Hashem told Moshe, “I have a good gift in my treasure-house; it is called Shabbos. Go and make it known to them.” Shabbos seems to be unique as a gift, in contradistinction to all the other mitzvos. “A good lekach I have given you; do not forsake my Torah.” As plain pshat, lekach here means “teaching.” But the word is rooted in the idea of something purchased. Why is Shabbos gifted to us, while the other mitzvos are purchased?
We readily understand that we cannot “give” anything to a G-d who needs nothing, and creates everything. Even if we could, any attempt at “paying” for the great gifts He gives us would be hopelessly inadequate. We owe Him far too much.
Yet, one of the great wonders of Creation is that HKBH created a world in which, kivayachol, we are asked to “pay” for what we are given. Hashem wanted a world to which He could direct His chesed. In His infinite wisdom, He made achieving His goals contingent upon the spiritual significance of Am Yisrael. That which He cherishes – sustaining the world, and enlarging the berachah attached to it – He made dependent upon the Jewish people. Thus, when we act properly, we in effect “allow” Him to draw closer to the world and direct His bounty towards it. In this manner, Klal Yisrael “pays” for what Hashem gives us. Our output of mitzvos is what we use to “pay” him.
It is not a simple matter to be able to provide the spiritual “energy” to sustain the universe, and to act in a way that allows Hashem to add blessing to it. That ability was not earned, but given to us as an absolute gift. It became part of our constitutional nature, our very definition, as individuals and as a collective. Now that we are there, we can “pay” into this spiritual system; our ability to be payers was a Divine gift.
This distinction carries over directly to the mitzvos. The vast majority of them amount to the currency with which we pay. They flow from our kedushah, in the manner that the berachah we recite on every Yom Tov is mekadesh Yisrael v’hazmanim, which we are told means, “Who sanctifies Yisrael, who in turn sanctify the holidays.”
Shabbos is the exception. It is part of that original, defining gift from Above. It is linked to our essential makeup. Shabbos Kodesh is identical with the special tzelem Elokim that is associated with the Jewish neshamah, even as we recognize that all human beings are created with a tzelem Elokim.
We understand with this why desecration of Shabbos is treated so severely in halacha. It is not just a serious aveirah, but a repudiation of self, of one’s own identity! Similarly, halachah bars non-Jewish observance of Shabbos, even though non-Jews may voluntarily perform other mitzvos if they so desire. Shabbos is different. For non-Jews to observe Shabbos would be the ultimate cultural appropriation – becoming what they are not.
We understand why the gemara we mentioned above concludes that Moshe needed to alert the Bnei Yisrael to the reward for observing Shabbos in advance of their receiving the commandment, because the reward would not be discoverable on their own. Because Shabbos is so different from other mitzvos, we would not see it operating similarly to other mitzvos, for which sechar seems appropriate. Yet, HKBH most certainly does reward us for observing Shabbos! Why this is so, however, remains a secret – stored in Hashem’s treasure-house.
Because Shabbos is so embedded in our core existence, it will never disappear, just as we are promised that Hashem will not allow us to disappear. It grieves us, however, to observe that at the time that He has allowed us back to our Land, there are those who wish to build it up with one hand, while with the other they seek to destroy the institution so central to our being.
There is no Shabbos other than the one described by the full gamut of halachic requirements. “To know that I am Hashem who sanctifies you.” There is no splitting of Hashem into smaller parts; there is no half-Shabbos, or third, or quarter.
We have allowed ourselves at times to appeal to the secular nationalists. “Keep the Shabbos, if only according to the understanding of its importance to the life of the nation!” We do this not because we believe that they can do without the fullness of Shabbos in its proper sense. That is a concession that we cannot make. Rather, it is because we recognize the source of their nationalist urge – something that they have not realized themselves. That urge comes, davka, from the kedushah of Shabbos!
It is in the nature of spiritual things that the whole exists with every part. Therefore we do not tell them that through their chilul Shabbos they remove themselves from the community. Rather, we maintain the hope that through any kind of limited contact with Shabbos, however imperfect, they can in time regain the fullness of Shabbos in all its splendor.