Parashas Vayakhel

Parashas Vayakhel begins with a passage dealing with Shabbos (Shemos 35:1–2):
Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and he said to them: “These are the things that Hashem has commanded, to do them – ‘On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy unto you, a day of complete rest unto Hashem.’”
In connection with this passage, the Maggid expounds at length on the nature of Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim (festivals). We previously presented a portion of this discussion; now we present another portion.
The Bible uses far-flung language when speaking of Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim, more so than with other mitzvos. On the positive side, the Torah exhorts us to “remember” and “observe” Shabbos (Shemos 20:7, Devarim 5:11). We are enjoined not only to comply with the laws of Shabbos, but also to sanctify it by proclaiming the great loftiness of the day – a requirement we do not generally find with other mitzvos. On the negative side, when speaking of improper conduct on Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim, the Bible uses extremely harsh terms. In particular, Yeshayah declares in Hashem’s Name (Yeshayah 1:14): “My soul loathes your new moons and your festivals – they have become a burden to Me; I have grown weary of bearing them.”
We can understand the far-flung language by reflecting on the different ways people relate to Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim. The spiritually lofty person wishes to focus as much as possible on Torah and mitzvos. On ordinary weekdays, he cannot devote as much time as he would like to these spiritual pursuits, for he must bear the burden of working for a living. On Shabbos, he is free from this burden, and he can devote himself intensively to Torah study and prayer. Even his meals are sanctified; when he partakes of delicacies, he does so for the sake of honoring Shabbos. By contrast, the person of low spiritual caliber wishes to spend as much time as possible indulging in worldly pleasures – meat, wine, and frivolous amusements. He, too, is held back on ordinary weekdays from doing what he wishes, for he, too, must work for a living. For him, too, Shabbos is a day of respite, but unfortunately he spends the day carousing.
In presenting the holy days of the Jewish year, the Torah states (Vayikra 23:2): “Hashem’s appointed times that you are to designate as holy convocations – these are My appointed times.” Hashem does not call Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim “your holidays,” but rather “My appointed times.” He did not establish Shabbos and the Yamim Tovim to be days of carefree relaxation. Just the opposite – on these days, Hashem wants us to serve Him with greater intensity than on ordinary weekdays. He wants us to infuse these days with sanctity and strive to reach a state of spiritual perfection.
Hashem looks forward, so to speak, to Shabbos and festival days, to see us attain a higher level of purity and holiness. So when we spend these days on empty worldly pleasures, He laments: “My soul loathes your new moons and your festivals.” He is displeased when we turn “My appointed times” into “your new moons and festivals” – when we turn special days that He set aside for us to serve Him with added devotion into days we spend on our own worldly agendas. Thus, Hoshea declares in Hashem’s Name (Hoshea 2:13): “I will terminate all her rejoicing, her festivals, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed seasons.” When we make Shabbos and festival days “ours” to exploit for our own purposes, Hashem is led to terminate them.
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. A rich man had several sons, all of whom were sickly. He brought a doctor into his household to provide them constant care. He cherished the doctor greatly, for the medicines the doctor prescribed saved his sons’ lives time and again. Once, however, the sons contracted a very dangerous illness but refused to take the medicines the doctor gave them. This led the father to show a sour face to the doctor. The doctor asked him: “My master, what do you have against me if your sons won’t take the medicine I give them?” The father replied: “I realize you’re not at fault, but, still, having you around adds to my anguish over my sons’ condition. If I had no doctor nearby who could treat my sons, I would naturally give up on them and put them out of my mind. But now, when I see right in front of me an astute doctor like you, I am reminded that my sons would be cured if only they would take their medicine, and as a result my heart is deeply pained.”
The parallel is as follows. Hashem gave us Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim as a remedy for our souls for spiritual maladies we contract during the ordinary weekdays due to engaging in various worldly affairs. Therefore, when He sees that we do not want to avail ourselves of the remedy, the Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim bring Him sorrow, so to speak, and He laments that they have become a burden to Him.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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