Latest update: March 1st, 2013
“And you (Moshe) speak to the Children of Israel saying, ‘But my Shabbos you are to observe; for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies you” (Shemos 31:13).
The Torah makes it clear that Shabbos is not only about acting in certain ways and refraining from certain activities, it must also be a cognitive experience. Through Shabbos a Jew comes to realize and understand that G-d is the source of holiness and sanctity.
This idea is especially apparent from the laws governing the many prohibitions of Shabbos. Although there are specific labors that are forbidden on Shabbos, performing any of the forbidden labors does not automatically cause someone to be liable for desecrating Shabbos. The doer’s personal objective must be taken into account. The rule is, “מלאכת מחשבת אסרה תורה – calculated (i.e. planned) labor was forbidden by the Torah.” In other words, whether a specific labor is forbidden or not is also contingent on the forethought and motive of the doer. If the doer’s intent differs from the general motive of one who performs such labor the doer may have committed no sin at all. It all depends on the active mind.
Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l (Pachad Yitzchok, Shabbos, mama’ar 1:4-5) explains this concept in his characteristically profound and poignant manner:
The status of a vessel or a tool is dependent on its purpose. A small leather pouch may be used for money or to store marbles. If it is used to store money it becomes a wallet; if it is used for marbles it is a toy.
There is a prohibition on Shabbos of “hotza’ah” to transport objects from domain to domain. However, one only transgresses this prohibition if one transports an object of value. If the transported item does not possess any value, carrying it does not violate a Biblical prohibition. Therefore, transporting a vessel may not be forbidden in and of itself. It will depend on the motive of the carrier and whether there is anything in the vessel. For example, if one transports an empty silver goblet, he has transgressed the violation of carrying because the cup is his object of interest and therefore is valuable to him. However, if the goblet is filled with wine then he is not (Biblically) liable for transporting the goblet since his primary intent was to transport the wine (he is obviously liable for carrying the wine). This is true even if the goblet is more valuable than the wine. Halacha is concerned with the value of an object in regard to the specific act being performed. In regard to this specific act, the doer was not really interested in the goblet. He was only using it to facilitate the transportation of the wine which he wanted to drink along the way. Therefore, he is not liable for carrying the goblet.
This example demonstrates the concept of meleches machsheves in regard to the prohibitions of Shabbos. It is not merely the act that matters, but also the motive and intent of the doer.
Rav Hutner continues explaining that the concept of determining what is the “ikkar – priority” and what is the “tafel – accessory” is not merely one of the myriad laws regarding the prohibitions of Shabbos. Rather this concept is fundamental in regards to understanding the essence of Shabbos and the role it plays in the life of a Jew.
Chazal (Avos 5:1) explain that G-d created the physical world with “ten utterances.” Throughout the initial week of creation, utilizing those utterances G-d created, fashioned, formed, and brought forth every concept, natural law, and living being within creation. However, when the world stood completed at the conclusion of the six days, it lacked purpose and direction. It was essentially, a creation without meaning. With the onset of Shabbos, G-d invested into the world a new concept, i.e. holiness! At that point, it immediately became apparent that creating holiness was the purpose of creation. Holiness was preeminent; the rest of creation was an accessory. It suddenly became clear that the world, which until now seemed like an end unto itself, was merely a “vessel,” a conduit for holiness, and a means to reach a higher goal and purpose.
There is only one being created that could appreciate and grasp this concept – man. Every other being survives on instinct and nature and cannot realize the transiency of the temporal world around them. Only man, endowed with cognition, can appreciate the message of Shabbos. One who has the ability to ponder and comprehend the significance and purpose of life can understand that this world is merely a vessel, and a means to a greater existence.
The ability to appreciate the message and significance of Shabbos was essentially created on the sixth day when G-d created man with intellect and the ability to think. Without the creation of man, the message of Shabbos could not have been understood. Shabbos essentially caused there to be a drastic shift in the purpose of creation and that change was only appreciated in the mind of man.
The pasuk in Parshas Vayakhel states, (35:3) “You shall not ignite a fire in any of your surroundings on the day of Shabbos.” The Zohar notes that this prohibition is not merely a warning against igniting physical fires but also for igniting “emotional fires.” On Shabbos one is obligated to reach such a state of contentment that he cannot be moved to anger.
On the words of the pasuk, (31:15) “For six days work shall be done and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, it is sacred to Hashem,” Rashi comments that complete rest implies, “מנוחת מרגוע ולא מנוחת עראי – A permanent resting; not a temporary resting.” Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l (Sichos Mussar 5731, mama’ar 12) explains that a “temporary resting” refers to one who is not permanently altered by the Shabbos experience. Although he observes Shabbos, and perhaps even sanctifies Shabbos, it does not have a lasting effect on him but fades away with the puff of the extinguished havdalah candle. A “permanent resting” however, refers to a complete transformation, wherein the Shabbos experience has such a profound affect that one emerges a more elevated person. He becomes invigorated and revitalized with a newfound ability to confront the challenges of the week with tranquility and serenity.
How do such transformations occur? It begins in one’s mind; it stems from having one’s priorities straight. Throughout the week one feels that the labors he engages in are an end unto themselves. One becomes tense with pressures of deadlines, angry because of missed opportunities and failed endeavors, and anxious with the uncertainties of tomorrow. But then Shabbos begins! The sun sets on Friday afternoon and the world is enveloped with holiness and sanctity. Suddenly, one is reminded that all of his weekly activities are secondary. He remembers that this world is merely a receptacle, a medium through which one can achieve holiness and ulterior purpose. That realization which begins in the recesses of one’s mind eventually manifests itself in one’s conduct and how he lives his life. It begins with an understanding of what is the vessel and what it the content.
As the sun sets on Friday and darkness descends on the world, suddenly, there is light!
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and the Social Worker at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch in Monsey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit him online at www.stamtorah.info.
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