January 31, 2018
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1104, Parsha Thought, Shabbos, Yisro


By any measure, Parshas Yisro stands out. It contains history’s most significant event: the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

G-d’s revelation at Sinai introduced the world to the so-called Ten Commandments (more accurately called the Ten Statements), of which the fourth is:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

This introductory statement is followed by these words:

“Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath unto G-d your G-d; in it you shall not do any manner of work…”

The Torah goes on to provide the rationale for the observance of Shabbos:

“For in six days G-d made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, G-d blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.”

The question has been raised why the Torah needed to preface the prohibition of work on the Shabbos with the words, “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.” Wouldn’t it have been sufficient for the Torah to state that you shall rest on the seventh day? Is it a Mitzvah to work for the six days between Sabbaths?

And if, for some reason, the Torah wants to emphasize the need to work on those days, why does the Torah begin the commandment with “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy?” Why doesn’t it say, “Six days you shall work, but remember the seventh day to keep it holy…?”


It seems that the Torah wants us to know that Shabbos has two elements: The first aspect of Shabbos is “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” which is not connected to the six days that precede the Shabbos; the second element of Shabbos is a separate aspect, that is based on and connected to the six preceding days of the week.


The first aspect of Shabbos is that it is actually the first day of the week; it is the fountainhead of the entire week. According to the Zohar, every day of the week is blessed by the Shabbos. Although the Manna that nourished the Jews in the desert for 40 years did not descend on Shabbos, it was blessed by the Shabbos. Without the Shabbos there would have been no Manna during the week.

This model of Shabbos suggests that the blessings we enjoy throughout the week depend on the degree to which we sanctify the Sabbath.

When we absorb the holiness of Shabbos, it continues to inspire us the whole week; the entire week is uplifted and imbued with the peaceful, serene and holy influence of the Shabbos. By this description, Shabbos is not the seventh day of the week but actually the first day and head of the week.

This explains why the Torah begins with remembering the Shabbos before mentioning that it is the seventh day that follows six days of work. In the first verse, Shabbos is really the beginning of the week.

The Torah then follows this first aspect of Shabbos with a second: “Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath unto G-d your G-d…”


In this verse the Torah refers to Shabbos as the seventh and last day of the week.

It follows that for Shabbos to be complete one must work six days. This implies that when we make preparations for the Shabbos six days of the week, our Shabbos will be uplifted.

In the words of the Talmud: “One who toils before Shabbos will have what to eat on Shabbos.” The literal meaning of this dictum, of course, is that we must make all the physical preparations for Shabbos beforehand; we may not do them on Shabbos itself.  On a deeper level, it means that the feeling of holiness on Shabbos will be commensurate with our spiritual preparations during the six days of the week.

In this presentation of Shabbos, it is the seventh and last day of the week; it is the culmination of six days of preparation.

(Parenthetically, it should be noted that the common term “weekend” for Saturday and Sunday is a misnomer. While Saturday is either the first or last day of the week, Sunday is either the first day or the second day of the week, depending on the two modalities for Shabbos. Sunday is, however, never the week’s end.)


The first model of Shabbos views the week as an entire life cycle. We are expected to do everything within a week. This notion does not let us “kill time.” We realize that we only have one week allotted to us. Next week is an entirely new life and challenge.

The notion of the Shabbos occurring on the seventh day does not let us be lazy and without accomplishments. We must work and become G-d’s partner in creation by changing and improving the world, both physically and spiritually.  And we have only six days to complete that mission!

However, with the Shabbos occurring on the seventh day, forcing us to desist from work, tells us, conversely, that we should not lose sight of our role and become workaholics.  To do so would be to fall into thinking that we are the ones who change the world, unilaterally. Shabbos is meant to instill within us the understanding that there is but one Creator, who, in His infinite kindness, allows us to have a role in His world. Comes the Shabbos, however, we must pay homage to the one G-d who has empowered us during the week.


These two models of Shabbos, the first day of the week or last day of the week, parallel the first two Sabbaths of existence.

One definition of Shabbos is that it is a day that transcends creation, of which there are two models:

Before day one of creation, it was all Shabbos, for there was only G-d and no creation. The second Shabbos is the one that followed creation and which enables us to uplift the creation.


When we analyze these two models of Shabbos—the Shabbos that precedes and energizes the week and the Shabbos that follows and is energized by the six days of the week—we can see a parallel with the relationship of a leader, such as a monarch or a Rebbe, and his subjects or Chassidim.

Maimonides refers to the king as the “heart of the Jewish people.” In some other sources, he is compared to the head and brain. Either way, the understanding is that the king is the source of life and sustenance for his nation.

Moses, the first Jewish leader, was called “Raya Mehemna, the faithful shepherd,” because he shepherded and nurtured the Jewish people. The head and heart are the sources of life for the entire body.  Similarly, the leader is the head and heart of the entire nation.

However, there is another side to the relationship between the leader and the nation: the people give life to their leader. When the subjects of the king declare “long live the king,” they actually strengthen the king’s life and status as a leader. Without the people, the leader does not have the power he needs to lead. This concept is reflected in the words, cited in Jewish classical sources: “There is no king without a nation.”

This two-way relationship is analogous to the two models of Shabbos. Just as Shabbos is the head of and invigorates the week that follows, so too the leader is a Shabbos force that gives life to his flock.

Just as the Shabbos gets its power from the preceding six days of preparation, so too, a leader receives his power from the people.


This symbiotic and mutual relationship between a leader and his followers is even more pronounced when we consider Moshiach.

Moshiach’s leadership is analogous to, and in some respects, even surpasses that of Moses.  He will take all that Moses did and then bring it to a state of completion. Moshiach, unlike Moses, will lead all of the Jewish people into the Promised Land. Even the most assimilated of Jews, who refuse to be part of the Jewish people, will be taken out of exile by Moshiach.

Had they lived at the time of the Exodus, those same Jews would not have been liberated from Egypt because they refused to be part of the Jewish nation. Now, even they will be liberated by Moshiach.

Moreover, the most difficult and challenging stage of a mission is its completion. Moshiach is the ultimate leader; the ultimate brain and heart of the Jewish people.

But who gives Moshiach his power to lead?


The answer is that we do. And this is true on two counts.

First, like any other leader, the nation empowers the leader when they express devotion to him and his teachings.

Second, the Baal Shem Tov taught that every one of us possesses a spark of Moshiach. This is the essence of our soul that is identified as the Yechida. We are therefore equipped to empower Moshiach. Not only is he, like any other leader, empowered by the nation, we ourselves possess our own spark of Moshiach, our ultimate leader.

When we join together and ignite the spark of Moshiach within us, we will create an awesome burst of Divine energy; we will help Moshiach reveal his full potential, which empowers him to take us out of exile.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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