In Porashat Emor (Leviticus 23:2-3) it is written: "Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, The festivals of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings, these are my festivals. Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, a holy gathering." Rashi asks: "What is the connection between the Sabbath and the Festivals? To teach you that desecrating the festivals is like desecrating the Sabbath and observing the festivals is like observing the Sabbath."
The difficulty that Rashi took notice of is a powerful one, for the Scripture, referring to the festivals proclaimed by the court (beit din), began by saying: "The festivals of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy gatherings." But the Scripture proceeds at once with the words: "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest," which refers to the Sabbath, which occurs every seventh day independently of the proclamation of the beit din. Now given the difficulty of the question, the answer is wholly unsatisfactory, for the comparison between the festivals and the Sabbath and of the corresponding analogy between desecrating the festivals and desecrating the Sabbath are totally obscure. In what sense are the festivals comparable to the Sabbath? Violating the festivals carries a different penalty (lashes) from that (death by stoning) for violating the Sabbath. Moreover, one who desecrates the Sabbath is considered to be like an idolator. As the Sages say in Hullin 5a, the Sabbath is as strict as idolatry. But the festivals, presumably, are less strict.
Now it is true that we find in Avot (3:11), that R. Eleazar of Modin says that one who profanes things sacred, and one who slights the festivals, has no share in the world to come. And in Pesahim 118a, R. Shesheth says on the authority of R. Eleazar b. Azariah that one who despises the Festivals is as though he engaged in idolatry, for it says (Exodus 34:17) "you shall make for yourself no molten gods" which is followed by (Id. 18): "the Feast of Unlevened Bread you shall keep." So the Sages apparently did attribute a severity to the slighting of the festivals that was comparable to idolatry. However, this comparison is itself a locked riddle. For what connection is there between the desecration of the festivals and idolatry?(1)
It appears to me that the explanation for this problem is to be found in the Maharsha (Hidushei Aggadot, Makot 23a where the saying of R. Shesheth in the name of R. Eleazar b. Azariah is also mentioned). And because they are so dear to me, I will quote his golden words:
The abrogation of the festivals in their appointed time leads to idolatry as we found with Jeroboam who said (1 Kings 12:27-28): "If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn back to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah. And the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you out of the land of Egypt." He made this up on his own. And the reason [that slighting the festivals leads to idodatry] is that the festivals commemorate, as mentioned in the text of the liturgy, the exodus from Egypt which showed the existence and power of the Blessed One. And this is why it is said "you shall not make for yourself molten gods" - a reference to the golden calf mentioned in the same chapter just before the commandment to keep "the Festival of the Unleavened Bread" at its appointed time. Jeroboam reversed this by making a calf and saying these are the gods that took you from the land of Egypt and instituted a festival not at its appointed time.
The Maharsha has here cast light on this remarkable statement derived from R. Eleazar b. Azariah. What it means is that, by slighting the festivals, one denies the idea of Divine Providence and Heavenly Direction. This, in essence, was the terrible sin of the Golden Calf in the desert when they said "these are the gods that took you up from the land of Egypt." They were denying not that the Holy One Blessed Be He created the world, but that He conducts and oversees the path of the world and the deeds of mankind. (See the lengthy discussion in my chapter on the sin of the Golden Calf.)
In the chapter Heleq of the tractate Sanhedrin, Maimonides lists as the first of his thirteen principles of faith: "I believe with perfect faith that there is a creator and conductor of all creatures and that He alone made, makes and will make all things." The faith of Israel is thus based on two fundamental principles: a Creator of the world ex nihilo and a Guide and Overseer of all things.
The Sabbath commemorates the creation of the world - the existence of a Creator, while the festivals, which are all linked to the miraculous and wonderful events performed in Egypt, all demonstrate the existence of a Supreme Overseer and Guide. Passover is connected to the miracle of the plague of the firstborn and the exodus from Egypt and Shavuot to the giving of the Torah (see my chapter on Shavuot). On Atzeret(2) judgment is rendered on the upcoming harvest of grain "for the eyes of the Lord are on the Land from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." The festival of Sukkot is linked (Leviticus 23:42) to the miracles of the desert ("that your generations may know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths"). Rosh Hashanah, too, is associated with Divine Providence, because the entire world is judged on that day. And Yom Kippur is connected with the giving of the second tablets, as it is said at the end of the tractate Ta'anith (30b), "there were never in Israel greater days of joy than the day of atonement" on which the second Tables of the Law were given. On Yom Kippur the judgment of Israel, for each individual and for the entire community, is sealed. So it is that all the festivals represent the reality of a Supreme Overseer and Guide.
In my chapter on the Sabbath, you will find at length the words of Nachmanides and the Ba'al ha-Ikrim, whose upshot is that these two principles of faith - the existence of a Creator and a Guide - are interdependent: if there is a Creator, you must also admit that there is a Guide, and if there is a Guide, there must be a Creator. For the One who created the world ex nihilo must have the power and capacity to alter the natural order and to perform miracles and wonders. And the reverse holds also. One who has the power and capacity to perform miracles and wonders must also have the power and capacity to create the world ex nihilo.
