saw that the Talmud mentioned only the commencement of Shabbat.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 29:1) however, defines "Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it" as follows:

"It is a positive commandment of the Torah to sanctify the Shabbat verbally, as is written, 'Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it' ... One must remember it at its commencement and its conclusion - at its commencement with kiddush and at its conclusion with havdala."

            The Rambam, unlike other commentators, includes havdala, the ceremony which marks the end of Shabbat, in the mitzva of "Remember..." The purpose of this mitzva, then, is to delineate the borders of Shabbat.  This is based on another important point concerning kedusha (sanctity).  In Halakha, sanctity means separation, differentiation, and consequently, transcendence.  The word "havdala," the name of the blessing at the conclusion of Shabbat, means "separation, distinction."  The blessing of havdala reads, "... Who distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness, between Jews and Gentiles, between the seventh day and the six days of activity."  Although we said above that Shabbat contains the idea of sanctifying our world, this can only be done by erecting walls between Shabbat and its environment.  Again, the world itself is neutral, profane.  Holiness is the realm of islands within the world, an unnatural state created by human effort and sustained by continued human vigilance.  By itself, holiness follows the law of entropy and decays into and is absorbed by the natural order.  This is obvious if we recall that the holiness of man is based on his growth, his development, his striving to create himself and come closer to God.  The holy rises above the secular, and must therefore first of all be differentiated from it.  Hence, the Rambam interprets the verse to be referring to the end of Shabbat no less than the beginning.  Shabbat cannot be continued indefinitely, nor can it be allowed to peter out on its own.  To maintain its own positive character, it must have a sharp delineation, a clear border, and this verse casts the obligation of maintaining the walls of Shabbat on us.  Paradoxically perhaps, the sanctity of Shabbat depends on our ending it no less than on our starting it.  Since kiddush before the Friday night meal is a far more familiar ceremony than havdala on Saturday night, this point is one well worth paying attention to.

            (Practically speaking, there is an importance to havdala that is lacking in kiddush.  If one has not, for some reason, made kiddush, it has no practical affect on Shabbat.  Shabbat will begin whether you have welcomed it or not.  However, if havdala is not said at the conclusion, the prohibitions of Shabbat remain in effect.  For the purpose of ending the prohibition of melakha, it is sufficient to recite the words of havdala, even without wine or the other additional parts of havdala, a candle and spices.  The evening prayer at the conclusion of Shabbat in fact contains such a verbal havdala, and it may also be recited independently - simply the words "barukh ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-chol" (Blessed be He who distinguishes between the sacred and the profane) are sufficient.  In fact, one MUST recite a verbal havdala before making havdala over wine, since otherwise it is forbidden to light the havdala candle.  Havdala over wine is an additional ceremony, and one should not eat after Shabbat without hearing havdala over wine.)

            Let me briefly summarize some other halakhot which illustrate the same principle.

II. Divrei chol

"If you turn your foot away from Shabbat, from doing your purpose on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy of God honorable, and shall honor it by not doing your own ways, not finding your purpose, nor speaking words; then you shall delight yourself in God, and I shall mount you on the high places of the earth, and feed you the legacy of Jacob your father, for the mouth of God has spoken." (Isaiah 54,13-14)

            The Rambam (based on the Talmud) summarizes the halakhic prescripts of this verse:

"It is forbidden for one to go about his purpose on Shabbat, even to talk about them; for instance, to discuss with his partner what to sell on the morrow, or what to buy ... It is forbidden to visit one's garden or fields in order to see what needs to be done ... and it is forbidden to walk to the end of the permitted distance and wait for nightfall in order to save time for after Shabbat, for then his steps on Shabbat were for his purpose ... It is forbidden to run and jump on Shabbat, as is written 'not doing your ways' - your walking on Shabbat should not be like your walking during the week ... and it is forbidden to speak a lot about unimportant things, as is written, 'nor speaking words' - your speech on Shabbat should not be like your speech during the week, but it is permitted to run [to perform a mitzva] ... or go to houses of study or prayer ... as is written 'from doing your purpose' - YOUR purpose is prohibited, the purpose of heaven is permitted" (Hilkhot Shabbat 24,1-5).

            One is supposed to rearrange all one's actions on Shabbat in such a way that they are completely detached from the business of every day, even without any connection to a melakha.  Somehow, one's footsteps, one speech, even one's thoughts are meant to be Shabbat-focused.  It is as though on Shabbat the rest of the week does not exist.  It is an island not IN time, but out of time.  Time stops.  This is one of the most difficult things to understand about Shabbat from outside.  If there is a measure of rest in Shabbat - and of course there is - it is in this; not leisure, but detachment, a break from the run of time.

            It is amazing how sometimes modern developments exhibit this most clearly.  Anyone who has let the telephone ring unanswered on Shabbat (it takes a while to get used to this, I imagine) knows the feeling of liberation that comes from detachment from the demands of time.  The "steps of the week" are defined halakhically as running; on Shabbat one walks slowly, one strolls.  (The Chatam Sofer ruled that it is forbidden to ride a bicycle on Shabbat for this reason.)  The most pressing matters can wait, must wait, not because I am forbidden to perform them, but because they do not exist for me on Shabbat, they have no call, no claim, on me.  It is "My holy day" not because we fast and spend the day in the synagogue like on Yom Kippur, but because it is separated from the stream of life's demands and purpose, the chain broken for twenty-four hours. 

            Holiness is created from within me, when I have separated this day from the natural world.  The category of "not like during the week" is hard to define, and I think it is permitted, even expected, that one will define it individually and subjectively.  You are supposed to get away from whatever is likely to define your weekly pursuits.  "Six days shall you work and do all your labor, and on the seventh day cease."  The Mekhilta asks, "Can one finish all one's labor in only six days?  Rather, cease and observe Shabbat AS IF all your labor has been completed."

III. Oneg (delight, pleasure) and kavod (honor)

            These two categories were mentioned in the verse from Isaiah quoted at the beginning of the previous section, and we shall discuss them next week.  Now, I wish only to list a few halakhot from these categories that connect to this week's topic.  I shall leave it to you to work out the full implications.  Think about each one.

a.  It is a mitzva to learn Torah on Shabbat.  However, the halakha states that one who spends most of his time during the week learning Torah should spend more time on Shabbat doing other things - sleeping, for instance.

b.  Honor means, among other things, having special clothes for Shabbat, finer, but also merely different.  One who wears fine clothes the whole week is supposed to have a special suit for Shabbat nonetheless.

c.  Food, states a midrash we shall discuss next week, tastes different - better - on Shabbat.

d.  The standard for a normal day's eating, according to the Sages, is two meals a day (not five!).  On Shabbat, one is supposed to eat three.

e.  A point that I think is much clearer in today's technological society than in the past: Much of what is forbidden on Shabbat prevents us from using machines.  Hence, we naturally turn more towards PEOPLE.  Among other things, Shabbat is a time halakhically designated for marital relations.

f.  It is forbidden to eat anything, even take a sip of water, before kiddush (or before havdala).

g.  Saying "Shabbat shalom" (Good Shabbos) is not only a habit - it is a halakha.  One should greet another on Shabbat with the mention of Shabbat.  By the way, "Shabbat shalom" does not mean that your Shabbat should be peaceful.  Every day, we greet each other by saying "Shalom."  On Shabbat, we simply append Shabbat to that greeting.  It means "Peace on Shabbat" or "Peace of Shabbat."