Shabbat: Foretaste of the World to Come
The Talmud teaches, “The one who offers a gift to his friend should make him aware of it” (Shabbat 10b). This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, did when He said to Moses, “I have a good gift in My treasury … Personally transmit this mitzvah to the Children of Israel. Do not follow the normal custom of first informing your brother Aaron, then his children, then the elders. Do not even employ a meturgeman [translator or spokesman]” (see Eruvin 54b). This is why the verse stipulates, “Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them…” (Exodus 35:1).
With regards to this, we may ask the following question: Is the mitzvah of Shabbat so important that Moses had to transmit it to them directly, without any intermediary?
We may respond by saying that Moses took on the aspect of the Sanctuary, where the Shechinah (Divine Presence) constantly resided (Shemot Rabba 47:6), as it is written: “Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8). Only a man of Moses’ caliber, who literally lived the holiness of Shabbat, could transmit it to the Children of Israel. And since Shabbat is equal to all the mitzvot (Shabbat Rabba 25:16), when he taught them the mitzvah of Shabbat, he also taught them all of G-d’s precepts and the entire Torah. As we read in the Amidah of Shabbat morning: “Moses rejoiced in the gift of his portion … and he brought down two Tablets of stone in his hand, on which was inscribed the observance of Shabbat”. Only a faithful servant of this caliber, the most faithful in G-d’s entire house (Numbers 12:7), could be charged with such a holy and important mission.
Nevertheless, to instill in oneself the holiness of Shabbat and the delight of the World to Come – the Shechinah – a man must take on the aspect of the Sanctuary. To sense the holiness of Shabbat, he must make extensive preparations throughout the week, at which point he will feel the joy that Moses felt on Sinai when he received the Torah.
The observance of Shabbat procures power and strength for a man, which in turn allows him to serve G-d during the entire week that follows. This is because, as we have seen (Zohar, Yitro 88a), it is from Shabbat that the six following days of the week obtain their blessing. The new energy that a man acquires will sanctify the next Shabbat and give him a foretaste of the World to Come. In this way he will advance “from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:8) until the end of his days.
Consequently, it is incumbent on a man to diligently engage in the study of Torah so as to sense the holiness of Shabbat. With the goal of giving him “a beautiful crown for his head” (that of Shabbat, see Amidah), he should overcome all obstacles that stand in his way. If he demonstrates endurance and does not fall into despair, he can reach the level of being G-d’s faithful servant. In our days, where the economic outlook has appreciably improved (which aids Shabbat), let us not act like those who believe that the main thing is the performance of all mitzvot except those concerning Shabbat, where one must relax and rest (even to work, if the need arises – G-d forbid). Only the strict observance of Shabbat sanctifies the days of the week and is closely connected to all other mitzvot.
The construction of the Sanctuary therefore did not push aside Shabbat, for as our Sages teach, Shabbat itself constitutes this building process (Yebamot 6a). It is Shabbat that contributes to spiritually elevating a man, who himself is a miniature Sanctuary, as we have seen.
“Contemplate and see that the L-RD is good. Happy is the man yecheseh bo [who takes refuge in Him]” (Psalms 34:9), exclaims King David, the sweet singer of Israel. The one who savors the taste of Shabbat will manage to accomplish all the mitzvot and diligently engage in the study of Torah, which is called Tov (Berachot 5a). The light of Torah and its divine precepts lead to complete faith in G-d (see Psalm 34:9, above). As a result, it was Moses who personally transmitted the mitzvah of Shabbat to the Children of Israel, since it constitutes the very foundation of faith in G-d as well as the foundation of the Torah and mitzvot.
Another reason why Moses personally transmitted the mitzvah of Shabbat is because, as we have seen, the Torah itself testifies to Moses’ humility, as it is written: “Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). It was he who performed wonders before the eyes of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:12), meaning with the utmost humility, with completely unselfish motives. It is in this way that we should act as we prepare for Shabbat. We should ready ourselves for that holy day with the utmost modesty, not to show our neighbors and guests how much material wealth (beautiful clothes, sumptuous meals, etc.) or spiritual wealth we possess. Let us honor Shabbat with modesty and constantly submit ourselves to G-d.
If Shabbat – like the entire Torah, for that matter – was given to us as a precious gift by the Holy One, blessed be He (Shemot Rabba 28:1), Who shows us the love He has for us, we are beholden to truly honor Him and proudly wear this priceless gem (i.e., observe Shabbat) before everyone’s eyes. It is in this way that we will find favor in the eyes of our Creator.
If our Sages have recommended that we should permeate all of Shabbat with Torah (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Rabba 1), it is because both Torah and Shabbat are precious gifts that the Holy One, blessed be He, gave to us. In fact, if we were to observe but one Shabbat, no nation would be able to harm us, and if we observed two Shabbats, we would be immediately redeemed. If the Temple was destroyed, it was because the Children of Israel abandoned G-d’s Torah. Therefore to correct that state of affairs – to put an end to our prolonged exile – we must display these two gems before the eyes of all the nations. It is then that we will be liberated.
As we have seen, if Moses personally transmitted the mitzvah of Shabbat to the Children of Israel, it was because he was the only man on earth to have understood its true meaning. Moses “remained on the mountain for forty days and forty nights; bread [he] did not eat, and water [he] did not drink” (Deuteronomy 9:9). He drew all his strength from G-d (see Shemot Rabba 47:5, 7) and could savor the taste of Gan Eden. The Talmud teaches that we learn of the 39 forms of forbidden work on Shabbat by the word eileh (“these [are]”), which is found in the verse, “Eileh [These are] the things…” (Exodus 35:1), and whose Gematria is exactly 39 [the numerical value of each letter (1+30+5=36) plus the number of its letters (3) equals 39]. These were the number of divine precepts relating to Shabbat that Moses instructed the Children of Israel. Consequently, the one who observes Shabbat will enjoy the tal (39), the enlivening dew (Isaiah 26:19) that will resurrect the dead at the end of days (Shabbat 88b). He will be able to reach the level of Moses, whom even the Angel of Death could not conquer. In fact, the Angel of Death revealed to Moses the secret of the incense (ibid. 89a), which resurrects the dead. Furthermore Moses did not die a normal death, but was kissed by the Holy One, blessed be He (Devarim Rabba 11:9). This is what happens to every Tzaddik, to all men of Israel whose very essence is holy and who are constantly imbued with the Shechinah, observe Shabbat, and rejoice in its holiness.