The difficult statements with which we began now appear before us in a pure and clear light. One who belittles the festivals refers to one who does not believe that there is a Supreme Providence and Supreme Guide and does not believe in all the miracles and wonders that were performed for our forefathers in Egypt and the desert. Such a one is like an idolater, for to deny the capacity of the Creator to perform miracles and wonders and to change the natural order is as serious as to desecrate the Sabbath, which is tantamount to denying the Creation, and is therefore akin to idolatry. As Rashi explained, this is what the Torah meant by listing the Sabbath before all the festivals. For the Sabbath represents the idea of a Creator, and the festivals represent the idea of Supreme Director. And upon these two principles, which are merely aspects of a single idea, the faith of Israel is founded. Complementing each other, the Sabbath and the festivals are, therefore, like a single entity, and are on an equal plane.
Why, then, did the Torah assign different penalties for the violation of the Sabbath and the violation of the festivals? I answer as follows.
One can certainly distinguish between the Sabbath and the festivals in that the Creation of the world ex nihilo is known to us only because the story of Creation was written in the Torah by Moses as dictated by the Almighty. But the events of the first six days of Creation were seen by none but G-d. Because the belief in the Creation is based only on what is written in the Torah, this belief had to be reinforced by imposing the most severe penalty for denying, through desecrating the Sabbath, the Creation. The Torah therefore imposes the penalty of death by stoning, just as it does for idolatry, for desecrating the Sabbath. And later in this book you will find a marvelous explanation that the observance of the Sabbath is the only commandment that, as the Torah explicitly tells us, the Holy One Blessed Be He Himself in His glory fulfilled. Does the Scripture not say (Exodus 31:16): "that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed." Is this not sufficient reason for the most severe penalty to be imposed for desecrating the Sabbath?
But the belief in the Supreme oversight and guidance is based not just on what the Torah writes about the ten plagues, the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the War of Amalek, the giving of the Torah, and the rest of the miracles and wonders in the desert. All these miracles our forefathers who left Egypt actually saw. And all this they passed down to their descendants, parents to children until today. Since the belief in Supreme oversight stems from, and is rooted in, eyewitness testimony, it was not as necessary to reinforce this belief by imposing the most severe punishment for desecrating the festivals as it was to reinforce the belief in the Creation by severely punishing desecration of the Sabbath. This is similar to the Talmudic statement (Eiruvin 77a, Yevamot 36b) "the Sages have applied to their enactments higher restrictions than to those of the Torah." And below you will find what Rabbeinu Bachya wrote in the name of the Midrash in porashat Ki Tisa that, through the giving of the first Tables of the Law, which occurred on the Sabbath, the Creation of the heaven and earth was completed. So it was absolutely proper that the desecration of the Sabbath, on which the Creation was completed, should carry the most severe of all penalties.
This also explains why the Torah, in commanding observance of the Sabbath, refers (Exodus 31:13, Leviticus 19:3, 30, 26:30) to "my Sabbaths" in plural, a usage for which the commentators have offered a variety of explanations. According to our suggestion, this usage is very appropriate, for the Sabbath and the festivals represent the two principles of faith of belief in the creation of the world and the reality of Divine oversight and guidance. Since these two principles of faith are, as I shall further explain at length, interdependent and complementary, it is entirely proper to use the appellation "Sabbaths" in plural to encompass both the Sabbath and the festivals to avoid any distinction between the two connected principles of faith symbolized by the Sabbath and the festivals.(3) At any rate, it is readily understandable that the Torah prescribed a severe penalty for the desecration of the Sabbath in order to reinforce the foundations of faith in the Creation, it was unnecessary to attach so severe a penalty for desecrating the festivals, thereby denying Divine oversight and guidance.(4) All the texts concerning which we raised questions are thus coherently reconciled.
One further point to complete our discussion. Do not be troubled that the sin of the golden calf was of such magnitude that the Holy One Blessed Be He said (Exodus 32:10): "Now therefore let me alone, that my anger may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them." And our Sages said in Sanhedrin 102a that no retribution whatsoever comes upon the world which does not contain a slight fraction of the sin of the golden calf as it says (Id. 34) "in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them." And the sin of the golden calf was not a denial of the belief in the creation of the world, but in Heavenly oversight and guidance when they said (Id. 4) "these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." If so, why was the sin of the golden calf any different from desecrating the festivals, which is not a capital offense as is the sin of desecrating the Sabbath? But it appears that this is not really a difficulty, for in the sin of the golden calf it was not just the individuals who were punished but the people as it says (Id. 7): "Go down; for your people, that you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves." So all the misfortunes that followed from the sin of the golden calf resulted not from individuals but from the entire community. But an individual who does not believe in Divine Providence is not punished as severely as one who denies the Creation. See below the discussion at length about the sin of the golden calf and you will be pleased.
In order to make it easier for the reader, I believe it appropriate to discuss in this introduction four basic principles that will speed the reader on his way through this work and will obviate the need for repetition and lengthening when it is possible to be concise.
