Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Sabbath Contract between Jew and G-d
(Exodus 31, 16-17) - part 1

These two Biblical verses define the Sabbath Contract between G-d and each Jew. The obligations of the Jew, and Nature's rules of recompense for fulfilling or ignoring them, are explained in the following article, from a magazine published by the Previous Rebbe [הקריאה והקדושה, July 1941]. (After you've read it, you'll also appreciate the Rebbe's insistence, elsewhere, on the number of days of creation to be taken literally as 6, i.e., six 24-hour days.) (The highlighting is my own.)
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ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת
"And the children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath"

The Jews must observe the Sabbath day - guard it so as not to desecrate its holiness. They must not work, nor kindle a fire, nor bake or cook on the Sabbath ; They must not carry anything either in their hands or in their pockets, not may they occupy themselves with any of the usual weekday occupations. The Sabbath must be a day of rest in accordance with every concept of complete rest, and in accordance with all the rules of the Oral Law. "Veshomru" signifies that they, themselves, must observe, each person individually. Every Jew must be a Sabbath-Jew, observing the Sabbath exactly as his ancestors and great-ancestors did.

This alone, however, is not enough. A Jew who is merely himself a Sabbath-observer has not completely fulfilled the requirement of "Veshomru". There is something more to it, namely:

לעשות את השבת לדורותם ברית עולם
"To observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant."

The Jew must so guard his Sabbath as to make a perpetuity of it for all future generations. This means, naturally, he must first of all see to it that the very next generation, his own children, should keep the Sabbath. For, if only he keeps the Sabbath, but not his children, then the Sabbath is already broken, and he is guarding the fragments of a broken vessel. He was given a whole Sabbath - a vessel that was whole, and in good condition. He ought to have guarded this vessel, kept it whole as long as he possessed it, and passed it on to his children in good condition. But if he did not safeguard it and it was broken, then he is continuing to guard only its broken fragments. Its owner, the Almighty who put the keeping of the Sabbath in his charge, can be very little pleased with the fact that he keeps watch over the broken fragments of that vessel of blessings, the Sabbath.

Under no circumstances can this be considered keeping a proper guard. For he received a whole vessel and it was broken in his possession! His children have nothing to guard in turn. The Sabbath must be observed throughout all the generations, from the father down through the great-grandchildren. It is "a perpetual covenant", an everlasting contract that all future Jews shall maintain this guard, and take care that the Sabbath shall not be broken.

ביני ובין בני ישראל אות היא לעולם
"It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever."

The Jew must keep the Sabbath because it is a specific sign between him and G-d, for eternity, that G-d will always watch over him, too. The Jew keeps the Sabbath and G-d keeps him, the caretaker whom G-d appointed to guard His Sabbath. These were the terms of the contract, "a perpetual covenant": That G-d should never entrust His Sabbath to another nation for safekeeping, and the Jew should never relinquish his guardianship of the Sabbath. The Christian religion, which has copied many Jewish laws including the principle of resting one day a week nevertheless did not make Saturday its rest day. G-d so contrived that they should choose a different day for rest - Sunday. The Mohammedans likewise, and for various reasons, chose Friday for their day of rest. The Buddhists chose Wednesday. But to this very day, only the Jews have the true Sabbath as their day of rest.

(The small Christian sect which recently has begun to observe the Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday is merely acting foolishly in this respect. In the first place, they do not observe the Sabbath as prescribed in its fundamental laws. Secondly, they accept all the religious practices and principles of the rest of Christendom. Thirdly, there is, besides the Sabbath, still another sign between G-d and the Jews - the covenant of circumcision. One sign without the other is an anomaly, and these Sabbath-Christians definitely do not believe in circumcision. The Arabs, on the other hand, believe in circumcision but not in the Sabbath; So that no one actually possesses both these signs together except the Jews. And it is really amazing that no other religious sect in the world has accepted both these G-dly signs. The Almighty did not permit this to happen, because these two, and only these two commandments are expressly set apart with the words "for it is a sign between Me and you," and they would be ineffectual as signs if others also possessed them both.)

The Jews, therefore, must also keep their part of the contract and never relinquish the guardianship of the Sabbath. Should they break this contract, they would lose the right to claim or to expect that G-d should watch over them. It is thus in the Jew's own interest to observe the Sabbath, for he thereby obliges G-d to protect him.
See Part 2.

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