Sunday, January 2, 2011

#92 - The Weekly Sabbatical Vacation

Recently, Rebbetzin Tzviyah Eliyahu, wife of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu - may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing - called for a campaign for Jews worldwide to observe two consecutive Sabbaths, coinciding with the non-Jewish holidays occuring on Dec 25 & Jan 1 when most people do not work anyways. In the Jewish calendar, they coincided with the Parshiyot of Shemot & Va'era.

While I have yet to know the statistics on how many people actually took her advice since Jews at least in the United States who are terribly assimilated for example probably never even heard of her late husband, let alone her call to observe the Sabbath, her motive was to bring the Messiah ever closer.

This is based in the Babylonian Talmud - Tractate Sabbath 118: Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai, "If the Jews would just keep two Sabbaths according to Jewish law, they would be redeemed immediately." There is another view which says that only one Sabbath needs to qualify for this purpose. In any case, one question can be asked is why particularly two Sabbaths?

We'll get back to this question a little later on. But first, as this is a Gematriot blogspot, I should note that as this is my 92nd Post, there are a couple of connections of the number 92 to the Sabbath. Before I get to the much more famous one, the first is that there are exactly 92 Dafim (double sided pages) in Tractate Sabbath of the Jerusalem Talmud. And then the famous one as just about everyone who prays and recites psalms know that it was Psalm 92 that was sung by the Levites in the Temple on the Sabbath. In fact, it is the ONLY psalm in the entire Tehillim/Book of Psalms that its introductory verse indicates when the Psalm is meant to be sung: Mizmor Shir L'Yom HaShabbat "A psalm, a song, for the Sabbath day". Yet interestingly, the theme of the Psalm seems in fact to have nothing to do with the Sabbath. What's the deal here?

Rashi points out that in fact, this Psalm is not referring to the life in this world, but to the next world, where we will be able to get a glimpse of the true spiritual Sabbath. But this leads to the next question. If indeed, this Psalm refers to the life of the next world, why mention about evildoers during the midst of this psalm?

While one may be presented about the nice benefits of keeping Shabbat, both in this world and in the next, unless someone is born and raised with it, or gives it a try, the rest may not truly comprehend te significance of this. It is true that one who violated the Sabbath in times of an operating Sanhedrin which was basically during Temple times was given the worse form of punishment by the Jewish court - stoning. In the Torah, Hashem also warns that those who don't keep the Sabbath will be punished.

But this Psalm seems to have an extra dimension here. You see, the Sabbath reminds us to rest up from the rat race of work. To those who don't see it that way, they will continue working every day with no stop until they totally burn out. You see, they don't look at the long term picture. And this is exactly what this Psalm is addressing. For example, it mentions that the wicked & evil-doers sprout like grass and blossom. These people look for the quick gain, but don't realize that Hashem is the one who runs the show, and eventually, they will loose what they have in one way or another, or they will suffer even more in Hell. In fact, our Rabbis tell us that one does not gain even a little more by working on the Sabbath. Sure, in the United States, some business' best day is Saturday, but for one who is Jewish, he will eventually loose the Saturday earnings in one way or another - bills of all sorts, loosing a fortune in the stock market, etc. Since all sources of livelihood in fact comes from Hashem, working on the Sabbath shows one's disbelief in this fact.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the call for Jews to observe these two Sabbaths coincided with Parshiyot Shemot & Va'era. Indeed, Parshat Shemot - while it does not mention one word about the Sabbath, is very connected with this theme.


It is true that both the name of the Parsha Shemot & the name of the day of rest - Shabbat, both start with the letter Shin. Moreover, the word Shemot is an acrostic for the phrase Shnayim Mikra V'Echad Targum "Twice the Biblical text, and once the translation (the Aramaic translation of Onkelos)". The preferred time for this is on Friday before the Sabbath in preparation of the Sabbath and the Torah reading the next day, though if one did not have a chance to do so before the Sabbath can read this also on the Sabbath. One may wonder as to why it is particularly this Parsha that hints to this concept of reviewing the Parsha.