In porashat Bereshit it is written (Genesis 1:31). And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day" (yom ha-shishi). And this is what Rashi says:
The letter "heh" was added to the word "shishi" to indicate that G-d created the world on the condition that the people of Israel would accept the five books of the Bible (symbolized by the letter "heh," which also stands for the number "five"). Another explanation, "the sixth day"- everything was hanging in the balance until the sixth day, i.e. the sixth day of the month of Sivan [in some editions: that the sixth day of Sivan, on which the people of Israel accepted the Torah, reinforced the Creation, so that it was as if the world had been created at that moment, and this is why it is called the sixth day in reference to the sixth day of Sivan] which was ordained for the giving of the Torah.
These words of Rashi are taken from the Gemara (Shabbat 88a, see also Avodah Zara 3a, 5a). "For Resh Lakish said: Why is it written, 'And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day?' What is the purpose of the additional 'the'? This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said thereto. 'If Israel accepts the Torah, ye shall exist; but if not, I will turn you back into emptiness and formlessness." And "what," Rashi writes there, "is different about the last day of Creation that requires it to be written with an extra "heh"? To teach us that G-d made a condition with the Creation. "The sixth" (ha-shishi) implies something that is singled out elsewhere for identification, as we say in general (Hullin 91a) 'the thigh (ha-yerekh), this implies the right thigh.' Even here the words "there was evening and there was morning" at the end of the Creation depend on the sixth day, i.e., the sixth day of Sivan on which the Torah was given. It was from the extra "heh," that he deduced this as well."
And I have come to explain that while the extra "heh" is certainly a correct and pleasing allusion to the five books of the Bible that were given on the sixth day of Sivan, Rashi does not explain how the "heh" provides an allusion to the condition that the Holy One Blessed Be He made with the Creation that its survival was contingent on the giving of the Torah to Israel. Our Sages, to be sure, did deduce in Pesahim (118a) that the Great Hallel (i.e. the twenty-six verses of Hodu) corresponds to the twenty-six generations from Adam until the Torah was given, during which time the world survived, through the mercy of the Almighty, without the Torah. And they similarly deduced in the Midrash to the verse (Psalms 89:3) "the world is built on kindness" that the world survived all the generations from Adam until the giving of the Torah only because of the kindness of the Almighty.
So it is found with the giving of the Torah (Exodus 31:18): "And He gave to Moses, when He finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of G-d." Two tablets of testimony represented heaven and earth, signifying that heaven and earth were thereby completed, as is explained in Midrash Rabbah (Deuteronomy Rabbah 3:16). See also what Rabbeinu Bahya writes (porashat Ki Tisa) on the verse "And the tablets were the work of G-d."
The meaning is not active work but the work of G-d in speaking, as it says "with the word of G-d were heaven and earth made" and it is written "on the day that the Lord G-d made heaven and earth." And the meaning is that through the tablets G-d's creation of heaven and earth were secured.
But the difficulty remains. Where is it indicated that the Creation only existed conditionally? Where, moreover, is there any mention of a condition? And it is a towering wonder in my eyes that no one was ever troubled by this.
The answer, it seems to me, is based on the Gemara in Menahot 29b that they suspend the leg of the "heh" (i.e. the left leg) and that the world was created with the letter "heh" as it is written (Genesis 2:4) "These are the generations of the heaven and of the hearth when they were created ( )," which can be read to mean that G-d created them with the letter "heh." The Gemara then asks why was the world created with the letter "heh." And the answer is given that the world is like an exedra (i.e., a structure closed on three sides and open on the fourth) so that anyone that wishes to go astray may do so, but if he wishes to repent they assist him (i.e., he may go through the opening between the left leg and the top bar of the "heh"). The Gemara questions further: then let him repent (go up) through the bottom opening of the "heh" through which he went out? And the Gemara answers that such an opportunity would not arise, as Resh Lakish said: "What is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 3:34) 'Towards the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.' If one comes to purify himself, they assist him, but if one comes to defile himself they open the door for him." (Rashi explains that one who seeks to purify himself requires assistance because of the evil inclination, they therefore provided extra assistance by providing another opening, i.e, the gap between the left leg of the heh and the bar atop the "heh".(5))
This entire derivation corresponds to the derivation of the Sages on the verse (Lamentations 5:21): "Return us, O G-d, to Thee, and we will return." The Holy One Blessed Be He says, "Open for me an opening as small as a pin and I will open for you an opening as large as a great hall."(6) From all this it is clear that the "heh" with which the world was created teaches us about and suggests the condition that the Holy One Blessed Be He made with the world that if they repent with a small opening, He will assist them by making a wide opening. And it is specifically the "heh" which suggests this condition, because its left leg stands dangling in the air. Anything whose existence depends on some external condition is considered as though it were dangling in air. All this means that the survival of the world was contingent on the fulfillment of the condition that the Holy One Blessed Be He stipulated at the creation that if the Jewish people would accept the five books of the Torah it would be well, but it not the world would be returned to emptiness and chaos. And thus, the letter "heh," whose numerical value is five, itself represents this condition because its left leg dangles unsupported. The "heh" added to shishi therefore certainly indicates that the survival of the world hung in the balance until the sixth day of Sivan, the day on which the Torah was accepted at Sinai. And this, thanks to G-d, is a wonderful idea.
