The first Shabbos in the new year is traditionally known as Shabbos Shuva. As
this Shabbos occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance, the Haftora read,
which begins "Shuva Yisroel," "Return Israel," concerns repentance.
Additionally, there is a custom that the Rabbi of each synagogue gives a
special congregational lecture on this Shabbos on the topic of repentance and
preparation for Yom Kippur. The Sfas Emes writes that one should strengthen
their observance of mitzvos and performance of good deeds specifically on
this Shabbos. He quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 118b) "Rab Judah said in Rab's
name: Had Israel kept the first Sabbath, no nation or tongue would have
enjoyed dominion over them, for it is said, (Shmos 16:27) 'And it came to
pass on the seventh day, that there went out some of the people to gather'
which is followed by, (Shmos 17:8) 'Then came Amalek.'"
Before the first Shabbos the Jewish nation spent in the desert after their
departure from Egypt, Moshe informed them that Manna would not fall on
Shabbos. Instead, double portions would fall on Friday, and the extra portion
would be for use on Shabbos. However, two people conspired to undermine this
command that Moshe gave to the people. Early on Shabbos, they went and
scattered manna they had collected from the day before, in violation of the laws
of Shabbos and G-d's command. They hoped that the people, upon arising and
going outdoors, would see the manna and feel that Moshe's instructions were
wrong. Birds thwarted the plot by eating the manna before anyone saw it.
However, on this very first Shabbos, people desecrated the day's sanctity.
Because the nation of Israel in its entirety did not observe the first
Shabbos, the Talmud says, they were soon subject to attack by Amalek and many
other nations since.
The Sfas Emes explains that we have an opportunity to rectify this situation.
If we observe the first Shabbos of the year properly, we can assure that the
nation of Israel will not suffer at the hand of another nation this year.
We, together, by protecting the sanctity of Shabbos, by spending the day
engaged in spiritual pursuits, can bring great good to all. We can undo that
oppression which was brought upon us in the days of our ancestors. All it
requires is just one Shabbos, and that Shabbos is Shabbos Shuva.