Among the 51 mitzvot in the Torah portion of Kedoshim
are the verses “And you shall observe My Shabbatot. I am the L-rd, your G-d”
and “Guard My Shabbatot and fear My Sanctuary.” These are two of the many times that the Torah exhorts us to observe the Shabbat.
Twelve Commandments to Observe the Shabbat
The Chafetz Chaim writes in the introduction to the laws of Shabbat (the third section of the Mishnah Berurah) that the Torah tells us 12 times to observe the Shabbat. I believe that he is referring to the following verses:
- 1 and 2) When the Manna fell (Exodus 16: 23 – 26 and 29),
- 3 and 4) In the Ten Commandments which are repeated twice (ibid 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:12 – 15),
- 5 and 6) in Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 23: 12) and Ki Tissa (ibid 34:21),
- 6 and 7) Twice with regards to the building of the Mishkan (ibid 31:12 – 17 and 35:1),
- 8 and 9) Twice in this week’s Parsha, as mentioned above,
- 10 and 11) In Parshat Emor (Levit. 23:3) and Behar (ibid 25:2),
- and, 12) In Parshat Shelach with regards to the person who collected sticks (Numbers 15:32 – 36).
Here are some teachings about the importance of the mitzvah of Shabbat from the above-mentioned introduction:
Equal to the Entire Torah
We find in the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim that observing the Shabbat is equivalent to observing the entire Torah.
- In the Torah: “The L-rd said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?’ See that the L-rd has given you the Shabbat.” This means that refusal to observe Shabbat is tantamount to refusing to observe all of the commandments.
- In the Nevi’im: “But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they walked not in My statutes, and they despised My ordinances, which, if a man keep, he will live through them, and My Shabbatot they desecrated exceedingly.” I.e., desecrating Shabbat is considered to be equal to despising all of G-d’s ordinances.
- In the Ketuvim: “And You descended upon Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven, and You gave them right ordinances and laws of truth, good statutes and commandments. And Your holy Shabbat You made known to them,” i.e., all the laws and commandments of the Torah are equivalent to the Shabbat.
Based on these verses, the Midrash
says that if one merits to observe the Shabbat, G-d will consider it as if he observed all of the mitzvot. Whereas if one desecrates the Shabbat, G-d will consider as if he desecrated all of the Mitzvot of the Torah. Similarly, the prophet Isaiah said, “He who keeps the Shabbat from profaning it and guards his hand from doing any evil.”
I.e., one who keeps Shabbat is considered to have done no evil. Whereas one who does not is considered to have desecrated the entire Torah.
Corresponds to the Person’s Life-Force
Every mitzvah corresponds to a particular limb in a person’s body. One who fulfills a mitzvah strengthens the corresponding physical limb in their body. One who does not fulfill an obligatory mitzvah or one who commits a sin weakens the corresponding limb in his body. This will only be fully apparent in the Messianic era. Since the Shabbat is a cornerstone of our faith, it corresponds to the very life-force of a person. Therefore, one who observes the Shabbat properly is strengthening his spiritual life-force as well as his physical body.
say that whoever observes Shabbat according to the Halacha is forgiven for his most severe sins. Specifically, the Talmud says that, even if he served idols like the generation of Enosh (the grandson of Adam and Chava,
whose generation was the first to adopt idolatrous beliefs), he is forgiven for his sins, as the verse says “Fortunate is the man (enosh) who will do this and the person who will hold fast to it, he who keeps the Shabbat from profaning it.” The Hebrew for “profaning it” is מֵחַלְּלוֹ which can also be read as מָחוּל לוֹ – he is forgiven. Thus, the verse can be understood to be saying that even a man who behaves like Enosh and harbors pagan beliefs will be forgiven if he keeps Shabbat.
wonder how keeping the Shabbat effects forgiveness for serving idols. After all, if he already did Teshuva (repentance) for this sin, then he should be forgiven regardless of observing Shabbat. And if he did not yet repent, why would keeping Shabbat bring about forgiveness for this major sin on which he has not repented?
that the Talmud is referring to one who has already repented but, due to the severity of the sin of idol worship, he does not achieve atonement for the sin until he experiences suffering.
Observing the Shabbat will grant him a reprieve from this suffering and assure that he achieves atonement immediately.
that observing the Shabbat can only bring about atonement for one who serves idols out of ignorance rather than blatantly. This is similar to the generation of Enosh who mistakenly thought that by honoring G-d’s servants they were honoring G-d.
is that even a blatant idol worshiper will realize his error by observing the Shabbat and will eventually correct his ways and achieve full repentance and forgiveness.