With this idea we can also understand another derivation in the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 9:14) concerning the "heh" of "ha-shishi." R. Judan said: This ("yom ha-shishi") intimates the extra hour which we add from the profane to the sacred, and in it the work of creating the world was finished.(7) The Matnot Kehunah on the Midrash explains in the name of Rashi that the "heh" comes to teach that the last hour of the sixth day was the first hour of the Sabbath. But this derivation also requires explanation, for how is the obligation to add to the Sabbath from the weekday suggested by the letter "heh" of "ha-shishi"? Moreover, how could an hour be added to the Sabbath, a day of rest and respite, and taken from the weekdays, days of work and activity? The Holy One Blessed Be He, Himself, did not add to the Sabbath from the weekday, inasmuch as there were ten things that He created at twilight of the sixth day.
But the difficulty can be explained once we understand that the derivation of R. Judan is based on the above mentioned saying of Resh Lakish, that the added "heh" of "ha-shishi" is hinting at the five books of the Torah that were given on the sixth day of Sivan. Now, on its face, this is a blatant contradiction, as the Scripture says "And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day," and this supposedly refers to the day on which the Torah was given, the sixth day of Sivan. But is it not stated in Shabbat 88a, that everyone agrees that the Torah was given on the Sabbath? So how can we derive from the "heh" a reference to the giving of the Torah, which was on the Sabbath, from the word "ha-shishi," whose plain meaning is not to Sabbath but to the sixth day of Creation? This is a clear contradiction, but if we say that there is a requirement to add from the profane to the holy, so that the Sabbath already begins on the last hour of the sixth day, it is correct and true. For in that case, the beginning of the Sabbath coincides with the last hour of the sixth day. We therefore properly derive from the word "ha-shishi" that the Sabbath begins before the end of the sixth day, which is the source and foundation for the obligation of adding to the Sabbath from the previous day. And this is truly hinted at by the "heh" of ha-shishi, because the Torah was given on the sixth day of Sivan which fell on the Sabbath. And meditate on this, for it is a sublime idea.
Let me return now to the theme of the first principle. In the Gemara Avodah Zara 9a we learn: It was taught in the school of Elijah, the world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand years are to be void; the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah." From these words it is clear that the original condition, in which everything was unformed and void (tohu va-vohu), that prevailed before the Creation persisted for two thousand years after the Creation until the giving of the Torah. This is not merely an Aggadic hyperbole and exaggeration; its plain meaning is literally true. To be sure, the physical and material Creation was completed on the sixth day of Creation, but the entire Creation remained like a body without a soul. For the material world was lacking the moral foundation without which the world could not survive. The world, that is mankind, could not exist or survive without the doctrines and foundations of law and justice and social order. As Rabban Simeon b. Gamliel states (Avot 1:18): "On three things does the world stand, on justice, on truth, and on peace." This proposition apparently requires no proof text from the Torah or other sources, for it is an acknowledged truth derived from sound reasoning and straightforward thinking. And it is a settled halakhah that sound reasoning requires no Scriptural support.
Let me illustrate this idea in brief by mentioning just the events at the two boundaries: the beginning of Creation and our own generation. The history of mankind begins with the murder of Abel by Cain. In the era of Noah, the world was filled with violence and corruption, which caused the Holy One Blessed Be He to bring a flood upon the world. Then came the generation of the dispersion and many more ugly deeds that shook and undermined the foundations of the world. And in the terrible era in which we now live, all the foundations of law and justice, righteousness and morality were enfeebled and collapsed, which brought that awful flood of fire when the entire world descended to the lowest depths, and it seemed as if it were dislodged from its place [tziro v'kotvo]. The hard and bitter lessons of life prove to us the simple meaning of the verse (Jeremiah 33:25), "If I have not established my covenant with day and night and with the ordinances of heaven and earth."
The physical world was completed in the six days of Creation. "What was the world lacking?" our Sages asked. To this I answer, relying on Scripture and the sayings of our Sages: The material creation was lacking soul and spirit, until the giving of the Torah. On the Sabbath on which the breath of life was received as it is written, "And he was refreshed [va-yinafash]" (Exodus 31:17). The words of our Rabbis that until the sixth of Sivan the entire world survived only on the condition that Israel would accept the Torah and that otherwise the world would revert to chaos and abyss are therefore correct and true. And it is well said in Pesahim 68b: "R. Eleazar said, "But for the Torah, heaven and earth would not endure."
And now we come to the first principle: At the end of the six days of Creation, the world was complete only in a material and physical sense, but it remained in the state of chaos and abyss for two thousand years until the giving of the Torah when the world was secured on the foundations of morality, law, righteousness and justice. All human development in its moral sense began only from the time of the giving of the Torah, and all laws of righteousness and justice have their basis and origin and essence in the holy Torah from heaven. This is the spring from which all the nations have drawn. It is the foundation stone upon which the foundations of the world - physical, material, and moral - are built and fortified and without which the entire world would, as our Sages taught, have reverted to chaos and abyss.
