|Art: Miki Karni|
Va'eira: An Island in Time
[extracts from "The Curtain Parted" by Robert L. Kremnizer]
In the midrash of Va'eira, Moshe tells Pharoah that the Jews will not work on Shabbat. What is the mystery of Shabbat that is so important that Pharoah is forced to cope with the fact that Jews will not work on this day? For most uninitiated Jews, Shabbat seems an enormous chore: a day without shopping, travelling, television.... who wants to live like this? Who would voluntarily undertake this imprisonment? Intelligent caring Jews shake their heads in dismay and extend their hearts to pity the misguided fanatics involved in this primitive rite, for whom reason appears not to exist.
In truth, it is difficult to communicate the preciousness of Shabbat because to a large extent its joy must be experienced. The apparent restrictions are in fact gates to new, greater and dazzling freedoms. These freedoms, however, become available only after the experience of Shabbat is lived, and lived repeatedly. Those not prepared to invest the time and energy, sadly never discover the wonder of the phenomenon.
We have a saying, that more than the Jewish people have kept the Shabbat throughout our history, the Shabbat has kept the Jewish people. The celestial properties of Shabbat are a necessary ingredient for the spiritual thriving and prospering of a Jew.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that the blessings of Am Yisrael come to us because of Shabbat. Indeed, whoever keeps Shabbat properly obtains these unlimited blessings. Fascinatingly, these blessings come to those who actually fix their boundaries on Shabbat - not of course physical boundaries, but those which a Jew takes on for spiritual reasons. Am Yisrael and Shabbat therefore are absolutely and completely inter-dependent, and without Shabbat we cannot access these unlimited blessings.
Shabbat is best understood in terms of withdrawal from the creative and destructive physical activities into spiritual ones. On Shabbat a Jew abstains from 39 forms of labour and withdraws from the physical into the spiritual, surrendering his dominion over the creative and destructive processes of the world. On the seventh day, a Jew imitates G-d's withdrawal from the creative processes, to journey into touch with Hashem and, in doing so, renews personal vigour and recharges spiritual potential.
The Jewish soul, the neshamah, has five levels. Three of these levels are enclothed in the body, two are not. The highest of the levels of the neshamah not enclothed in the body is called "Yechidah" - that part of the soul which is bound-up together with Hashem. On the day of Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat reaches that level of every neshamah which is "Yechidah", higher than any revelation of his neshamah in his body.
The three lower levels of the neshamah are revealed in the body. The neshamah has various powers which are revealed through organs of the body. For example, the neshamah has a power to see, and the power to see is revealed in the body. It is revealed in the body even without the organ which is instrumental in doing the seeing.
If a man's eye is impaired, he cannot see, but he still has the power to see. The proof is that we can mend the eye and the sight is restored. Similarly with hearing. Again, there is the power to hear and there is the instrument which hears. If the instrument is faulty, hearing is impaired. Nevertheless while the ear is faulty, the power to hear remains. Separate the neshamah from the body, by death, remove the power to hear, and the best ears in the world will still hear nothing.
The neshamah also has powers which are not enclothed or revealed in the body. The level of the Yechidah, as we have just learned, is not revealed in the body whatsoever. This is the level of the neshamah which responds when a Jew keeps Shabbat. Since this level of neshamah is independent of the physical body, the revelation is equal in all Jews.
As every Jew's Yechidah is part of Hashem Himself, there can be no concept of superiority or inferiority or a quantitive difference in a Jew's Yechidah; and it is specifically this level which is revealed on Shabbat. This is because the Yechidah, bound up and part of Hashem, is exposed and highlighted by the keeping of Shabbat. Not surprisingly, one can actually feel this. Ba'alei Teshuvah often report this phenomenon.
This is what Yaakov was doing establishing the boundaries for Shabbat as an inheritance for Am Yisrael forever. This inheritance is so specific that even Pharoah was bound by it in this parsha. These are the gates to freedom, mistakenly perceived by the uninitiated as limitations on freedom. When keeping Shabbat, a Jew is in touch with the level of his neshamah which is the Yechidah, and by doing so he is directly in touch, in a feeling sense, with G-d.