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Shabbat Parashat Masei 5779

Ein Ayah: Which Element of Shabbat Precedes Sinai?

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:52)

Gemara: [Last time we saw two opinions about whether the journey from Refidim to Sinai took place on a Friday or on a Shabbat.] They disagree as to the nature of the laws of Shabbat given to Bnei Yisrael in Mara [before the giving of most of the Torah], as the pasuk says regarding Shabbat at Sinai: “… as Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you” (Devarim 5:12), and Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “as He commanded you” in Mara. One held that they were commanded about the basic prohibitions of Shabbat but not about techumin (the limits of how far one may walk), and the other reasons that they were commanded even about techumin.   


Ein Ayah: The high light that Shabbat gives off is the recognition of the divine that precedes the Creation, touches upon the Possessor of heaven and earth, and renews the world and all that is in it. Life that follows this great recognition goes well beyond a life of recognition of how the world runs in the present. In fact, the world as it exists in the present is elevated according to the degree to which it draws inspiration from the renewal, which is the foundation of the sanctity of Shabbat.

After Shabbat was given, before the rest of the Torah in Mara, and life was lived with a recognition of the Creator, Bnei Yisrael saw the world as appearing totally anew and were prepared to come to Sinai to accept the Torah. All of the many branches of the laws of Shabbat are independent mimickings and internal penetrations into the revelation of sanctity of the upper truth that completes the recognition of Hashem and the way the world relates to the divine light. The part of the spiritual experience of Shabbat that needed to precede the Torah is the basic recognition of Hashem in that light.

In contrast, the matter of techumin is not to deepen the light of Shabbat on man any more than was already achieved by means of the rest of the laws of Shabbat. Rather the function of techumin is to bolster the proper position of man and of the nation [during Shabbat]. The recognition of a person’s remaining in his place, in his encampment, because the holy day is upon him, firms up the insignia of being rooted in the depth of life that emanates from the foundation of the recognition of the heritage of Shabbat.

One can then contemplate. On the one hand, the entire Torah is designed to provide a basis for this lofty status, as Israel’s special sanctity comes from the idea of “to know that I am Hashem Who makes you holy” (Shemot 31:13). Therefore, there is no need for the laws of techumin to precede the giving of the Torah. It is enough that the light of Shabbat in general, with its great details that deepen its presence in a person’s life, existed before the giving of the Torah. That is because the extending of the details of Shabbat connects Shabbat to the entirety of the laws of the Torah, to which Shabbat corresponds.

The other opinion posits that bolstering life according to the light of Shabbat was not intended as an independent matter but is a basic condition of the deep sanctity of recognizing the loftiness of Hashem as the One who renews all of the existence of the world. The same Master of the World who existed before the world was created is the same One who grants the Shabbat observer a life that is based upon the foundation of the sanctity of Shabbat. The remembrance of Shabbat, which is spread over the entire week, is a condition to realizing the immense sanctity of Hashem. Therefore, according to the second approach, the entire experience of Shabbat, including how it impacts a person’s standing, as finds expression through techumin, also should precede the Torah.
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