From what was said concerning the first principle, it follows that the greatest event in world history since the six days of Creation was the Revelation at Sinai and the acceptance of the Torah by Israel. I reiterate that it was the greatest event in the history of all the nations, because the Creation was completed and perfected through the receiving of the Torah. Through the accepting of the Torah, the Creation received the soul of its existence and the foundation of its survival. And this event, the most important since the world was founded, occurred - on the Sabbath! As Raba said in the Gemara Shabbat 86b,
all agree that the Torah was given to Israel on the Sabbath. [For] here [Exodus 20:8] it is written, Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; whilst elsewhere [Id. 13:3] it is written, And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day: just as there, [he spoke] on that very day, so here too it was on that very day.
"Remember this day" was said in the midst of the very day of exodus from Egypt that was to be remembered, for it is written "this,"(8) also here in the midst of the very day on which the Sabbath was to be remembered they were told to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
And I wish to provide further explanation. There is no derivation here based on a gezeira shava of "ha-zeh," because the word "ha-zeh" is not found in the context of the Sabbath, just "remember the Sabbath day." But the derivation is based on the idea that only an event that occurred and was actually seen can be remembered. Thus, the Torah commanded us to make an observance that recalls in us the memory of an event in order that the memory should be preserved for future generations and the event should be inscribed in our hearts. So concerning the remembrance of the Exodus, we were commanded to remember "this day" that we left Egypt. This means that at the time of the event, at the moment of the Exodus, we were told to remember that great event forever so that it should never depart from our hearts. Hence, Raba deduced that when the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Israel "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," some momentous event must have occurred to which the commandment to remember pertained. So Raba was wondering what event the Holy One Blessed Be He was intimating when He said "Remember the Sabbath day." It could not only have been the Creation. For how would it have been possible to command us to remember something done before the creation of Adam? The Creation of the world is a matter of faith, not remembrance. Nor can it be said that the commandment to remember could refer to something that no one had ever seen. Moreover, the commandment to remember could not apply to the Creator's rest and abstinence from work on the Sabbath of Creation, because resting and abstinence are negative concepts about which a commandment to remember could not be issued.
Hence, Raba concluded, the commandment to remember the Sabbath day must involve remembrance of the great event of the giving of the Torah, which occurred on the Sabbath so that we were commanded to remember that great event on each and every Sabbath. Thus, "Remember the Sabbath day" corresponds exactly with "Remember this day that you went out of Egypt." And this is the correct and true explanation of the derivation of Raba.
What emerges for us from all this is something new: that on each Sabbath there is a positive commandment to remember the giving of the Torah which occurred on the Sabbath and through which the Creation was perfected. And what a wonderful idea this is, for it solves in a very simple and true way the great difficulty about which almost all the commentators and expounders of the Torah were baffled - why the Torah did not identify a specific day on which to celebrate the giving of the Torah as Passover and Sukkot do for the miracles performed in Egypt and the desert, for the description of Shavuot as "the time of the giving of our Torah" was prescribed only by the Members of the Great Assembly. (See the chapter on Shavuot for an extended discussion of this sublime matter.) But the Torah itself gives not the slightest intimation of an obligation to celebrate Shavuot to commemorate the giving of the Torah. Much ink has been spilled in trying to resolve this massive difficulty, and there is almost no Aggadic work that does not labor on a solution to this closed riddle. But according to our explanation, everything is correct and true, for surely an obligation is found in the Torah to remember the day on which the Torah was given, namely each and every Sabbath. This obligation to remember is indeed the simple meaning of "remember the Sabbath day." So it would have been redundant to fix another day in the calendar to commemorate the day of the giving of the Torah, something which we are already under a standing obligation to commemorate on every Sabbath.(9)
And this is a wonderful idea.
And so we arrive at the second principle. The completion of the Creation was not on the seventh day of Creation, but after a period of chaos and abyss lasting two thousand years which was concluded on the Sabbath day on which the Torah was given. And as a result of the acceptance of the Torah on the Sabbath the Creation was completed and perfected. This is what the Torah meant when it stated (Genesis 2:2) "And on the seventh day G-d finished His work which He had made." This "seventh day" referred to the seventh day, the Sabbath, on which the Torah was given.
