Six days work should be done. The seventh day is a day of complete
rest, sacred to Hashem. Whoever works on the Shabbos day shall be put to
death. The Bnei Yisrael shall observe Shabbos, to make Shabbos an eternal
covenant for their generations.
Be’er Mayim Chaim: It seems unlikely that the Torah makes it mandatory
for people to work six days of the week. For various reasons, there are
always many people who are not employed or busy. Does the Torah really view
them as violating halachah?
The Torah alludes here to a different kind of work: the spiritual labor
obligatory upon everyone to properly establish the world’s spiritual
backbone through the observance of the Torah’s mitzvos. Heeding the Torah’s
prohibitions safeguards the world’s spiritual stature, preventing it from
being diminished through the negative forces like the kelipos that
can attach themselves to the kedushah of the world through the medium
of our aveiros. The practice of the affirmative mitzvos empowers and
elevates the world, by drawing all sorts of Divine influence and blessing to
the world. Together, the prohibitions and affirmative obligations create the
spiritual backbone of the physical world.
Shabbos is entirely different. It does not wait for us, does not require
our activity to draw down holiness from the upper worlds. Its character, its
supernal holiness are intrinsic and self-sustaining. They are simply there
with the arrival of Shabbos each week.
The Torah therefore cautions us that those who labor on Shabbos must die.
In other words, those who go about their halachic business with the same
attitude as the rest of the week are liable to death at the hands of heaven
for having desecrated the holiness of Shabbos! Even should they adhere
perfectly to all the strictures against active violation of the laws of
Shabbos, they can be considered Shabbos violators if they believe that their
mitzvos are contributing to the drawing down of kedushah from Above.
Shabbos doesn’t require the boost! Believing that it does belittles it,
spurns its transcendent qualities.
Moreover – and this may come closer to Shabbos’ essence – we are
instructed to mimic the ways of our Creator. Just as He rested from His work
on the original Shabbos, so do we rest from our labors, even the spiritual
ones. Shabbos proceeds quite nicely without our help.
A giant caveat accompanies this realization, however. While it is true
that the kedushah of Shabbos is available without the help of our
avodah, this does not imply that all people experience that
kedushah equally. How Shabbos strikes a person depends entirely on
how good a job he has done in purifying himself in advance.
Shabbos will work best for a person who has liberated himself from
transgression and from the coarse desires of temporal existence (which are
nothing more than the work of kelipos attaching themselves to his
kedushah). For such a person, Shabbos surrounds him on all sides,
sanctifying and purifying him.
For the person who remains mired in the desires shared with the animal
realm, Shabbos is nothing similar. The kedushah of Shabbos is
incompatible with the potent yetzer hora that rages within him. While
the kedushah of Shabbos illuminates all the spiritual worlds, he
experiences nothing but darkness.
For this reason, preparations for Shabbos traditionally includes bathing
in hot water, and immersion in a mikvah. Rav Abahu2 implies
that the primary agent of tevilah is fire, not water. Bathing in hot
water is our way of immersing ourselves in the heavenly fire, introducing
into our hearts a fiery passion to follow the dvar Hashem, without
interference from any distraction. Neither rain nor snow nor material
pursuit nor sensual preoccupation will get in the way of our fiery
commitment to avodas Hashem.
We follow the bathing with immersion in a mikvah to purify
ourselves of any tumah, and to purge ourselves through the waters of
Divine chesed of any of the kelipos that have attached
themselves to us.
After both of these exercises, we are ready to experience the
kedushah of Shabbos.
Our passage alludes to this. “For their generations” in the original
reads l’dorosom. Two words can be teased from the single one in
Hebrew: l’doros tam. Shabbos works at peak efficiency when the
generation takes pains to become tam – pure and refined of any
transgression and any crippling desires. Then it can fully appreciate the
gifts of Shabbos.