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Parashat Yitro - 5777

Dear friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Yitro, the fifth portion in the Book of Exodus.

The second chapter of this Parasha describes the Giving of the Torah, when the children of Israel are given the choice of becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, if they accept the Torah. When their response is positive, Moses goes up to Mount Sinai, and the people gather below and they hear and see G-d's Revelation when the Ten Commandments are given.

Included in the Ten Words is the commandment of 'Zachor et Yom HaShabbat' - 'Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.' The Mitzvah of observing the Shabbat is mentioned fifteen times in the Torah. That's more than any other mitzvah except for the one of treating the stranger with kindness.

As you know, these Ten Commandments are listed again in the Book of Deuteronomy when Moses, before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, repeats for them the events of the past forty years, including the great event of the Revelation at Sinai. When you compare the two versions there is a difference between the first and second version as it relates to the Shabbat.

In this week's Parasha, we read Zachor - Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, while in the Book of Deuteronomy we read Shamor - Keep the Sabbath day and keep it holy. It would seem that we need both to remember as well as to keep. Our sages explain that Shabbat should always be on your mind, so that when you plan your menu for the week, pick the best for Shabbat. When you dress, remember to save the best for Shabbat.

Another difference we find is the reason given for observing the Shabbat. In this week's Parasha, your family and all your household including your servants and animals should remember to keep the Shabbat because:

"For in six days G-d made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and G-d rested on the seventh day, therefore the L-rd blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:11)

In the Book of Deuteronomy we read:

"Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Sabbath of the L-rd your G-d: and you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male and female slave, your ox and your donkey, or any of your cattle or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do, Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the L-rd your G-d freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the L-rd your G-d has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:13-15)

When we observe the Shabbat, we are witnesses to G-d as the creator of the universe, and we also remember the personal experience we had as the people that was freed from slavery.

We know that there are many levels of Shabbat observance. I believe that the reason that the Torah mentions this mitzvah 15 times and gives us two important reasons for it is to encourage all levels of Shabbat observance. By doing even little things to mark the difference between Shabbat and a weekday, one fulfills the commandment of remembering the Shabbat.

If you cannot make every Friday night special, do it a least once or twice a month, with the goal of observing Shabbat as often as you can. The same can be said of attending Shabbat services and making the Sabbath day a special day in your life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram