Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Power Of Action

The end of our parsha relates the story of the man who is caught transgressing the Shabbos by gathering wood. According to a Midrash[1], God asks tells Moshe why he did this. The wood gatherer profaned the Shabbos because he was not wearing tefillin. If he had been wearing tefillin, merely seeing them would have been enough to cause him to refrain from profaning the Shabbos. So, God gave us the mitzvah of wearing tzitzis which, unlike tefillin, applies on Shabbos as well. The mitzvah of tzitzis helps us to remember the other mitzvos, “... וראיתם אותו וזכרתם את כל מצותי .../… and you will see it and remember all my mitzvos …” (Bamidbar 16:39)

The Sfas Emes asks that although it is true that we do not wear tefillin on Shabbos, Shabbos itself is a mitzvah. In fact, Chazal[2] teach us that the reason we don’t wear tefillin on Shabbos is because it replaces tefillin. Just as tefillin is a sign connecting us to God, Shabbos is a sign connecting us to God. God relates regarding tefillin, “והיה לך לאות על ידכה/And it will be a sign upon your arm.” (Shmos 13:16) Regarding Shabbos God tells us, “כי אות היא ביני וביניכם/For it is a sign between you and I.” (Shmos 31:13) Since we have the Shabbos as a sign, there is no need for tefillin.[3] The Sfas Emes therefore asks why the mitzvah of Shabbos wasn’t enough to remind the wood gatherer and prevent him from transgressing.

To answer this question the Sfas Emes differentiates between Shabbos and all other mitzvos. Chazal[4] teach us that God took every human activity and made a mitzvah for it. Essentially, every action is a potential mitzvah. If we perform a mitzvah, that action is holy. If we do the exact same action but it is not a mitzvah it is not holy. If we take a lulav on Succos, it is a holy action. If we take a lulav the day after Succos, it is not holy. By giving us mitzvos, God gave us the ability to draw holiness into this world through our actions. He wants us to draw holiness into every aspect of our lives. 

The holiness of Shabbos, on the other hand, is not dependent upon us. Chazal teach us that the holiness of Shabbos is established and set – kevia vekayama.[5] This is the reason that the middle bracha of the Amida on Shabbos ends with, “מקדש השבת/He makes the Shabbos holy” whereas the middle bracha of the Amida on the holidays ends with, “מקדש ישראל והזמנים/He makes Israel and the times holy” Chazal interpret this as, “He makes Israel holy who, in turn, make the times holy.” God makes Shabbos holy. We make the holidays holy. The Sfas Emes teaches us that this is the same for every mitzvah.

It is clear now, why the Shabbos was not enough to prevent the wood gatherer from transgressing but a mitzvah such as tzitzis would have influenced him not to profane the Shabbos. We don’t do anything to make the Shabbos holy. It has less of an influence on us. Actually acting with the intent to perform a mitzvah has a much greater influence on us. May we merit it. Amen! 

[1] Tanna Devai Eliyahu Rabba 26, starting, “Teida lecha shekein hu”
[2] Eiruvin 96a
[3] Eiruvin 96a – R’ Akiva
[4] Tanchuma Shelach 15
[5] Pesachim 117b

[From the Sfas Emes blog]

The original:

במדרש שאמר מרע"ה שלכך חטא המקושש כי בחול יש תפילין ובשבת אין לו ע"י מה לזכור ונתן מצות ציצית. וקשה כי מצות שבת הוא אות כמו תפילין. ונראה שמצוה התלוי' במעשה גשמיי מעורר יותר האדם. כי קדושת שבת קביעא וקיימא. והמצות שהם במעשה האדם מביאי' קדושה גם למעשה גשמיי כמ"ש במדרש שבכל דבר יש מצוה ע"ש ע"פ ה' חפץ כו' יגדיל תורה כו' ע"כ נתן השי"ת המצות שיהיו מסייעין לאדם להמשיך קדושת התורה בכל דבר כנ"ל:

[תרל"ג מאמר ג']