The day was the 11th of Tishrei, 2449, the Jews had been eagerly awaiting Moshe. He had now been up on the mountain of Sinai for a third period of 40 days. On Yom Kippur Moshe finally received forgiveness for the sin that the Jews had perpetrated on Shiva Asar Be Tamuz when they worshiped the golden calf. He was now able to come and approach the people and tell them all that he had learnt whilst above with Hashem.
At this point we would have expected Moshe to enter the camp and start to relate about how he had prayed sincerely for the people, how Hashem in His Great Mercy had forgiven the people for their sins, perhaps how Hashem had guaranteed after Moshe’s pleading that he himself and not an angel would lead the people into Eretz Yisrael. Yet we seem to be surprised to learn that upon descending the mountain, Moshe decides to relate two important messages. The first is Shabbat the second is the building of the Mishkan. Why did he choose to relate these specific matters at this point in time?
We can understand why Moshe told them about the building of the Mishkan straight away. The Bnei Yisrael had sinned. They were no longer on the same high spiritual level that they possessed at Har Sinai. Moshe wished to implore on them the necessity to constantly show their allegiance to Hashem. The way forward would be through having a place of worship and through sanctifying a time of worship. This was Moshe’s message. To stop ourselves from sinning in the future we need to have a place of worship and a time solely designated to worship.
Let us take a deeper look as to why Moshe focused on the Mitzvah of Shabbat.
After the sin of the Golden Calf the people were left dismayed. The mitzvah of Shabbat brings with it both consolation and the correct path to lead our lives.
Our sages teach us that when the Pasuk states Sheshet Yamim YeAseh Melacha – it means literally that for six days work will be done and on the seventh Tishbot – you should rest and consider as if all your work has been completed. One should approach the seventh day as if a new beginning has arisen; it is a day separate to all others. Sanctify it by specializing on our connection with Hashem. No other mundane daily work should even enter our minds, we should view all of that as already completed. All the sorrow of that business week, all that effort, those phone calls, emails, discussions, meetings, arguments etc they all come to end on Shabbat.
The Bnei Yisrael had witnessed the breaking of the holy tablets, and had heard that their punishment for the Golden calf will last for generations, they were despondent.
The Mitzvah of Shabbat was given to them specifically now to teach them that everything comes to an end. The time will come when they will not suffer the punishment of the golden calf, the time will come when just like Shabbat, everything will seem to them in the past, and a new dimension of time and spirituality will flow. When a person knows that there is an end to his suffering, then the pressure is much less felt. There is an extra urge and confidence to see it through.
The Gemara in Ketubot (33b) asks what is more stringent punishment; Mita – Death or Malkut – the 39 lashes that Bet Din can apply to a sinner? The Gemara explains that Chanania Mishael and Azaria all disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar and didn’t bow to the idol. For this they were sentenced to death by fire. Nevertheless Hashem performed for them a miracle and they came out alive. Rav is of the opinion that had Nebuchadnezzar punished them through Makot (rather than death) they would not have survived, they would have broken under the pressure and bowed down. Hence Malkut is more powerful then death. However the Gemara goes on to rebuff this and states that there is a difference between Malkut that has an end, and Malkut that has no end. According to the torah we are supposed to grant 39 lashes and no more. When a person is told how many lashes they are going to receive, then it is much easier for him to deal with it. However when the lashes are meted out without any fixed amount, then this can cause a person to brake. Chanania Mishael and Azaria would have only succumbed to Malkut without an end, however if they were given a fixed amount of Malkut for their disobedience then they would have managed to cope.
The lesson is clear; when there is a fixed amount of sorrow, we can take encouragement and look forward to the day the sorrow will end. We can convince ourselves of the temporary aspect and keep a constant reminder of the end game.
Shabbat is a taste of Olam Habah. It is a taste since through it we come to the realization that the world is being constantly run by Hashem. It is His hand that guides us through business, it is His Hand that guides our family and social life, and it is His hand that guides our success. On Shabbat we stop our robotic life, and take a break. A break where we can focus on the real source of life – Hashem.
The Midrash Rabbah (Vayikra 3:1) states that the Jewish people will be redeemed from our exile in the merit of Shabbat observance. Let us take encouragement from the message of Shabbat, let us focus at least this one day out of seven on Hashem and His commandments, and in this merit the Geula Kerova. Amen.