Shabbat – The Source of Blessings
For six days work shall be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you a Sabbath of rest to the L-RD. Whoever does work on it shall be put to death. – Exodus 35:2
Moses gathered all the people and gave them the mitzvah of Shabbat. According to the verse, we may say that the expression “shall be done” teaches us that it is not man who does work – nor does he become rich as a result – for work gets done by itself. This is because Hashem orders it to be done, just as the world was created by the word of Hashem. It follows that a person has no reason to grow proud of his success. Rather, he should realize and become attuned to the fact that work gets done by itself during the six days of the week. In other words, it gets done not because of a person’s efforts, but because of Hashem’s will. There are people in this world who do not have to work hard to earn a living; they make a few phone calls and their work is done. On the other hand, there are others who must put an enormous amount of effort into earning a living, and yet they are unsuccessful and barely make enough to eat. This teaches us that a person’s sustenance does not depend on him alone, nor on his efforts or commitments. Everything is fixed for him from the beginning of the year to its end, and only Hashem decides who will be rich and who will be poor.
Also from the same verse, we learn that the time for work is exclusively the six days of the week, for the seventh day is a “Sabbath of rest to the L-RD.” We sometimes see people who do not observe Torah and mitzvot, people who open their businesses on Shabbat. When we speak to them and reprimand them for this, they quickly explain that Shabbat is their most lucrative day, and if they were to shut down on Shabbat, they would lose an enormous amount of money. We can tell them that they are mistaken, that this is an argument of the evil inclination, for the money that people earn by desecrating Shabbat carries no blessings. It only appears that a person becomes wealthy because he keeps his store open seven days a week. The truth is that everything can be done during the first six days of the week, and a person has no chance of seeing blessings emerge from the work that he does on the seventh day. As we already mentioned, the work is already done, and it only seems to a person that he becomes wealthier by increasing his work. In fact the very opposite is true.
Moses tried to arouse faith among the Jewish people and make them realize that a person’s livelihood comes to him from Heaven. He tried to teach them that everything has its own time. A person is forbidden to spend his life chasing after money by desecrating the sanctity of Shabbat, for in that case he is not helping himself. On the contrary, he only does himself harm. Likewise there are many people who make no effort to pray with a minyan, claiming that they have to hurry off to work and open their stores so that nobody has to wait for them to open. When a person does not know how to divide his day and establish a clear boundary between the sacred and mundane, he loses more than he gains. He thinks that because he manages to open his store earlier, at the expense of communal prayer, he will earn more money. The reality, however, is that he will lose true riches, the capital awaiting him in the World to Come.
A person will lie in his grave after 120 years on earth, and all the wealth that he amassed on earth will stay behind; he will take none of it with him. Because of this fact, a person must search his soul and think about what is more important: Money, or the mitzvot and good deeds that accompany him in the World of Truth and speak in his favor. Looking at this more closely, we see that the first letters of the expression sheshet yamim (“six days”) form the term shai (“gift”), whereas its last letters form the term tam (“upright” or “blameless”) and met (“dead”). This seems to indicate that whoever works on the six days of the week will merit a “gift” and blessing from Hashem insofar as his endeavors will be successful. It also indicates that a person who conducts himself uprightly with Hashem will merit an abundance of blessings and success. On the other hand, a person who is not content with working on the six days of the week – meaning someone who tries to work on Shabbat – will quickly find death, as the verse states: “Whoever does work on it shall be put to death.”
A person is forbidden to think that the more money he makes and the larger his bank account grows, the longer he will live, for everyone eventually dies. What will he be able to tell the Creator about the fact that he desecrated Shabbat and lost eternal life?
Someone once came to see me and said that his wife was constantly complaining and getting upset at him because he devoted too much time to observing mitzvot instead of working. This man wanted to know how to deal with his wife’s complaints. When I heard this, I tried to convince his wife that a person does not lose anything on account of observing Torah and mitzvot. On the contrary, doing so bestows blessings upon a person and enables him to prosper in every possible way. His wife, however, refused to listen. When I saw that it was no use trying to convince her, I told the man to listen to his wife and spend more time at work. The man returned to see me a year later, but this time he was very distraught. He asked me why I had told him to spend more time at work, for he was now bankrupt and had even lost what he had before! I replied that I had given him this advice because I was afraid he would lose both his money and his wife. He said to me, “Today that’s exactly where I stand – I’ve lost both my money and the peace in my home.” When he finished telling me about his misfortunes, I advised him to return to his former habits by spending more time learning Torah and practicing mitzvot, promising that the Holy One, blessed be He, would help him in all his endeavors. I also told him that even if he does not see the shai (“gift”) that Hashem gives to those who study Torah in this world, it does not mean that he will not receive a reward. Instead, he must realize that the Holy One, blessed be He, sometimes chooses to reward such deeds in the World to Come, giving a person shai (310) worlds of deliverance and blessing.
