Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )
Bereishit, 26:5: “Because Avraham heeded My voice, he observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees and My laws.
Yoma, 28b: “Rav says, ‘Our father, Avraham kept the entire Torah as it says, ‘because Avraham heeded My voice…
In the Torah Portion of Toldot, G-d blesses Yitzchak in the merit of his father, Avraham, because Avraham listened to G-d’s voice. The Talmud explains that this is coming to teach that Avraham actually kept the Torah even before it was given. Most commentaries understand that all the Patriarchs and the sons of Yaakov also observed the Torah. How could they keep the Torah before the Mitzvot were revealed? The commentaries explain that even without being formally commanded about the Mitzvot, the heightened spiritual sensitivity of the Patriarchs enabled them to independently intuit what actions constituted Mitzvot.
A number of questions are asked on this piece of Talmud based on sources that indicate that the Patriarchs did not always keep the Torah. Most notably, the commentaries ask how Yaakov could marry two sisters, which is expressly forbidden by the Torah. One well-known approach to this question is that of the Ramban.1 The Ramban explains that the Patriarchs only kept the Torah when in Eretz Yisrael as they perceived that living in the Land of Iisrael entailed keeping the Mitzvot even though they had not been commanded yet. However, when they were out of the Land of Israel, they did not adopt this practice. Yaakov married two sisters when he was out of Israel. He also notes that this is why Rachel, the second wife, died before they entered Eretz Yisrael as it would have been forbidden there to be married to two sisters.
However, the Ramban then notes a seeming contradiction to his assertion that the Patriarchs and Yaakov’s sons did not keep the Torah outside of the Land of Israel. The Midrash2 states that Yaakov’s son, Yosef, observed Shabbos even when he was in Egypt. According to the Ramban, why did Yosef do this given he was not in Israel? The Ramban answers that Shabbat was an exception deemed necessary by Yosef because he wanted to instill the fundamentals of Emunah and monotheism into his children who were living in the idolatrous surroundings of Egypt. However, there was no concept of Yosef or the Patriarchs keeping other parts of the Torah when they were out of Israel.
The Ramban’s explanation about Yosef’s Shabbos observance serves as a reminder as to the seminal importance of Shabbat observance in our relationship with G-d. In a similar vein, its significance to the well-being of the Jewish people has been continually stressed by Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein in the difficult times that the Jewish people finds itself in now, with our existence in the land being threatened. Indeed, Rabbi Zilberstein notes that there is a clear link between Shabbat observance and our ability to live in the Land of Israel in peace.
He cites a verse in Isaiah that we read in the Haftarah of Yom Kippur: “If you restrain, because of Shabbat, your feet, refrain from accomplishing your own needs on My Holy day; If you proclaim the Shabbat a delight…and you honor it by not engaging in your own ways, from seeking your needs or discussing the forbidden. Then you shall be granted pleasure with Hashem and I shall mount you astride the heights of the land; and I will provide you the heritage of your forefather, Yaakov.3 Rabbi Zilberstein points out that the Prophet is making a causative link between properly observing the Shabbos and living in peace in Israel. The implication being that if one does not keep Shabbat, then things will not be good in the land.
Rabbi Zilberstein adds a similar point made by Rabbeinu Bechaye in Kad Hakemach. He points out that Shabbat is called ‘menucha’ (rest), as it says, ‘Veyanach beyon hashevii’4 – “He G-d) rested on the seventh day. The Land of Israel is also called ‘menucha’ as it says, “el hamenucha v’el hanachalah’,5 which refers to the Land of Israel. We see from here that Shabbat and the Land are interlinked. The Torah promises that if the Jewish people will preserve the menucha of Shabbos, then God will protect them in the Land, and if they do not keep Shabbat, then He will decree that the land be destroyed.
Rabbi Zilberstein then explains the connection with an analogy of the Dubno Maggid. In his words:
“There was a King who had a minister. Sometimes, this minister obeyed the king, and other times, he didn’t obey him so well. But the minister retained the king’s favor because he had a very clever wife whose advice the king greatly valued. Once the woman came to the palace, and the king saw that she was beaten and bloody. The king asked what happened to hear, and she refused to answer. Again and again, he pressed her for an explanation, but she would not respond. ‘I’m guessed that you were beaten’, the king said. Silence. ‘It’s clear to me’, the king said, ‘that you were beaten by your husband, and therefore he will be hanged at once. I should have killed him long ago – he has long lost my favor. I only kept him alive because of his wife. Now that he is mistreating his wife, then what used to I have for him?”‘\6
Rabbi Zilberstein continues: “The parable of the Dubno Maggid explains how the existence of the Jewish people in intertwined with its observance of Shabbat. Shabbat sometimes cries, it pains me to say. Our Shabbat is the queen, Shabbos Malketa, Lecha Dodi likrat kallah. And the King – The Holy One, Blessed is He – sees Shabbat crying and trampled, and therefore the people of Israel loses whatever merit they have.
The obvious lesson to be derived from these ideas is of the importance for each person, according to his or her level, to improve their observance of Shabbat. If a person does not learn the laws of Shabbat, it is impossible for him to keep it properly as there are so many intricate laws that a person cannot even be aware of if he hasn’t learnt the laws. Rav Zilberstein suggests that everyone learn two laws of Shabbat a day. There is also now a proliferation of programs that offer in-depth learning of the Laws of Shabbat both for men and women. Another way to improve Shabbat observance is to positively influence others in their Shabbat observance. One way of doing that is by inviting people who have not merited to experience a true Shabbat for Shabbat meals so that they can see first-hand the beauty of Shabbat.
May we all merit to properly keep Shabbat and thereby we will be kept safely in the Land.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Ramban, 26:5. There are a number of other answers to this question. See Daat Zekeinim, Bereishit, 37:35; Gur Aryeh, Bereishit, 46:10; Nefesh HaChaim, 1:21.
- Bereishit Rabbah, 92:4.
- Yeshaya, 58:13-14.
- Shemot, 20:11.
- Devarim, 12:9.
- Cited in Mishpacha, Parshat Noach, 5784.;;;\
Bear in mind that the above article was written for Jews. Noahide do not have the commandment to observe the Shabbat, only the opportunity to honour it and remember that G-d created the world in 7 days. But we may, if we know Jews, point out to them how important it is for them to observe Shabbat and daa where we can support them in this. Noahide can have a meal with family on Shabbat and can certainly talk about the Torah and learn from it.
Reprinted with permission
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