The Torah is called a covenant as is written (Exodus 19:5) "Now therefore, if you will hear My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My treasure from among all peoples." The term "covenant" underscores the connection and the relationship between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Israel. "These are the words of the covenant that he made with them at Horeb" "And you shall keep the words of this covenant and you shall do them" and countless others. However, we also encounter the general term "covenant" in connection with two specific commandments. The first is the commandment of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-2) "Walk before Me and be perfect. And I will make My covenant between Me and you." "And My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." (Id. 13). Second, the term "covenant" is found in connection with the commandment of the Sabbath: "To observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant." (Exodus 31:16)
These two commandments are fundamental among the commandments of the Torah. Circumcision was the first commandment that Abraham received from the Almighty. The Sabbath was the first commandment that Israel received in the desert at Marah before the actual giving of the Torah. These two commandments are therefore distinguished in their value and importance in relation to the rest of the commandments. The Sabbath and circumcision are both a seal and the coin of the King, Ruler of the world. They are both called a sign, symbolizing the linkage and unity between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Israel.(10)
Now in porashat Ki Tavo it is written (Deuteronomy 27:9), "And Moses said unto the people, . . . Behold this day you have become a nation." And according to the explanation of the commentaries, the words "this day" refer to the day of the giving of the Torah. And if so, the meaning of the verse is that on the day that the Torah was accepted at Sinai, the nation of Israel was created and formed. And this occurred on the Sabbath on which the Torah was given. This verse, however, seems to conflict with an earlier verse in porashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:5): "and he became there [in Egypt] a nation [goy]." But the explanation is that in Egypt Israel became a nation [goy] only in its collective form and appearance. There it became a single entity. However, this was merely the outline of nationhood that as yet lacked any content or fulfillment - an empty vessel. Only with the giving of the Torah at Sinai did this outline of nationhood receive its content and foundation. As a result of the giving of the Torah, the nation that went out of Egypt was connected to the Holy One Blessed Be He and to the Torah, becoming a "holy nation." It was to this sense of nationhood that Moses referred when he said "take heed and listen, this day [i.e., the Sabbath on which the Torah was given] you became nation."
We find that the expression "to become" [havayah] is used in connection with marriage, as the Sages deduced from the verse (Deuteronomy 24:2) "and she has departed from his house, and she may go and become (v'hayta) another man's wife" that there is an analogy between "departing" (i.e., divorce) and "becoming" (i.e., marriage), so that just as divorce is effected by way of a contract marriage may also be effected by way of a contract (See Qiddushin 2a). If so, the initial stage of marriage [i.e., erusin] between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Israel occurred in Egypt, as we find in Hosea 2:21, "and I shall wed thee forever." After the erusin came the final stage of marriage [n'su'in] at Mount Sinai, to which the prophet Ezekiel alluded (Ezekiel 16:8): "And when I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold, your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness; yes, I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you." The Metzudot David comments on this verse, "And I spread the edge of my garment to protect you with my shade expresses the idea of marriage [n'su'in]. Similarly the passage (Ruth 3:9) "and spread your skirt of your maidservant" is a reference to marriage (see also the Radaq on that verse).
The prophet Isaiah said (Isaiah 43:21): "This people have I formed." This creation of a people - an expression not used in connection with any other nation - was the handiwork of the Holy One Blessed Be He through the two greatest events in human history: the betrothal of Israel by the Holy One Blessed Be He on the night of Passover in Egypt ("and became there a nation") and the marriage on the day of the giving of the Torah on the Sabbath at Mount Sinai ("on this day you became a nation"). These two days formed the foundation stone, the source and the root, the seed from which the great tree of Israel sprang, the point of departure of our long journey filled with briers, thistles and thorns, oppressive miseries, massacres, endless killings and burning from one side, and on the other side, a bed of roses, heroic deeds, wonders, courage, lofty and towering creations for the good and welfare of the whole world until our generation merited to see the realization and fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:3-4). "To grant to those that mourn in Zion, to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified. And they shall build the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations."
And so we have reached the third pillar. The final work of Creation, the last tap of the hammer, the finishing touch, occurred on the Sabbath on which the Torah was given. It was then that the Creation received its living soul. And at that instant a new creation was created and formed: the people of Israel, the holy nation that rose upon the stage of world history and entered the roster of nations. And then at Sinai, the hatred of the nations descended upon Israel, a hatred that has not ceased till this day - not until the day when "the wolf will dwell with the lamb and a leopard will lie down with a young goat" (Isaiah 11:6) when "there will be a highway for the remnant of his people . . .as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt." (Isaiah 11:16)
The first of the thirteen articles of faith that Maimonides listed in the chapter Heleq is the belief that there is a Creator of the world a Director of all creatures Who can perform all deeds. This article of faith flows from the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt." Although this Commandment refers only to Divine Providence and not the Creation of the world, Nachmanides in his commentary on the Torah writes as follows:
The words "who brought you out of Egypt" are written because their being taken out of Egypt shows the objective fact that the exodus occurred with G-d's knowledge and His supervision. It also shows the objective fact of the Creation, because nothing in the world since the Creation deviates from its natural course. The Exodus therefore demonstrates His power. And His power demonstrates His unity.
And I would add a bit to the true and holy words of Nachmanides. The Holy One Blessed Be He did not say "who created you," because something that was done in the past but merely continues always and does not change in any way cannot be considered clear-cut evidence for what we cannot see. However, we can infer with our own intelligence from the miraculous Providence and direction that we saw with our own eyes that the world did not come before everything else but was itself created by the will of the blessed Creator. And that is why the Creator chose the expression "I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt." All Israel merited to see the exodus with their own eyes, as it is written: "You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings." See Mainmonides (Hilhot Y'sodei ha-Torah, 8:) who writes that our forefathers believed in Moses not because of the miracles and wonders but because his prophecy was confirmed to them at Sinai, as it is written (Exodus 19:9): "Behold, I come to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever."(11) It is therefore correct that the Creation of the world - something not witnessed by those who were created, but only by G-d - was not explicitly mentioned at the Revelation at Sinai.
