Shabbat represents the sanctity of time, which is the basis for all our Yamim Tovim, festivals. In fact, the three pilgrim festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, are contained within Shabbat. We find reference to this in Parshat Emor, where the Torah says, “These are the festivals of Hashem,” and then it mentions Shabbat. The Torah lists Shabbat first because Shabbat established the concept of time being holy. When the sun sets on Friday afternoon, we enter a new dimension of time. So too the festivals, which are holy times in the year, are rooted in the concept of time being holy. In fact, the volume in which the Rambam discusses all of the laws of Shabbat and the festivals are called zmanim, literally, “times.”
We have discussed previously how the three Amidah prayers of Shabbat parallel the three famous Shabbatot of history – the Shabbat of Creation, the Shabbat of the giving of the Torah and the Shabbat of the Final Redemption, which is called “the Shabbat of all time.” Rav Gedalia Schorr adds to this that the three festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, also parallel these three special Shabbatot of history. How so?
Shabbat contains the three festivals
The Shabbat of Creation brought holiness into the world and thus created a whole new reality. The very concept of holiness came into the world on the seventh day of Creation. This first Shabbat of history relates to the exodus from Egypt. At the Exodus, the Jewish people were whisked out of ancient Egypt, a place of moral depravity and idol worship, devoid of Torah values. They were taken out and given the opportunity to strive for greatness, morality and holiness.
This parallels the first prayer of Shabbat, on Friday night. Friday night is like the Exodus in that it takes us out of our weekly affairs. During the week we are “stuck in Egypt,” so to speak; we are stuck in the slavery of work and a society whose values are not ours. We get caught up in the secular world, and the values of holiness and morality sometimes seem very far from us. But when Shabbat comes in, when we walk into shul and hear Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night, we are whisked away and taken to a different world, a world of holiness.
Pesach commemorates not just the Exodus but the fact that we were taken out “bechipazon”, in haste. This is why matza is the symbol of Pesach: it represents the fact that we left quickly. The only difference between chametz and matza is speed. Chametz is simply bread that was given time to leaven whereas matza has no time to leaven. We had to be rushed out of the slavery and the spiritual and moral darkness of ancient Egypt, and be taken to new spiritual heights to fulfil our destiny.
This parallels Friday night, which lifts us out of the week. The Amidah of Friday night parallels the very first Shabbat of Creation, when the world was elevated to a new level and given a fresh start. Every Shabbat we are whisked away from everything that weighs us down during the week, and are given a new start.
The second Amidah, which parallels the Shabbat when the Torah was given, corresponds to the festival of Shavuot. As we know, Shavuot celebrates the anniversary of G-d giving us the Torah. But on a deeper level, Shavuot celebrates the sustainability of holiness. On Pesach, the people were taken out of the darkness of Egypt. Seven weeks later, at the foot of Mount Sinai, they had to prove that they could become a great nation. Could they really transform themselves and turn that moment into enduring change?
We all have moments of inspiration in life. The question is whether we can convert those moments into something sustainable. For example, at a wedding there is much fanfare and celebration. But can the young couple take the power and positivity of the wedding and turn it into a lasting marriage based on respect, love and commitment?
When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were on a spiritual high. They had just witnessed the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea. But the question was whether that revelation could be turned into something lasting, whether that holiness could be sustained. Indeed, they proved it could. When they left Egypt, they began preparing themselves to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai forty-nine days later, and they were successful. (We today have the mitzvah of counting the omer, the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot.) There were ups and downs and bumps along the way – for example, the sin of the Golden Calf; there were moments of victory and moments of defeat, but they showed that they were able to sustain lives of holiness.
This parallels the daytime Amidah of Shabbat, which corresponds to the Shabbat when the Torah was given. The daytime Amidah attests to the fact that we have been able to sustain the holiness of Shabbat, which began on Friday night. We have demonstrated that it was not just a fleeting moment of holiness. The great high of Friday night, when we were taken out of the slavery and darkness of the week and elevated to a higher plane, has been sustained through to the next day.