In a similar vein, some give the follow explanation:
The mistake of Enosh (as described in footnote 14) was that he gave credence and honor to the various heavenly bodies through which G-d’s energy flows to the world. He did not realize that G-d alone runs the world and that all other heavenly forces are there simply to do His bidding. When a person observes the Shabbat properly, he will experience how G-d provides him with (plentiful) sustenance despite the fact that he is not working on Shabbat. Thus, he will become aware that G-d alone runs the world and that all of the various channels through which we receive our sustenance are merely G-d’s instruments. This understanding undermines any belief in idol worship and will eventually lead him to abandon his pagan ways.
According to Halacha
As mentioned above, the Talmud says that whoever observes Shabbat according to the Halacha is forgiven for his worst sins. This means that only when one observes the Shabbat with all of its proper Halachic specifications does one achieve all of the goals explained above.
The only way that one can observe Shabbat according to the specifications of Halacha is if he studies the laws of Shabbat. Otherwise it is impossible to observe the Shabbat properly. The Mishnah Berurah gives several examples of halachot (laws) which one would not realize on one’s own.
If one owns an animal that has not been fully domesticated yet and it escapes, it would be a Torah violation to catch it or chase it into a small enclosed area. Chasing it into a large enclosed area would be a Rabbinic prohibition. As such, under certain circumstances, one may be allowed to ask a gentile to chase the animal into a large enclosed area.
If one’s tablecloth catches on fire on Friday
night it would be a Torah violation to extinguish the fire. Extinguishing it would only be allowed if the spreading of the fire may endanger people’s lives. A person may be so concerned with the loss of his property that, despite the severity of the violation, he might extinguish it. In point of fact, there is a permissible way to contain the fire, and that is to surround it with containers filled with water which will eventually burst open, releasing the water and thus extinguishing the fire. Another way is to call a gentile and have him extinguish it. (One must say to the gentile, “Whoever extinguishes will not lose from it” rather than explicitly asking him to extinguish it.)
If one selects one type of food from a mixture of foods but does not eat that food right away, he may be transgressing a Torah violation. Rather, one may only select what he wants to eat only if he will eat it immediately.
As such, it is essential that every Jew takes the time to regularly study and review the laws of Shabbat. If possible, this study should take place in a group, as G-d told our teacher Moshe “Make big gatherings and teach them the laws of Shabbat.”
The Alter Rebbe writes
that on Shabbat afternoon at Mincha time the community should study the practical laws of Shabbat since there are so many laws, and without studying them one can easily transgress a Torah violation. If one violates these laws out of ignorance, it is considered as if he violated wantonly.
The Rabbinic laws of Shabbat such as the laws of muktzah are particularly detailed. Yet, they too are very important. As our sages say that one who violates a Rabbbinic law deserves to die.
No individual should separate himself from the community at this time, even to study another topic. Certainly, one should not leave the shul at that time, especially if without him there will not be a minyan studying.
In the merit of Shabbat observance, may we soon experience the Messianic redemption, as the Talmud says, “If the Jewish people would observe two Shabbatot, they would be redeemed immediately.”
As counted by the Sefer HaChinuch
I did not include when Shabbat is mentioned in the creation story (Gen. 2:1 – 3) and when the sacrifices of Shabbat are mentioned (Numbers 28:9 and 10) as these are not commandments to observe the Shabbat.
Shemot Rabbah, Parhat Beshalach 25:12
Taz, O.C. beginning of Siman 242
See Yoma 86a, “If one transgresses on capital crimes, teshuva and Yom Kippur remain suspended, and suffering achieves atonement.” The Taz actually says that death achieves atonement. But, as the Pri Megadim points out, the Talmud says that it is suffering that achieves this.
Prisha 4, on Tur, O.C. ibid
See Rambam, Laws of Avodat Kochavim 1:1 “During the times of Enosh, mankind made a grave error, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred. Their mistake was as follows: They said, G-d created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. They perceived this to be the will of G-d, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king. After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would, according to their false conception, be fulfilling the will of G-d.”
Bait Yosef, beginning of the Siman, in the name of the Mahari Abuhav. (The Mahari Abuhav, Isaac Abuhav of Castile, was a descendant of Isaac Abuhav, the first, who was the author of the Menorat HaMaor. The Mahari Abuhav was one of the leaders of Spanish Jewry when they were expelled from Spain. He died several months after the expulsion, at the age of 60. Rabbi Avraham Zacuto, the famed astronomer and historian, was his student.)
Ahavat Eitan, cited in the Likutim on the Ein Yaakov (Shabbat 118b)
See Siman 316 at length
See Siman 334 at length
Yalkut Shimoni, beginning of Parshat Vayakhel
Igeret HaKodesh (the 4th section of Tanya), letter 23
Mishna Avot 4:13
, Bava Metziah 33b