Shabbat is probably the most significant Jewish Holy Day in the Hebrew Calendar. The reason for its importance is twofold. The first is that it occurs fifty-two time a year. It was the first Holy Day marked and sanctified by G-d Himself when he created the Universe.
The second and no less weighty reason is that it is the sign of the Covenant made between G-d and Am Yisrael at Mount Sinai.
As we all know the Ten Commandments were given to Moses on that occasion. The third commandment addresses the tenet of Shabbat. There are two sets of the Tem Commandments in the Torah. One, in the Book of Shemot (Exodus) 20:1-20, the other in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 5:5-21.
The two sets are identical except for one difference, a difference of one word. It rests with the third commandment, the one dedicated to Shabbat.
In the Book of Shemot, we are commended to “Remember” the Shabbat. In the Book of Devarim, we are commanded to “Observe” the Shabbat.
Incidentally, that is why we light TWO candles when we welcome Shabbat. One for the directive to “Remember.” The other for the one to “Observe.”
Why, may you ask, is there one word that distinguishes between these two important sets of dictates?
This question has preoccupied me for a long time. I trust it has engaged the minds of many wiser and more learned scholars than myself.
As a Jew who is still in the process of educating myself about my own tradition, as one whose belief in the One G-d of Yisrael is growing deeper and deeper, I believe I have finally realized the reason.
It points, yet again, to the great wisdom and sensitivity of our Torah and the Jewish tradition that evolved out of it.
“Remembering” Shabbat does not require much hard work or great sacrifice.
It can be done in the form of lighting candles, having a family dinner, reciting the blessings or singing Shabbat songs.
Observing Shabbat, however, is not as easy. Moving from the mundane matters of the week into the Holy and refined atmosphere of Shabbat requires a shift to a different frame of mind. One must not only cease from all physical activities forbidden by Torah and those decreed by our sages. One also needs to enter a higher and more sanctified Spiritual realm.
Self-Discipline is a key factor when one chooses to embark upon the decision to observe Shabbat. Temptations to break it are always strewn along the way. These are obstacles that avert our focus from the intended goal.
The journey between “Remembering” and “Observing” Shabbat requires maturity and, in my view, also a higher emotional intelligence level (unless, of course, one has been raised according to it from an early age).
But above all, it requires an immersion in Holiness (Kodesh קודש( because that is the very unique nature of Shabbat
I honestly believe that the Torah recognized the difference and what it takes to move from one to the other.
The Ten commandments were first given to Am Yisrael shortly after they came out of Egypt from the House of Bondage.
At that stage, they were not ready to follow the laws and adhere to them.
As slaves, one could not expect this multitude to act independently, become a free People overnight and practice Freedom of choice. They had to be coached into becoming a Nation, a Culture and a Civilization.
Moreover, wandering in the desert for forty years did not make life easy for Am Yisrael. In addition to the harsh surrounding conditions, they had to be taught the laws and the requirements. They had to be given the tools and be prepared to observe them. The old generation that still possessed the slave mentality had to die out and a new generation of free people needed guidance, advice and direction. They had to be cleansed, to be purged in order to reach that level of purity, physical and spiritual which Observing Shabbat requires of us.
When they were getting closer to reaching their destination in the Book of Devarim, it was then that they were ready to move on to the next level of becoming an עם קדושים Am Kedoshim (a Holy Nation). It was time for them to move from the stage of “Remembering” to “Observing.”
It was, therefore, at that stage, I believe that the commandment regarding the Shabbat was altered.
Am Yisrael was finally ready to assume the role that G-d had destined for them. They were about to enter Eretz Yisrael and were expected to live, meet and fulfill the terms of the Covenant and reminded of it by adhering to its sign.
“The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
It is through the Shabbat, through “Remembering” it and “Observing” it that G-d will continue to bless and sanctify Am Yisrael.