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Home » Emor, Shabbos

Emor: Shabbos Rest AND Exhilaration

Submitted by on April 21, 2013 – 4:36 amNo Comment | 1,535 views

A Curious Phrase

The lyrics to a popular Jewish children’s song proclaim, “If I would have the might I would run into the night and I would cry SHABBOS, SHABBOS, SHABBOS, SHABBOS.” Shabbos means to rest, but running around and screaming Shabbos doesn’t sound overly restful to me. What is the message of this song?

The Torah’s mention of Shabbos in this week’s Torah portion is prefaced by the words, “Six days you shall work.” If our license to work during the week must be given why must it be mentioned before the laws for rest Shabbos are presented? Once we understand why are permitted to work during the week we will discover why we refrain from work on Shabbos. Once we understand why we refrain from work on Shabbos we will understand why we might want to broadcast this message up and down the street.

The King’s Minister

Let’s return to an analogy we have employed before. Suppose the King appointed you minister of agriculture. Your responsibilities are vast and grave. Millions depend upon you for their food supply, thousands appeal to you daily for decisions on a host of matters and hundreds of concerns keep you awake at night.

Now suppose you were summoned to the king’s chamber. You do your best to disentangle yourself from the responsibilities of your office and walk down the hall to the royal chamber. But try as you might you can’t elude the hordes of minions awaiting your decision on this matter or that. As you stride down the hall proposals are presented for your review, documents are offered for your signature and requests stream in for your consideration; you literally can’t break free.

Soon you arrive to the King’s chamber and now you have no choice. At this point you must put an end to the incessant harangue. Can you imagine what would happen if the royal doors were thrown wide and you strode into the imperious chamber shouting instructions, voicing decisions and penning signatures?

It isn’t a matter of decorum, but of knowing your place. You are the king’s servant; you work for him and at his behest. He appointed you to the position and it is on his authority that you make decisions. Exercising authority in his presence exceeds your authority and challenges the king; it is tantamount to treason. The Talmud recounts the story of a fellow, who answered a question with a hand gesture in the presence of a king and this was considered treasonous.[1] Before the King everything comes to a standstill. We wait for the king’s direction before we take action.

Six Days You Shall Work

We now return to Shabbos and the work week. When G-d created the world He intended for us to work. He put Adam in the Garden of Eden, “to work it and to guard it.” [2] G-d desired that we continue the work of creation by transforming the raw materials He made into constructive and useful tools for humanity. He also charged us with “guarding it,” meaning preserving the environment and its creatures.

He gave us grave responsibilities and they keep us busy, but, no matter how grave our responsibilities, no matter how vital our work, no matter how important our task there are times for work and times when work is sacrilegious.

During the week G-d conceals Himself and makes space, an arena if you will, in which we can perform our work. On Shabbos G-d visits and when He arrives all work ceases simply because G-d in our midst. Before G-d, all activity must cease. Our only task is to greet the king and respond to Him. Our only preoccupation is with reveling in G-d’s presence, celebrating our special time together and engaging in the traditional forms of worship that G-d deems appropriate for this day. “Six days you shall work” is the corollary of Shabbos. The week is a time for work. On Shabbos G-d is present.

If I Had the Might

The only time you can work is during the week, when G-d is concealed and makes space for us. On Shabbos and Jewish festivals, when G-d’s presence is manifest, work is forbidden.[3] These days aren’t special because they are restful; they are restful because they are special. We don’t refrain from work in order to rest. We refrain from work because work in G-d’s presence is simply out of the question.

The word rest, takes on new meaning. It doesn’t mean to recline in restful repose and rejuvenate our strength. It means to disengage from worldly immersion and bask in G-d’s presence to experience the awe of His majesty. Once you have experienced the exquisite beauty and majestic grandeur of infinity you can’t sit still. The exposure is a superhuman thrill and you bubble over with enthusiasm bursting to share it with someone, anyone, everyone.

If you had the might you would run into the night and awaken all who slumber peacefully, oblivious to the piercing excitement of the Shabbos energy. The pulsing Divinity, the spiritual manifestation and the pure ecstasy make it impossible for you to sit still, knowing that others are missing out. If you had the strength you would run into the night and awaken them, but you don’t. You can’t as much as move a muscle because you are standing before G-d and before G-d everything comes to a standstill.

I want to run out, but tonight is Shabbos, tonight I am in G-d’s chamber. In the king’s chamber we are nothing, in G-d’s chamber only G-d exists. That we feel the need to run out doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters in G-d’s chamber, is what G-d wants.[4]



[1] Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 5b. The fact that the man was executed only because he didn’t understand the meaning of the gesture does not detract from the point made in the essay because had he understood the gesture his response would have constituted a participation in the debate authorized by the king. But joining the debate without understanding the subject means taking initiative not authorized by the king and that is treasonous.

[2] Genesis 2:8.

[3] Festivals are included in this category for G-d is very much present in our homes and lives during the sacred festival. We may perform other specific forms of work during this time only because these are not only G-dly days, but also joyful days and G-d wants us to experience the joy. G-d deliberately permits cooking on this day because part of experiencing joy in a material context entails eating fresh food.

[4] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos v. 17 p. 246

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