Drasha given in Kinor David on Shabbat VaYakhel-Pekudei / Parah, 23 Adar 5778.
Today is the Yahrtzeit of my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l; who was a member of Kinor David for ten years. It’s been five years since his passing. This Drasha is in his memory.
Moshe gathers the Jewish People to tell them about the commandment to build the Mishkan, to fulfill the ambition of “I shall dwell among you” – G-d’s Presence within the Jewish People, serving G-d through sacrifices, the Holy of Holies.
This is how he starts:
“Moshe gathered the entire Jewish People; he said to them: This is what Hashem commanded you to do:
Six days, you should do work, and on the seventh day, you shall have holiness, Shabbat-Shabbaton to Hashem… (Shemot 35)”
And only then does he continue:
“Moshe said to the entire Jewish People, saying: This is what Hashem commanded you: take donations from among you for Hashem…”
Before the building of the Mishkan could begin, they had to be told to keep Shabbat.
So, first of all, on a practical level, this is how we learn what is considered “work” for the purposes of the Laws of Shabbat: anything that is necessary for the building of the Mishkan is forbidden on Shabbat. That is the source of the 39 Melachot of Shabbat.
But taking a step back, there is a bigger picture. The two commandments are two related ways to serve G-d, two forms of sacrifice: keeping Shabbat, and the sacrificial service of the Mishkan.
In our Siddur, there are phrases that we add on Shabbat. They begin with the word “Retzei” (accept). We say, “Retzei ve’Hachlitzenu”, “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”. This term is normally used in the context of serving G-d through sacrifices (and the prayers that substitute for them). For instance, the blessing in the Amida, “Retzei”, is labeled by the Koren Siddur as “Avodah” (Service). It says, “Accept the Jewish People and their prayers and bring back the Service …. May their Service be accepted by You”. “Retzei”, “accept”, refers to the Service of G-d, Avodah.
What, then, is “Retzei be’Menuchateinu”, “accept our rest”?
Our rest is, in itself, our Avodah, our Service. Shabbat, too, is sacrifice.
Those of us who grew up keeping Shabbat do not always appreciate how much of a sacrifice it really is – a sacrifice of our time, our money, of opportunities; in our career, our businesses, our lives in general. This is true even living here in Israel, where it’s relatively easy to keep Shabbat; not to mention other times in our not-too-distant history when people would be told “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t come in on Monday.”
And even so – for those of us in hi-tech, which needs to run 24/7, for university students who might have a test on Thursday and a project due on Sunday, for family that lives out of town that you don’t get to see, for friends that go out on Friday night that you can’t join – this is sacrifice, this is serving G-d. We pray that our sacrifice, our rest, will be accepted: “Retzei be’Menuchateinu.”
I read an article recently, about the sociology of Modern Orthodox people, in particular, of women, which suggested that we have three shifts. Work is one shift, family is the second. The third shift is Shabbat. It’s not one day of seven, it’s an entire “shift”.
When I read that, I thought, yes, well, till I finish clearing up after Shabbat, it’s around … Tuesday… and by then I’m already inviting guests for the next Shabbat. So yes, it’s a whole shift.
But that same article pointed out how that third shift, Shabbat, gives balance to the other two, and meaning to the rest of our lives. It is an opportunity to be with the family, with ourselves, to get dressed up, to enjoy good food, to see friends, to come to shul, to sing and to pray. It is not a punishment, it is a gift.
There is another phrase that we add to our prayers for Shabbat – in fact, we will do so this Pesach, which is approaching all too soon. In the Kiddush of the Seder, we will add “Be’Ahava”. And during the Amida, we will add “BeAhava u’ve’Ratzon”. Not just Ratzon, but also Ahava. Because Shabbat is a gift of love from the Ribono shel Olam, His love for us, and our love for Him.
My father, as you might know, did not grow up with Shabbat. It was not possible to observe Shabbat in the Soviet Union, to say the least. So when we came to America and were reunited with a Torah observant Jewish community, it was very difficult for him to understand Shabbat. Why are some things considered Melacha, and forbidden, and other things, which require more effort, are permitted? We were invited for many Shabbat meals by families in our community in Far Rockaway, week after week for years at a time, but it was Shabbat from the outside.
Then we all went to Israel for a 3 week trip, and there, my father experienced Shabbat from the inside, the whole thing. When we got back, he said, “I understand that He wants me to go to Shul on Shabbos.” So he did. And clearly, when one comes home from Shul, one makes Kiddush, and if one makes Kiddush, one has to have a bite of something, yes? And so it was.
He had Shabbat, with friends in shul, with singing, and davening, with an ironed shirt, and brandy for Kiddush. Be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.
And on his last Shabbat, he came to Kinor David, in a Shabbat shirt, to be with us all, and enjoy Shabbat, be’Ahava u’ve’Ratzon.