Now since the Providence for and Direction of the world is a general concept that encompasses the entire Creation including all the nations of mankind, the Creation itself would not have occasioned a special Covenant specifically with Israel. But the Covenant that the Holy One Blessed Be He made with the our forefathers at Horeb was a special Covenant that created a two-sided obligation between the parties to the Covenant, for the Heavenly Kingdom is like an earthly kingdom. What was the content of the Covenant between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Israel? What was the content of the original Covenant that the Holy One Blessed Be He made with Abraham in connection with the first commandment that he was commanded to perform? It is written (Genesis 17:7) "And I will establish My convenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant." See Rashi who wrote: "And what was the covenant? To be for you a G-d." The meaning of Rashi is not clear, for if the words "to be for you a G-d" refers to the acceptance of the Torah and the yoke of the commandments, then this undertaking is purely one-sided by the party that accepted the Torah and there is no true covenant, just compulsion and the imposition of a yoke on our necks. But it appears that the original covenant between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Abraham was meant to be a foundation for the eternal existence of nation of Israel from the time it became a nation until today. I will be brief here in the Introduction, but I will elaborate further below.
Now faith in the existence and survival of Israel as a separate and unique nation, the smallest among the nations, a lamb among seventy wolves, depended from the outset exclusively on the steadfast and immovable foundation that the nation of Israel was established under the Divine Providence and under special and immediate direction of the Creator and Director of the world. After all the inquiries and philosophizing about the mystery of Israel's survival on the stage of history, the question remains how Israel could withstand the hatred of the nations that descended upon Israel from Sinai.(12) But the answer is that Divine Providence protects Israel against the arrows of the nations - their arrows are consumed, but they are not consumed. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He promised (Leviticus 26:44): "And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them." And to what covenant do these words of the Blessed Name refer? Certainly it must refer to the first covenant between the Holy One Blessed Be He and Abraham and his descendants when he was commanded to perform circumcision, as it is written: "And I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your seed after you." And what was the covenant? "To be for you a G-d." Which is to say, to be for us a G-d, through a special and immediate Divine Providence.
The oversight of the conduct of the lower world is delegated to the ministers, and angels and constellations of above, as is explained in the book of Daniel. Each nation has its own minister and ruler in the Heavenly Parliament. The Holy One Blessed Be He gave over to them the governance and direction of the fortunes of the nations. Not so for Israel, the holy and special nation, an exception to the rule of governance and direction by the heavenly ministers. Israel was established, through the original covenant with Abraham, under the immediate care of the Supreme Being. Let me quote the words of Nachmanides in porashat Ha'azinu on the verse (Deuteronomy 32:12): "So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with Him."
The Lord will dwell in Israel securely, alone without a name or for Israel (i.e., the word with him refers either to the Lord or to Israel). And the idea is that Israel has no minister or ruler among the angels who will guide or assist Israel except the Lord himself, for He is their portion and inheritance. And I have already written about this. And in Sifri concerning the verse "the Lord alone did lead him" it is written, the Holy One Blessed Be He said to them, just as you dwelled alone in this world, [you shall dwell alone in the next world] "and there was no strange god with Him" that there will be no permission for any minister of the nations of the world to rule over you, as it says (Daniel 10:20-21): "Then said he, Do you know why I have come to you? And now I will return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I am depart from him the prince of Javan shall come. But I will tell you that which is inscribed in the book of truth."
This was the content of the first covenant: "to be for you a G-d." This is to say a G-d with no intermediary, no heavenly minister or ruler, but that the chosen people Israel alone would be subject to the Heavenly and special care of the Lord. This is the meaning of the verse in parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:17-18): "You have declared the Lord this day to be you G-d, and to walk in His ways, and keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His judgments, and to listen to His voice. And the Lord has declared you this day [that is the Sabbath on which the Torah was given] to be His special people, as He has promised you." The meaning is that the Holy One Blessed Be He promised Abraham when he made the first covenant and this is also the meaning of what the Holy One Blessed Be He said to Israel, "I will be what I will be" (Exodus 3:15). Concerning this verse, the Midrash writes, "I will be with them in this difficulty and I will be with them in other subjugations to the nations." The Holy One Blessed Be He has promised to be the eternal Protector of Israel
See Berakhot 48b. Pelimo says "He must mention the covenant before the Torah, since the latter was given with only three covenants." Rashi explains that the three covenants are Sinai, the Tent of the Meeting, and the plains of Moab.(13) And it seems to me that, notwithstanding the words of Rashi, the three covenants of the Torah are the first covenant at Sinai, the second was that which followed the sin of the Golden Calf as it is written in porashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 34:10) "And He said: 'Behold, I make a covenant; before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among you shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you." And the third covenant in the plains of Moab in porashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 28:69) "These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb." This is the simple explanation of the words of Pelimo concerning the three covenants.
