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Parshas Behaaloscha

Shabbat: Physically and Spiritually

In this week's parsha the Torah records for us the revelation at Sinai and a restatement of the Ten Commandments. The text of the Ten Commandments as recorded in this week's parsha differs somewhat from the text of the Ten Commandments as they appear in parshat Yitro. These differences are commented upon and explained to us in the Talmud, Midrash and in the later commentaries to the Torah.

The major discrepancy in text concerns the description of Shabbat. Whereas in parshat Yitro we were commanded zachor - remember – the Shabbat to sanctify it, here in parshat Vaetchanan we are told to safeguard – shamor – the Shabbat and not to desecrate it by performing forbidden acts of work. The Talmud teaches us that these two words – zachor and shamor - were uttered at Sinai, so to speak, simultaneously in one breath.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this explanation of the rabbis as to why there are two different texts advanced in the Torah regarding Shabbat. One of the lessons is that words, no matter how holy and precise they may attempt to be, are still insufficient to convey the breadth and scope of eternal values and spiritual holiness.

Again, words, no matter how beautiful and varied they may be, constrict us and always leave room for misinterpretation and ambiguity. There are truly no words, which by themselves can convey the concept of the serenity, holiness and spiritual and physical uniqueness of Shabbat. So we are forced to say that different words have to be said and heard in a simultaneous fashion in order for the listener to begin to grasp the true value in understanding Shabbat.

Another important lesson to be learned from the duality of expression regarding Shabbat is that there is an intrinsic combination of values in the holiest day of the week. The serenity and spiritual quality of the day cannot be achieved simply by discussing it or spiritually and theoretically identifying with it. It is the forced abstention from the mundane activities of the every day week – the restrictions, if you will – that contribute mightily to the positive feeling and emotional peace of the day of Shabbat. Without shamor, zachor remains an unachievable goal. And without zachor – the wine of kiddush, the special bread and meals of the day, etc. – shamor - become very burdensome and unattractive.

So therefore these two facets of Shabbat must be enjoyed and enforced in a simultaneous fashion in order for the true meaning of the day to take hold within the body and soul of the Jew. The observance of Shabbat therefore is a matter of intellectual and emotional sophistication. A Shabbat without restrictions is meaningless. It is just another Tuesday. A Shabbat without prayer, Torah study, proper dress, food and physical pleasure and relaxation lacks vitality and negates the holy spirit of the day.

It is the dual nature of Shabbat that gives it its special character and holy demeanor. Therefore the rabbis correctly taught us that zachor and shamor werecommunicatedtousatSinai as one statement and package. Therein lies the magic of the holy day of Shabbat.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein

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Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at



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