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Shabbat and Holiness

This week's parashah is the first parashah in the Torah, Bereshit. We are all familiar with the story of the creation that we read in these chapters of the Torah. However, the narrative still raised many questions for our rabbis and scholars. One of the many issues debated by the rabbis is the timing of humanity's creation in relationship to Shabbat. Rashi (12th century France) believed that God created Adam right before Shabbat so that he could immediately enter the holy and peaceful realm of Shabbat. And yet we also read in the same source that God created Adam a few hours before Shabbat so that he could first participate in the everyday activities of the world and thereby be better able to appreciate the peace of Shabbat.

This is discussed by a great Hassidic rabbi, Shmuel of Sochochow, concerning a debate as to what one does if one is lost in the desert and has no idea what day it is. The question then arises as to when one should observe Shabbat. The ancient rabbinic Beit Shammai (house of Shammai- one of the early sages) states that the person should observe Shabbat immediately and then count off six days and observe Shabbat again. The other dominant house (which usually won the argument), Beit Hillel, states that the person should first count six days and then observe Shabbat.

Beit Shammai's decision is based on a belief that human beings need Shabbat to give them an added degree of holiness before they can enter the "regular" week and somehow bring holiness and God into the ordinary days. Beit Hillel, who tends more towards emphasizing God's attribute of mercy (hesed) as opposed to judgment (din), believed that our actions in the world during the six days of work may not merit the great sanctity of Shabbat, but instead we are rewarded through God's mercy with that sanctity. In other words, in order to connect with the sacred and the divine in our world we must first do the "ordinary" work and try our best to pursue sanctity at the same time. If we do this then we are rewarded with the ultimate sanctity and holiness of Shabbat. That is why Adam why created a few hours before Shabbat and why, if one has no idea what day it is, one works for six day and then observes Shabbat.

These commentaries remind us that in order to connect with the Divine in the world and in our lives (as symbolized by Shabbat) we also need to connect with the "ordinary" aspects of our lives (represented by the six days of the week). It is our work in the world, with the people in our lives, that enable us to find God. Only then can we truly be rewarded with the experience of the holiness and peace that is represented by Shabbat.

We must try our best to experience the holiness that can be found within the ordinary so that we can then truly experience the holiness and sanctity in the day that is "all holiness."
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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