Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Special Beauty of Shabbos

Parshat Behar

by Rabbi Avi Billet

If the Torah is of divine authorship, why does it repeat itself so much? Did God forget what He had already written when He chose to repeat an idea? And not just any idea, but an entire verse – word for word? Compare 26:2 to 19:30 and you'll find the exact same words: "Observe my Sabbath and revere my temple, I am God."

The phrase "Observe my Sabbath" appears one more time in the book of Vayikra, when it is connected to the commandment of revering one's parents. (Vayikra 19:3)

What is the connection?

When one examines the last few verses of our parsha, one sees a very clear reference to the first four utterings of the Decalogue: the Israelites are my avadim (servants or subjects) because I took them out of Egypt; you are not to make idols, monuments or stones for worship purposes; do not bow down to them; observe My Sabbath and revere My Temple.

The commandment to honor one's parents (as it appears in Shmot 20), or to revere them (as it appears in Vayikra19:3), is conspicuously absent here – it seems to be replaced by the commandment to revere the Temple. What gives?

Rashi famously asks at the beginning of the parsha "What is the reason for discussing the laws of shmittah at Sinai?" The answer to this question is the subject of much homiletical discourse.

But perhaps the parsha ends with a reference to the Ten Commandments, Sinai-originated, of course, to emphasize the importance and significance of the Man-God relationship in our lives (the general theme of the first five of the 'commandments' there), and how it even exists when we are discussing the laws of the shmittah and of charity and of the Jewish eved.

Why is the relationship to parents, then, left out of the discussion?

There are three ways we are instructed to relate to God: To love God (Devarim 6:5, 10:12, 11:1,13,22, 19:9, 30:6,16,20), to fear/revere God (Vayikra 19:14,32; 25:17,36,43, Devarim 13:5), and to honor/respect God (Shmuel I 2:30). There are two ways we are instructed to relate to our parents: to fear/revere them (Vayikra 19:3), and to honor/respect them (Shmot 20:11, Devarim 5:15). There are two ways to relate to the Temple: to revere it (Vayikra 19:3, 26:2) and not to desecrate it (Vayikra 20:3, 21:23).

We are instructed to revere God, Temple and parents. We are instructed to honor/respect God, to avoid desecrating the Temple, and to revere parents. We are told to love God, but are not instructed to love our parents or the Temple.

I think that the repeated verse we began with is meant to teach us an important lesson, in code. Parents and the Temple are to be equated. There is no instruction to love either one, as there is to love God, for example, because the love is either there or it is not. It either comes naturally, or it does not. And if it does not come naturally, one needs to work on it if one wants it. As long as the reverence and respect for one's parents is there, and as long as one reveres the Temple and takes no steps to desecrate it, one is operating in a positive direction.

And the connection to Shabbos is manifestly clear. On what day of the week does one have the opportunity to spend the most time in the Temple? On what day of the week do parents have the chance to spend the most amount of time with their children? The answer to both is "Shabbos." And it is through the observance of the Shabbos that we spend the best quality time aimed at building the uncommanded loving part of our relationships with our parents or children and with our Temples and our experiences there.

So now the question becomes one of how do we utilize all these lengthy hours of quality time? Does the relationship between parents and children grow – through quality meals, singing, learning together? Or do the parents nap most of the day while their children are playing God-knows-what-God-knows-where?

Does the Temple become a place of reverence and non-desecration? Or is there talking during the service, idle chatter in the hallways, and a general disregard for what the Temple on Shabbos is supposed to look like?

The three final verses in our parsha remind us of the spiritual side of the Decalogue. It is through our honor, reverence and love of God that we come to observe and remember the Shabbos, and it is through our proper, family oriented approach to observing the Shabbos that children can come to revere their parents and respect the Temple.

These are ideals that are worthy of repetition. Over and over again.

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