In this week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Ki Tissa, we are commanded to keep, and sanctify the holy Sabbath. And you should tell the children of Israel saying: Just observe my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem that sanctifies you.
And you shall guard the Sabbath, for it is holy to you…. (Ex.31:13-14).
The holy Sabbath day is a sign of the covenant between the Almighty and the Bnei Yisrael. While during the holidays we used to go to Hashem’s house, the holy temple (May it be rebuilt speedily and in our days!), on Shabbat, the Shechina (Divine Presence) comes to our house. When we honor the Shabbat – both in action and in spirit – and when we remember to keep it holy, acting in a way that befits the holiness of the day, its inherent holiness ennobles, enlightens and elevates us.
At the end of the parsha, we are told that when Moshe descended from Har Sinai, with the two tablets in his hands, he did not know that his face was shining after Hashem had spoken with him, as the verse says: (Exodus 34, 29) “And Moses did not know his face shone when G-d spoke to him” Such is the effect of immersing oneself in Torah: Moshe’s face was radiant from the light of Torah, from the Torah’s holiness, from the great happiness that comes with a life of Torah.
R’ Soloveitchik of blessed memory relates, “Once again, I return to my childhood memories. In Warsaw, we lived three houses away from a Modzhitzer shteibel (small synagogue of the Modzhitz Hasidim). Generally, I would go to this Modzhitzer shteibel for seuda shlishis (the third meal) on Shabbat. They would sing all the zemiros for the third meal. Poor Jews would be seated around the table in the shteibel. The Modzhitzer shteibel was located in a poor district in Warsaw; my father could not afford to live in a more affluent area. This was a neighborhood where many of the Jews worked as porters…I always say that in Warsaw I saw sights that I never saw since. You would see a large closet or a buffet that seemed to be walking on its own. The Jewish porter who was carrying the furniture was totally bent over in a ninety degree angle. It seemed as if the furniture was walking along with feet coming out of the closet.
“I knew these Jews well and I constantly spoke with them… I once spoke with one of them who was frail and short. He constantly carried heavy metal pieces and I wondered where he got the physical strength to support this weight. His load (during the week) was always tied around him with a thick cord. On the Shabbat, I saw this very Jew and I did not recognize him. He came over to me in his tattered kapote (long coat). It was covered with endless patches, and even the patches had patches. Yet his face shone with the joy of Shabbat. I recognized in a tangible fashion that a person’s countenance on Shabbat is totally different than his weekday appearance.
“So I asked him, ‘When will we daven Maariv (pray the evening service-marking the end of Shabbat)?’ He answered, ‘What is with you? Are you already longing for the weekday to begin? What do you mean when will we daven Maariv, are we lacking for anything now?’”
And the Children of Israel shall guard the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations (Ex. 31:16).
In the labor camp where he was imprisoned during the terrible Holocaust years, R’ Yehuda Amital of blessed memory did his utmost to keep whatever mitzvoth he could. He tried to mark the beginning of Shabbat in various ways, depending on his situation that day. One Friday morning, he put a clean shirt in his pocket. When Shabbat began, he quickly, while working, took off his sweaty shirt and put on the fresh one in honor of Shabbat. When he finished changing shirts, he quietly declared, “Shabbes!” and was filled with satisfaction knowing he was able to mark the transition from mundane to holy, even under such cruel and horrid conditions.
May we merit always ushering in the Shabbat with peace, and welcome her to our homes and lives, with the honor that is befitting her holiness.
With blessings of Shabbat Shalom and Good Tidings,