Another person came to ask me why he was unsuccessful, and why he saw no blessings from all that he did. I asked him if he observed Shabbat, and he said that he did. I then asked him if he watched television on Shabbat, and he said that he did, but only with a timer. I said to this Jew, “You should realize that although you are not transgressing Shabbat by performing one of the forbidden forms of work on it – since you’re not turning on the television yourself, but have it on a timer – the very fact that you’re watching television gives Shabbat a mundane taste and dampens the special holiness and purity of this lofty day.” I also said that it is written that Shabbat is the source of blessings, and that we must put an effort into observing and sanctifying it as much as possible. As such we will merit for the Holy One, blessed be He, to allow us to see blessings in this world.
It is said that Shabbat is a foretaste of the World to Come. This means that a person is given a real sense of the World to Come through the observance of Shabbat, so he may taste the flavor of Shabbat and acquire the life of the World to Come. In fact the path towards the World to Come passes through the avenue of Torah learning and mitzvot observance. The observance of Shabbat strengthens a person in his Torah study and observance of mitzvot. We can compare this to a person being given a very hot cup of tea to drink. Although the tea is sweet and very flavorful, it cannot be swallowed all at once. It has to be tasted a little at a time, until a person gets used to the heat and manages to taste its flavor. Likewise the World to Come is perfect in every way, a pleasure beyond all description. Yet before a person can properly attain and absorb this Heavenly delight, he must first get used to the spiritual experience of observing Shabbat, studying Torah, and practicing mitzvot.
I’ve read statements by the Chafetz Chaim and other commentators that learning Torah on Shabbat entails a tremendous reward, much more than learning Torah on a weekday. We need to understand why this is so. I think the answer is that during the weekday, a person is occupied with earning a living and seeing to the needs of his home. He therefore cannot put all his energy into studying Torah. When he sits down to study, his head will still be occupied with thoughts of unpaid bills, the neighbor that he need to talk to, and so on. Thus his Torah study is not completely untainted, but mixed with the worries of this world. On the other hand, Shabbat enables us to rest from all our work, and our minds become clear and free of all the problems that have assailed us during the six weekdays. This is why we can completely devote ourselves to learning Torah and wholeheartedly immerse ourselves in it on Shabbat. This situation – when a person completely immerses himself in learning Torah and his mind does not delve on other things – is why Torah study on Shabbat is pure and considerably greater than during the week. Hence the reward for such study is much greater. I have read in the Ben Ish Hai that Shabbat was only given to the Jewish people so they could study Torah in peace and harmony.
The Gemara cites a difference of opinion between Rabbi Ishmael and the Sages regarding whether it is permissible to study by the light of a lamp on Shabbat. The Sages say that it is forbidden, since a person is liable to tilt the lamp by mistake while immersed in Torah study. Rabbi Ishmael believed that nobody could ever forget that it is Shabbat, even when immersed in study, which is why he felt that it was unnecessary to forbid studying on Shabbat by the light of a lamp. A certain time later, Rabbi Ishmael was studying on Shabbat with his students. As he was doing so, however, he moved his hand to tilt the lamp, having forgotten that it was Shabbat. He immediately corrected himself and regretted not having listened to the words of the Sages. If he had not opposed their words, he would not have tilted the lamp. In fact he was so upset by what he had done, he stated that he would bring an offering when the Temple is rebuilt.
We need to ask ourselves something regarding this point: If the study of Torah on Shabbat is so important and spiritually uplifting, why did the Holy One, blessed be He, not arrange things such that a person could not desecrate Shabbat as he studies? The answer is that Hashem wanted to teach us that despite the tremendous importance of Torah study on Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat is even more important, for with regards to Shabbat it is written: “Whoever does work on it shall be put to death.” Such a statement is not made with regards to one who neglects the study of Torah. This means that despite the great need to put an effort into learning Torah, especially on Shabbat, we must be fully aware of the immense importance of Shabbat and strive to observe it in holiness, for it is the source of blessings.
• Moses told the Children of Israel, “For six days work shall be done,” which means that work gets done by itself. This teaches us that it is forbidden for a person to tell himself that he earns a living by his own efforts and that he can earn even more if he works on Shabbat. Instead, he must realize that everything is decided in Heaven and gets done by itself, and therefore he cannot earn more by desecrating Shabbat.
• The first letters of the expression sheshet yamim (“six days”) form the term shai (“gift”), and the last letters of this expression form the term met (“dead”). This teaches us that if we work only during the six weekdays, the Holy One, blessed be He, will give us a gift, meaning that we will inherit 310 (shai) worlds. A person who works on Shabbat, however, will be considered as being dead, as it is written: “Whoever does work on it shall be put to death.”
• The reward for studying Torah on Shabbat is much greater than studying Torah during the week, for during the week our minds are preoccupied and lack the needed focus to study properly. Hence its reward is less. However on Shabbat our minds are free from worry, and there is greater value in studying it then. Hence its reward is greater.
• Rabbi Ishmael differed with the Sages regarding whether a person is likely to tilt a lamp on Shabbat when studying. Although Rabbi Ishmael felt that there was no reason to worry about it, he himself committed this sin. We must understand why, if studying Torah on Shabbat is so important, the Holy One, blessed be He, did not make this sin impossible for a person to commit?
• Although there is a tremendous reward for studying Torah on Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat is of even greater importance. This is why Rabbi Ishmael should have been paid more attention to not desecrating Shabbat.