According to the Midrash, earlier on in Moses' life, as he grew up in Pharaoh's palace as his princess Batya's adopted son, he felt very connected with his brethren the Jews, and even looked to ease their slavery by assisting in their work. At one point, he wanted them to be able to have a day of rest as the Sabbath. Tactfully, he approached Pharaoh, and suggested that in order for the Jews not to totally brake down from working all the time, they should have a day's rest every week, and then be refreshed to work the next day. Amazingly, Pharoah agreed, and the Jews not working on the Sabbath spent their time reading scrolls pertaining to Torah (Note: The Torah was not officially given yet, but as Rashi points out, even Noach - who was a non-Jew - learned Torah). While this is not mentioned directly in the Torah, the period of time that this happened were included in the time frame that Parshat Shemot goes through. Indeed, this would seem to be the connection to the hint of the name of this Parsha telling us to review the Parsha in preparation for the reading of the weekly Parsha on the Sabbath morning, just as the Jews used to learn Torah in Sabbath as a day off from their rigorous slavery.

This continued on for several decades until Moses reappeared on the scene following a lengthy absence from Egypt which resulted from Pharoah attempting to behead him. Hashem told Moses that it was about time that the Jews would leave Egypt, but He wanted Pharoah to be the one to do that of his own volition. Anyways, after Moses submitted his request to Pharoah, not only did Pharaoh not agree to this, but as the Midrash recounts, he did away with the weekly Sabbath rest for the Jews. Of course it would be a very short time before the Jews would leave Egypt, but focusing on Pharaoh's motives, he felt that the Jews were starting to be lazy by Moses making his present request. While even Moses himself was skeptical about what Hashem was doing here since he felt that he made things worse by approaching Pharaoh, Hashem assured him that "now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh."


We see that there are several things about the number two that is related to the Sabbath. In the Midrash, the Sabbath once complained to Hashem, "Every day of the week has a partner, Yom Rishon has Yom Sheni, Yom Shelishi has Yom Revi'i, Yom Chamishi has Yom Shishi (NOTE: The definition of these terms means Day 1 through Day 6 of the week. While in English, they are typically translated as Sunday, Monday, etc, this is not truly accurate because in the non-Jewish calendar, these days begin with midnight, but in the Jewish religion, the day begins with the beginning of the night), who do I have as a partner?" Hashem replied "The Jewish people will be your partner."

During the three meals of the Sabbath, we make the blessing on the bread over two whole loaves, reminiscent of the double portion of manna that rained on the Jews in the desert on Friday morning when they received a double portion of what they received the rest of the week, so they would have the manna all ready to be eaten on the Sabbath since the manna did not fall down on the Sabbath. Moreover, the Temple offerings for the Sabbath called for two lambs. And as we noted earlier, when reviewing the Parsha for the Sabbath, one says the Biblical verse two times.

And so, while this is all nice and dandy, but why particular TWO Sabbaths for the redemption to occur according to Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai?

When one first tries something new, like a new job for example, he doesn't know exactly how things are going to be until he is there for the first day. It does happen occasionally that in fact, the guy may not like the job because he didn't expect things to be a certain way, as he had very different expectations. In any case, for most others who are serious about making money and supporting a family, they report to work the next day the same way they reported to work the first day.

There is a practical difference between the first day and the second day. When he walks to work on Day Two, he now knows at least on a minimal level about how things are supposed to be done, unlike the first day when he was just learning the particulars of the business on the job. Hence, the first day in all honesty is really a preparation day, though of course, he earns his pay just the same for his time and effort.

And the same applies to the Sabbath. True that one can be sincere about keeping one Sabbath. And even for a newly observant Jew who is keeping his first Sabbath, and is given exact instructions as to how to observe it - from not doing various types of work to celebrating the day through food, he didn't begin that first Sabbath knowing yet exactly how Sabbath is supposed to be like. It is only when going through the initial experience of keeping one Sabbath that one has a totally new outlook about the Sabbath when observing it the following week. And hence, these two Sabbaths in fact complement one another.

In the Yeshiva world, the system of learning is done through Chavrutot/study partners. Apparently, something is being done right here, because through these Yeshivot, so many Jews became big Torah scholars. It is the complementary learning between two people that will get them to know almost everything between the two of them. Only Hashem is really One. Everything else and everyone else has a duplicity in life, for example, the sun & moon for objects in the sky, and Adam & Eve for humans. It is only through the mating of two people that life can be born. And so, this reminds us that indeed, it is Hashem - the One & Only - Who rules the world, and that everything else who are of a duplicity nature is subservient to Him. And so, even the Sabbath itself, while a unique and very holy entity, also needs a partner - the Jewish people, Indeed, we are called in the Torah and prayers as "one nation on earth," as the Chosen Nation of Hashem, but even we as a nation need a partner, and it is the Sabbath that reminds us that Hashem is the Ultimate Ruler.

27 Tevet 5771


Leah said...

truly a beautiful g'shmak Torah article. Thank you.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.