Parashah of the week: Beshallach

He gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them” Exodus 15:25


Rashi in his commentary says that this refers to certain specific commandments given at that time, including Shabbat.

Ahad Ha'am famously said: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Indeed, we refer to strict Shabbat observance as “keeping shabbat”, being “shomer Shabbat” - meaning to “guard and protect”, but there are actually two dimensions.

In the two different versions of the fourth commandment which appear in the Torah, the first uses zachor – “remember”, the second shamor – “keep”. This is also a reason for lighting two Shabbat candles. Zachor represents the positive mitzvot and observances of Shabbat, shamor the negative mitzvot and restrictions.

When we sing Lecha Dodi on Friday nights, we say it the other way round “Shamor v’zachor” – first the negative, then the positive. Why the change in sequence?

From an ideal heavenly point of view, Shabbat is not about the prohibitions, they are simply the framework that allows us to appreciate it for what it is. Shabbat is really about the positives – sanctifying it with kiddush, with prayer and song, with good food and fine wines, resting and enjoying Shabbat, what we talk about, how we spend our leisure time.

To do that for human beings it is “Shamor v’Zachor” – keep shabbat by putting boundaries in place to allow for maximum appreciation and enjoyment. Crucially, it is not all about the restrictions but rather they are the means to the end of zachor, the positive enjoyment and observances of Shabbat.

This is true of many mitzvot which have both positive and negative components. We need those boundaries and frameworks to be able to really appreciate and cherish the true, inner dimensions.

I would love to coin a new phrase zocher Shabbat. So many people may not be strictly shomer Shabbat, but they will stay home, say kiddush Friday night, have a meal, mark Shabbat in different ways or even if it just staying home rather than going out.

Of course, the framework of the restrictions gives us the Torah-true Shabbat experience, but it needs to be in tandem with the zocher Shabbat – remembering – the positive mitzvot and expression.

Next time someone asks or tells you they are shomer Shabbat, you can confuse them by saying “that is great but are you zocher Shabbat?

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