Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Parshat Yitro

The Shabbat

In this week's parsha, God presents the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people, the fourth commandment being "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it" (Shemot 20:8).

This was not the first time Israel was commanded about the Shabbat, indeed, when collecting the Manna they were told: "Tomorrow is a rest day, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake whatever you wish to bake, and cook whatever you wish to cook, and all the rest leave over to keep until morning…Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day [which is the] Sabbath on it there will be none" (ibid 16:23-26).

Of course, Shabbat also appears as part of the Creation episode (Bereshit 2:1-3). Nevertheless, at this point Israel are told the purpose of the Shabbat: "For [in] six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it" (Shemot 20:11).

Nevertheless, when the Torah repeats the Ten Commandments in Sefer Devarim, it gives a different reason: "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (Devarim 5:15).

In the first account, the reason why God commands us to keep Shabbat is because God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh – so too we work for six days but must rest on the seventh.

In the second account, we keep the Shabbat because we were slaves in Egypt and God freed us.

What is the Torah trying to teach us by giving these two reasons? The Rabbis explain the difference between them in the opening sentence of each account. Shemot's account begins with the words "Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it" (Shemot 20:8) while the Devarim account begins with words "Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it" (Devarim 5:12).

"Remember" refers to the positive commandments we must do to sanctify the day, while "Keep" refers to the negative commandments we must not do to sanctify the day.

We must sanctify the seventh day because God made the day holy when He created the earth, so too we must do activities to sanctify the day. However there are also things we cannot do, because doing them would break the sanctity of the day. This is because we were slaves in Egypt. Slaves have no rest. They must always do their work and cannot take time off. It breaks their human dignity. Therefore, God says that Israel must stop working as they are no longer slaves.

By sanctifying the day we are sanctifying God and by stopping work, we are sanctifying humanity, restoring their dignity. These are the two sides of Shabbat.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Yitro, entitled: " Revelation and Distance" appears at
Another Sedra Short on Parshat Yitro, entitled: "The Chosen People" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Yitro, entitled: "Midyan, Amalek and Matan Torah" appears at

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