Perashat Vayakhel – Humanism and Shabat
I once had an interesting guest come for Shabat. A young Jewish lady psychologist came to Israel on the way from India returning to Argentina. She felt that the Jews do not experience anything spiritual and are “not one with nature.”
I did not argue with her. I do not believe in giving philosophical arguments to people who are rationalizing what is clearly wrong. This is especially true with Hindu beliefs which are totally opposite to Jewish beliefs. An example being: Hindu religion supports a caste system which oppresses the poor. As Jews we must always defend the poor.
Only after being asked I informed this lady that she can not judge Judaism using Hindu beliefs. It is not an ideal in Judaism to become disconnected from the world and to “become one with nature.” Moral responsibilities of being a Jew can only be fulfilled through living a material life. Helping the poor out of their misery can not be done through meditation.
Let us now discuss the strength of keeping Shabat and its importance relative to the rest of the Pasuk:
Six days you should do your work and the seventh day will be holy for a shabbat of shabbats to G-d….
With reference to this Perasha the Midrash says that if you keep Shabbat even if you are not able to perform any other Mitzvah G-d considers it as if you followed the entire Torah. Why should this be?
In order to explain this it is important to understand that our Midrash refers to those who are unable to perform other Mitzvot not those who do not feel like it. Taking this into account we can restate the question. What is one of the most important purposes behind the Mitzvot that Shabat should equal.
To this I will give the classic answer that the purpose of the Mitzvot is to come closer to G-d. The humanistic Mitzvot bring us closer to G-d. When we perform humanistic Mitzvot we are actually mimicking the ways of G-d. This is discussed by our Rabbis of blessed memory. Just as G-d is merciful so you should be merciful… just as G-d is slow to get angry so that is how you should be.
Shabat certainly has humanistic elements. It is a Mitzvah between a man and his friend. Since we are commanded that our family and employees are also not allowed to work. Even the poorest person is given the opportunity to rest on Shabat. Additionally, we are mimicking G-d’s ways by not working since he refrained from further creation on Shabat.
Why should Shabat be better than all of the other mitzvot put together including the ten commandments? I believe that we have already given the answer. A Midrash states that when the Jews sank down to the depths of society the only thing that saved them was keeping Shabat. I believe the reason for this is that by keeping Shabat we admit that G-d runs the show and we copy his actions by resting.
I have heard some people say that it is almost impossible to properly keep Shabat. They refer to some far out cosmic, spiritual experience. They base this false theory on a statement of Chazal, which we discussed some weeks ago. This statement says that whoever keeps Shabat like it is supposed to be kept even if he was an idol worshipper he is forgiven. They say that you would have to reach very high level to be forgiven for such a terrible sin.
This does not make sense because a person who lives with a false system of beliefs and even worships the sun or stars can not reach the heights of Jewish spirituality. I believe that the act of keeping shabbat is a demonstration that the silly non-Jewish beliefs which a person might hold are disproved. This is what happened to the Argentinean psychologist. In reality it is not meditation but physical actions which bring a Jew spiritually up.
A person should practice and follow the laws of Shabat and do a small examination of how some beliefs might be opposed to Judaism. Through keeping Shabat we recognize the greatness of G-d and his relation to our lives. Keep Shabat then ask how this is opposed to what he or she believes. When faced with an enjoyable action, like keeping Shabat, placed against a false belief, the belief will hopefully change and to follow the action.
Following this method many have come to realize that Judaism is the way to live. Many are the thoughts that a man has in his heart, And G-d’s advice will stand up.
Through a small amount of Torah study discussing how to keep Shabat and a little effort on Shabat you can come to the heights of ideal Judaism. If you sit down for a nice meal with the family, attend shul, take a nap and perhaps attend a class you can reach the heights of Jewish spirituality.