4 Tamuz 5781 / Monday, June 14, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chukat
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Emor: The Shabbat of History    

Emor: The Shabbat of History

What is Shabbat? A day of rest? Shabbat is not only a time of cessation from work but a time when life is put into its true perspective...


Shabbat. What a special day for those that have tasted its sweetness. The inspiring prayers, the delicious food, the sense of calm and closeness to Hashem are all part of this wonderful day. Besides the pleasures of the day, Shabbat has great significance since it reflects some of the most basic principles and beliefs of Judaism. Resting on the seventh day signifies that there is a Creator and Sustainer of this world who made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Although these ideas are basic, they also need some clarification. What's the idea of the Creator resting? He obviously wasn't "tired" after creating the world so what does this mean and how does it relate to our connection with Shabbat?
Before trying to answer this question, I want to ask a second "trick" question. In the Torah, when is Shabbat not Shabbat? Answer: in this week's Torah reading. Beginning with the second day of Passover until Shavuot (the day the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai) we are commanded to count 49 days as preparation for the receiving of the Torah. The Torah tells us we should begin counting these seven weeks "from the day after Shabbat". The Oral Law makes it eminently clear that the usage of the term Shabbat is really a reference to Passover and that we should begin counting the day after the first day of Passover. For a number of reasons this explanation is imperative. However, we might wonder about the Torah's choice of terms. Why is Passover referred to as Shabbat? What significance is there in the name "Shabbat" that it could also refer to Passover?
I would like to answer with a parable based on the words of the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809). A fellow builds a Yeshiva building with great expense and effort. At a certain point the fellow finishes the construction. It is a day of great celebration since he has reached a specific goal and milestone. However the real celebration only takes place when the first day of studies begin, when the study halls are filled with sounds of eager students. In truth, as significant as the completion of the building was, the use of the building as a place of spiritual growth and understanding is the main reason the building was constructed in the first place.
Hashem created the world in six days. On the seventh day He rested and through that resting taught us that all the components of the world were in place. This itself was and is a cause for celebrating, which we do every week on Shabbat. However, who was going to truly appreciate and properly use the "building" we call "this world"? On Passover, the Jewish people were set free and dedicated themselves to live in accordance with the design of the Creator. With the Exodus, the student body makes its presence known revealing the second and deeper purpose of creation.
Based on the ideas of Rabbi Levi Yitchak, Shabbat is not just a time of resting, it is a time where the purpose of the world comes into focus. The Shabbat of creation relates to the completion of the physical world while the "Shabbat" of the Exodus expresses the birth of that nation that would reflect Hashem's purpose in this world. According to this, Shabbat is not only a time of cessation from work but a time when life is put into its true perspective. It is a time when we are called upon to focus on what's truly important in this world. This is why Passover is called Shabbat. The building was completed at the end of the first week of creation and the students entered on Passover.
Based on the idea that Passover represents an essential point in time when Hashem's purpose in this world was revealed, why did the Torah wait to call Passover by the title Shabbat only in reference to the counting of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot? Why wasn't the title of Shabbat given to Passover in reference to the holiday itself and not the subsequent period of counting?
I'd like to suggest that the 49 days signify a time when the Jewish people take the gifts and talents Hashem gives them and work to transform them as means to follow His will. Passover is when the Jewish people are called upon to enter the building. We are given 49 days to develop and use the building according to the Architect's blueprint. We are called upon to employ every quality we have, for example, kindness, self-control, humility, etc. as vehicles to connect to Hashem. Included in this process of personal and collective transformation is the incorporation of every single occurrence in our lives to unite with Hashem. The Jewish people have gone through wealth and poverty, pogroms and plenty, tremendous growth and terrible losses. With Hashem's help we have transformed these challenges into blessings.
Passover is the Shabbat of history when the Jewish people were called upon to complete creation through the use of a myriad of experiences, talents, and challenges to reflect Hashem's presence in this world. May we merit to have the clarity and fortitude to help in the perfection of the world and bring about that time of Shabbat for all of mankind.

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