The final Amidah of Shabbat, Mincha, corresponds to the time of the Final Redemption – the great Shabbat of history. Rav Gedalia Schorr says that Mincha corresponds to the festival of Succot. Succot is known as the festival of the Final Redemption. It is a very universal festival; as we know, there were seventy offerings brought in the Temple, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world. In the haftarah, the reading of the Prophets, on Succot, we read about the prophetic visions for the Final Redemption, including the final cataclysmic battle, what the Prophets refer to as milchemet Gog uMagog, the battle of Gog and Magog, which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says is related to the word gag, a roof. The war of Gog and Magog is the battle of the people of the succah versus the people of the roof. The succah represents our faith in Hashem and refers to that time at the end of history. Succot is very much rooted in the vision of the Final Redemption and this corresponds to Mincha. As we say in the Amidah of Mincha, Ata Echad veshimcha Echad, “You are One and your Name is One,” referring to the time of the Final Redemption, where everyone will see Who Hashem is.
Thus we see how the three pilgrim festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, are contained within the three services of Shabbat and parallel the three historic Shabbatot of history – the Shabbat of Creation, the Shabbat of the giving of the Torah, and the Shabbat of the Final Redemption. Shabbat contains the themes of the three pilgrim festivals : Pesach – the beginning of holiness; Shavuot – the sustainability of that holiness, and Succot – the Final Redemption, where that holiness is complete and fills the entire world.
The sanctity of time
Shabbat is not just a day unto itself but the source of our festivals, because it establishes kedushat hazman, “the sanctity of time.” It is not just another one of the festivals; it is the holiest day of the year. It is the foundation of all the festivals and contains them within its holiness.
Shabbat also teaches us about how Judaism relates to time. In his well-known essay Kodesh Vechol, The Sacred and the Profane, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik says that holiness of time means we don’t think of time merely in physical terms. Meaning, we don’t experience time as linear, being comprised of measurable units – seconds, minutes and hours. Rather, sanctity of time means we look at time in spiritual terms, which means we don’t live solely in the present. To live as a Jew is to live not only in the present but in the past and in the future at the same time. Time is not just the here and now. We come from a very rich past and are headed towards a glorious future of redemption for the entire world.
When we experience Shabbat, we are not just experiencing it in the present, as the seventh day of the week, the conclusion of the previous week and the beginning of the next. That is a limited, linear perception of time. Rather, we experience Shabbat as inclusive of the three special Shabbatot of history, as well as the three festivals. We connect to the very first Shabbat of history, when Adam and Eve were the only people in the world; we connect to the Shabbat of the giving of the Torah, when G-d’s words were heard on Mount Sinai, saying: “I am the Lord your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt”; we look to the past but also to the future, towards the Shabbat of the Final Redemption – the grand Shabbat of the world. We think about Pesach, Shavuot and Succot, the going out of Egypt, the giving of the Torah and the ultimate Shabbat – the Final Redemption. We are not stuck in the moment; rather, we experience time spiritually, as non-linear and multidimensional.
When we sit around our Shabbat table, we relive the great Shabbatot of history – the first Shabbat of Creation and the first Shabbat the Jewish people spent in the desert, when the double portion of manna fell from heaven, represented by the two challahs on the Shabbat table. We contemplate the Shabbat when the Torah was given. We think about all these events as though they are with us today, because the holiness of time means we experience time not as something stuck and linear, plodding along one minute after another, but as something living and dynamic.
Likewise, when we read the events chronicled in the Torah, we are not reading about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as distant figures who lived once upon a time. To be a Jew is to live with these personalities here, today; they are part of who we are. There is a horizontal Jewish community, the global community of Jews around the world; and there is also a vertical Jewish community, going back to our Forefathers and continuing all the way through to the times of Mashiach. This is not just ancient history; in Judaism we never experience history merely as an event in the past. We live with Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah; we live with Moshe and Aharon. We live with our history; the events that our people went through are not just in the past.
All of Jewish history comes together. Past, present and future blend. Shabbat is not just a day of the present, but a day of the past as well as the future. It is about our past history and also about our vision for the future, about who we want to be and what kind of world we want to build – a world which is founded on our values of peace, respect, dignity, integrity and morality – and above all, belief in G-d. Time must be rooted in the past, present and future simultaneously. This is what we experience every Shabbat, and this is why Shabbat is a day of eternity.