Parashat Beshalah- The Special Purity of Shabbat
When the manna began falling each morning to feed Beneh Yisrael, they were informed that the manna would not fall on Shabbat, and so they should not leave the camp in search of manna in the morning, as they did each weekday. G-d commanded them, "Al Yeseh Ish Mi’mekomo Ba’yom Ha’shbi’i" – "no man shall leave from his place on the seventh day" (16:29).
As Rashi cites from the Talmud, this verse is interpreted as an allusion to the prohibition of "Tehum Shabbat," which forbids walking beyond a distance of 2,000 Amot outside the borders of one’s town. According to the Rambam, in Hilchot Shabbat, the Torah prohibition of "Tehum Shabbat" forbids walking a distance of 24,000 Amot, but the Sages extended the prohibition to include walking even just 2,000 Amot.
What is the concept underlying "Tehum Shabbat"? Why is walking this distance forbidden?
The Sefer Ha’hinuch (anonymous Medieval work explaining the 613 Biblical commands) explains, very simply, that Shabbat is to be a time for rest, and a long walk entails physical exertion. Walking a distance shorter than 2,000 Amot can be considered a leisurely walk, but beyond this distance, one exerts himself, which conflicts with the aura of relaxation which we are to maintain on Shabbat.
Additionally, however, there is a deeper understanding, based on the Kabbalistic teachings of the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria, Safed, 1534-1572).
The Arizal taught that all the worlds experience elevation when Shabbat begins. As though on an elevator, all the different worlds, beginning with the lowest world – the natural world which we inhabit – start rising to higher levels with the onset of Shabbat. When this happens, the "Kelipot" (literally, "shells," referring to the forces of impurity) try to rise, as well. They want to catch a "free ride," as it were, and be elevated together with the rest of existence. The Arizal taught that several of our customs on Ereb Shabbat, such as cutting our nails and bathing with hot water, are intended to keep the "Kelipot" at bay, so-to-speak, to block these damaging forces and prevent them from being elevated. Shabbat is to have the effect of creating a distance between us and the "Kelipot," bringing us far away from the sources of impurity and contamination. This goal would be sabotaged if the "Kelipot" succeeded in rising up together with our world, and it is therefore imperative that we keep the "Kelipot" in their place.
On this basis, the Arizal explained the significance of the prohibition of "Tehum Shabbat." Walking outside the permitted boundary symbolizes one’s traversing the gulf separating between us and the "Kelipot" on Shabbat. The entire purpose of Shabbat is to create a large "buffer zone" between us and the "Kelipot," and by walking beyond the "Tehum Shabbat" boundary, one crosses through that zone and connects to the "Kelipot" – directly undermining one of the primary spiritual objectives of the Shabbat experience.
This understanding of "Tehum Shabbat" is alluded to in the word "Tehum," which has the same letters as the word "Hotam," or "seal." The purpose of this prohibition is to create a protective "seal" around Shabbat, to ensure it remains safe from the "Kelipot" which threaten it.
This insight should enhance our appreciation of the unique sanctity of Shabbat, and the special privilege it affords us. Once Shabbat begins, our souls are elevated to a higher sphere. On Shabbat, we live in an entirely different zone, in a much loftier realm of existence, one of holiness and purity. Let us do everything we can to take full advantage of this weekly experience of "Kedusha," so that the experience will have a profound impact upon our souls that will remain with us throughout the week and throughout our lives.