The fourth pillar: By way of the three covenants with the people of Israel(14) at Sinai, after the sin of the Golden Calf, and in the plains of Moab, the nation of Israel left the category of being ruled and governed by the heavenly ministers who rule over all the nations and was established under the unique and immediate care of the Holy One Blessed Be He in His honor and His Being as it is written, "I am the Lord, I am He," not a messenger or any other.
With this I have concluded the Introduction and the Four Pillars as a gate to the interior of this work so that the reader may easily grasp its contents. From the anteroom to the chamber.
1. See Rashi, Pesahim 118a and R. O. Bartenura on the Mishnah who both interpret "slighting the festivals" to be referring to performing work on the Intermediate days of the festival. And this is also a closed riddle. For the prohibition of work during the Intermediate days of the festival is not derived from the Biblical text. See Hagiga 18a where the Tannaim labored to find a Biblical source for the prohibition against work during the Intermediate days of the festival. And most of the Rishonim believe that the Sages had the authority to decide which categories of work are prohibited during the Intermediate days, which implies that there is no Biblical prohibition against work during the Intermediate days.
I heard it said in the name of some great man that Rashi inferred that these references to the belittling of festivals were references to performing work not on Yom Tov but on the Intermediate days from the term "slighting" (ha-mivazeh) instead of "desecrating" (ha-mihalel). The Tanna, on this interpretation, changed from "desecrating" to "slighting" to hint that he was referring to the Intermediate days, not to Yom Tov. And though this is attractive idea, it does not really help at all, for, in the end, the difficulty persists with even greater strength. How could they say that one who performs work on the Intermediate days, which is only a rabbinic prohibition, is in the category of one who has no share in the world to come and is considered as though he were an idolater? And I have seen in the commentaries no sensible explanation.
2. The name used by the rabbis of the Talmud for Shavuot.
3. See Rashi Shavuot 16a.
4. But see what my holy ancestor the Hatam Sofer of blessed memory wrote in his last responsum to Yoreh Deah. "And I wish to raise one point. There is nothing in the entire Torah of which we ourselves are not witnesses except for the story of Balaam." And he goes on to list everything that our forefathers saw from the time of Creation including the beginning of the world, which is a great wonder to me, his humble descendant. For though Adam himself certainly saw that he was the only human, without father or mother, he did not see the creation of the world ex nihilo.
5. See the Mahrshah, Hidushei Aggadot.
6. The hole in the pin refers to the small opening between the leg of the heh and the bar atop the heh, and the wide opening at the bottom of the heh corresponds to the opening of the great hall that the Holy One Blessed Be He opens for one who repents.
7. See Avot 5:6 which lists ten things that were created at twilight on the eve of the Sabbath of Creation.
8. That is the word "this" [ha-zeh] shows that it was literally said to them on the day of Exodus, for if not the word "this" could obviously not have been used.
9. And I am astonished that the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 29) wrote without elaborating that there is positive commandment from the Torah to sanctify the Sabbath day with words, as it says "Remember the Sabbath day," that is, there is a commandment to remember a remembrance of praise and sanctification. But the Rambam did not specify the content of the remembrance on the Sabbath day. And presumably relying on the Torah's having been given on the Sabbath, the Members of the Great Assembly included in the Sabbath morning prayer the passage, "Moses will rejoice in the giving of his portion" for He chose us and sanctified us from all of the nations. And in the text of the sanctification they also included a reference to the giving of the Torah which is encompassed by the essential commandment of remembering the Sabbath day.
I would call attention here to something amazing in the Pirqei d'Rebi Eliezer (sections 41, 46) where it is recorded that R. Eleazar b. Azariah explicitly holds that the Torah was given on Friday and not on the Sabbath which is contrary to the Babylonian Talmud in which Raba states that everyone agrees that the Torah was given on the Sabbath. In the Halakhic section of this book, I shall explain that this dispute between the Babylonian Talmud and the opinion of R. Eleazar b. Azariah recorded in the Pirqei d'Rebi Eliezer leads to another dispute in halakha.
10. In the Midrash Yalqut Shimoni (Jeremiah 33) we find a dialogue between the Sabbath and circumcision. Circumcision says, "I am greater than you for if not for me the world would not have been created as it says 'if not for my convenant.'" R. Judah says, "This is similar to two matrons who were standing together and no one cared to distinguish who was the greater of the two, but as soon as one passed in front of her companion, everyone knew that the one that passed in front of her companion was the lesser of the two. Similarly, since we know that the obligation to perform circumcision displaces the Sabbath, we know that circumcision is greater than the Sabbath." See also the Midrash Rabbah (Exodus Rabbah 19:2) where this parable is brought in connection with the Pascal lamb and the red heiffer on the verse (Exodus 12:43), "This is the law of the Pascal lamb."
11. Also see the last responsum of my holy ancestor the Hatam Sofer to Yore De'ah.
12. See Shabbat 89 and Taanit 16 and the glosses of the Maharatz Chajes there.
13. See Maharsha
14. The covenant with Abraham is obviously not included among the covenants, because it was a covenant with an individual, not with the entire nation of Israel.