Parashat Ki-Tisa: "Our Marriage to the Shabbat"
The Torah in Parashat Ki-Tisa reiterates the command to observe the Shabbat, emphasizing the unique severity of Shabbat desecration, which is considered a capital offense of the highest level and punishable by court execution.
Shabbat is the most frequent of all Jewish holidays. There is a Halachic principle known as "Tadir Ve’she’eno Tadir Tadir Kodem," which means that when we have two Misvot to perform at the same time, we first perform the more frequent Misva. This rule demonstrates that the importance of a more frequent Misva exceeds that of a less frequent Misva. And the logic is clear: the Torah requires us to observe a law more frequently specifically because of its importance. Shabbat, then, is, without question, the most important of the Jewish holidays – even more important than Yom Kippur! – as evidenced by the fact that it is observed each and every week.
In fact, Shabbat is as important as our spouses. If we can consider for a few moments how important our spouses are to us, how vital a role they play in our lives and how much they mean to us, we can get a sense of the centrality of Shabbat observance in Jewish life.
The Zohar comments that at the time of creation, Shabbat, the seventh day, brought a complaint to God, so-to-speak. The other six days of the week each have a pair – Sunday and Monday form a pair, as do Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday. Shabbat is left as "the odd man out." God responded to Shabbat’s complaint by explaining that Am Yisrael is its "pair." We are "married" to Shabbat; our relationship to Shabbat is like that of a husband and wife.
This explains a number of intriguing passages in our liturgy and in the Talmud. For example, the Lecha Dodi hymn which we sing in the synagogue on Friday night describes Shabbat as a bride whom we go out to greet. The onset of Shabbat is the "wedding," when we "marry" Shabbat, and we therefore wear our finest clothing and, with singing and festivity, go to greet and welcome the "bride."
The Talmud, in Masechet Kiddushin, discusses the concept of "Shelihut" with regard to marriage, which means that a person can assign a Shaliah (messenger) to betroth a woman on his behalf. If a person assigns somebody else to give a girl in a different city an article of value for the purpose of betrothal, and she accepts it, they are betrothed – even if the bride and groom never met. However, the Gemara says, it is always preferable to perform a Misva – such as the Misva of marriage – personally, rather than through an agent. The Gemara gives as an example of this principle the stories of certain great Rabbis who made Shabbat preparations personally, rather than assigning this task to one of their many servants. Revealingly, the Gemara speaks of Shabbat preparations as an example relevant to the context of betrothal. Indeed, our preparation for Shabbat is like our engagement, when we are busy preparing for the great "wedding" between us and Shabbat.
This also explains why we sing "Eshet Hayil," a chapter in Mishleh extolling the virtues of the "woman of valor," on Friday night. On one level, of course, we sing this chapter to give praise and express our gratitude and admiration for the woman of the house who worked so hard to make a beautiful Shabbat. But in addition, this chapter is sung in honor of the "bride," Shabbat, whom we "marry" on Friday night. For the same reason, the Talmud teaches that two angels escort a person home from the synagogue on Friday night. Kiddushin (betrothal) must be performed in the presence of two witnesses. As we "marry" Shabbat on Friday night, Hashem sends two angels to serve as witnesses to the act of "marriage." And this may also be why we recite Kiddush. Just as the wedding ceremony begins with the recitation of a special Beracha over a cup of wine, we begin Shabbat, too, with this ritual, as Shabbat is also a marriage – a marriage between the Jewish people on Shabbat.
On Shabbat, it is customary to extend to one another the greeting of "Shabbat Shalom." The foundation of marriage is "Shalom," peace and harmony between husband and wife. Therefore, on Shabbat, we wish each other that our "marriage" to Shabbat should be peaceful and serene, just as we want our marriages to be.
What might we learn from this association between Shabbat and marriage?
In marriage, our spouse potentially serves as a source of great blessing, joy and gratification – but only if we ourselves are committed, loyal and devoted spouses. Marriage succeeds when it is a bilateral relationship of mutual sacrifice and unconditional giving. When we sacrifice for our spouses, we receive the great blessings and joy of marriage.
And this is precisely our relationship with Shabbat. In the Lecha Dodi hymn, we describe Shabbat as "Mekor Ha’beracha" – the source of blessing. Shabbat can be a source of blessing and prosperity, but only if we are a committed "spouse." We must be loyal and devoted to Shabbat. If we spend the day sleeping, then we are not investing in the relationship. If we do not study and observe the laws and obligations of Shabbat, then we are not fulfilling our part of the relationship. Just as in marriage, the more we invest in the relationship, the more we will receive from the relationship. Let us, then, make a special effort each week to give Shabbat the attention, care and devotion it deserves, and we will then receive the incomparable blessings, joy and satisfaction that only Shabbat – and marriage – can provide.