Red Skies and Shabbat Wonders
Walking to Shul last week for Shabbat Mincha, we were greeted by the most phenomenal sunset. The entire western sky was a deep and vibrant red, whilst to the east was a perfect double rainbow. Of course, we then debated what that meant, and what indeed was the meaning of red sky at night – shepherd’s delight; although one of the Minyan men said red sky at night – shepherd’s cottage alight!
But I was thinking about that when reading the repetition of the 10 Commandments in this week’s Sedra. There are a few grammatical changes from the first account of the 10 Commandments in the Sedra of Yisro, but those are due to the fact that this time Moshe is saying them as opposed to Hashem. However, when detailing the fourth commandment, the Mitzvah of Shabbat, we are presented with an entirely different reason for keeping the Mitzvah. In Yisro it is to remember the creation of the world, whereas in our Sedra of Va’eschanan it is to remember the Exodus from Egypt.
Why two totally different reasons for the same Mitzvah?
The answer is that neither of those are the reason for the Mitzvah of Shabbat, but rather a guide as to how to appreciate Shabbat. For Shabbat is unique in that it is actually about creating a partnership with Hashem and His involvement in the world. We stop working to remind ourselves that we aren’t the ones in charge of our livelihood, but are part of the greater story as written by the Master Author. The reason for the Mitzvah of Shabbat it to enforce that partnership.
The two aspects of Creation and the Exodus are guides as to how we understand that partnership and the reason for Shabbat.
When speaking to the Jewish Nation at Mount Sinai, Hashem was speaking to an inspired Nation, a Nation that could literally look at the world around them and see the Hand of Hashem. For them to understand Shabbat and our partnership with the Almighty it was enough to connect Shabbat with the 6 Days of Creation. 40 years later however, Moshe was speaking to a generation later on, to a Nation that was about to enter into the Holy Land and would have to be more intimately involved in nature. We would see the rising of the sun as the norm not as proof of Hashem. We would have to toil the earth ourselves instead of receiving the Manna from Heaven, and would understandably get lost in the nature and lose sight of the Divine Hand. Moshe therefore connected our partnership with Hashem that is spelt out by Shabbat with the Exodus as opposed to the Creation. We needed the ‘aha moment’, the miraculous nature of the Exodus as a visual reminder of Hashem constantly creating the world.
Moshe was telling that Generation, and indeed every Jew right until the 21st century and beyond, that whilst it might be nice to recognise Hashem’s constant connection with the world through the everyday nature of life, it is probably easier to do so when confronted by the different, unnatural and miraculous moments. Watching the daily sunrise might not do it, but seeing a spectacular bright red sunset probably does. A regular day in the office undoubtedly doesn’t, but bumping into the right contact at exactly the right moment, just when you are about to close the deal and desperately need their expertise, does – or at least it should!
Moshe was letting them and us know, that when we have those ‘aha moments’, such as the Exodus or the birth of a child, such as the miraculous rescue from the devastating car crash or the right-place/right-time event, that we need to grab hold of them as our personal gift. The gift that we are presented with every Shabbat, but unfortunately also take for granted. Shabbat is not just about letting Hashem into our lives, it is about letting ourselves recognize that Hashem is already part of lives.