"...These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them"(35:1)
Moshe assembles the entire nation and charges them with the thirty-nine
categories of labor prohibited on the Shabbos day. From the words that
introduce the commandment to observe the Shabbos, "eileh hadevarim asher
tziva Hashem" - "these are the things Hashem commanded", the Talmud derives
an allusion to the thirty-nine categories of labor, the numerical value of
"eileh" being thirty-nine. The remaining portion of the verse seems
awkward. Referring to the directive that Hashem has commanded, the verse
states "la'asos osam" - "to do them". If Shabbos is a day of curtailed
activity, why are the Shabbos restrictions defined as an act of doing?
Concerning no other directive do we encounter Moshe addressing the nation as
an assembly, a "kahal". Why is it necessary to do so for the mitzva of
Shabbos? Why is this mitzva juxtaposed to the sin of the Golden Calf?
The Midrash relates that at this gathering Moshe institutes the ordinance
that every community is required to provide communal study of the Shabbos
laws on the Shabbos. What is the rationale for this ordinance? Why must
it specifically be communal studying? Why must the study be particularly of
the Shabbos laws?
The effect of observing a mitzva is primarily relegated to the individual
performing it. The individual's performance of a mitzva has a negligible
impact upon the community; one person keeping kosher does not impact upon
the community's observance of the dietary laws. The reverse is true as well;
the community's observance of kashrus does not affect the individual's
observance of the same precept. Shabbos observance is the exception to this
rule. An individual who observes the Shabbos surrounded by others who do
not, has a very different experience than one who is surrounded by an
observant community. Through his Shabbos observance, each individual within
a community helps create the Shabbos environment which enhances every member
of the community's Shabbos experience. Conversely, the individual
desecration of the Shabbos has an adverse effect upon the entire community.
The obligation to observe the Shabbos requires a person to create a Shabbos
environment. Therefore, the verse states "la'asos osam" - "to do them";
Moshe is instructing the Jewish community to create the Shabbos. (In
Yiddish, a language which is replete with expressions that offer valuable
insights into the Jewish psyche and religion, there is a saying "yeder eine
macht Shabbos far zich alein" - "each person is making Shabbos for himself".
This idiom is used to describe people who are concerned only with their own
well-being and not with the well-being of others.)
The sin of the Golden Calf was a result of the human need to connect to a
tangible and concrete object. It is difficult for man to perceive an entity
that he cannot see or touch. Therefore, man has a need for symbols which he
attaches himself to and with which he can identify. Regardless of how
removed a person is from Jewish observance, lighting Chanukah candles or
sitting at a Pesach Seder will always be vestiges of his observance, for
they are symbols through which a person feels connected.
When Moshe is in Bnei Yisroel's midst they feel connected to Hashem through
him. Fearing that he died, Bnei Yisroel require a substitute through which
they can once again feel connected to Hashem. The Golden Calf is this
Another symbol which is critical in enabling a person to sense his
connection is his environment. After the sin of the Golden Calf Hashem
instructs Moshe to teach Bnei Yisroel how to create a permissible symbol
through which they can feel closer to Him. Shabbos is the precept which
attests to Hashem being the Creator of the Universe and His ongoing
involvement in the maintenance of the world. Participating in the creation
of the Shabbos environment allows each individual to feel connected to one
another and to Hashem.
Many of the requirements of Shabbos are designated to establish the
necessary atmosphere for creating the Shabbos environment, the candles,
special clothing, and delicacies being but a few examples. Moshe's
instituting communal study of the laws of Shabbos is intended to assist in
the creation of the Shabbos environment. Having the entire community come
together and study the subtleties and nuances of Shabbos observance
effectively enhances the Shabbos atmosphere.
Moshe gathers Bnei Yisroel together as a community after the sin of the
Golden Calf to teach them how to create a tangible relationship with Hashem.
Celebrating the Shabbos on a communal level is the most effective manner to
establish the symbol through which we can connect to our Creator.