Every Tuesday evening is our Sinai Scholars class. It is an 8-week course exploring the core of Judaism for a select group of Queens College students. The topic this past Tuesday night was Shabbat.
Now, in my experience, an issue which often comes up when discussing Shabbat, is why are there so many things we can’t do. Don’t do this, don’t do that… you get the picture. Well this question came up on Tuesday night, as well.
After discussing for a bit, I shared an insight from the Rebbe with the students.
In the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, 30 chapters are dedicated to the laws of Shabbat. This is a significant number of chapters (I think it’s the most on one topic in the Mishneh Torah, although I’m not certain about that). Considering the centrality of Shabbat in Jewish life, this makes sense.
The majority of these chapters are, indeed, dealing with the “don’t do this and don’t do that” of Shabbat. Yet, the Rebbe points out, the first chapter discusses what we are meant to do on Shabbat — not what we should refrain from doing.
This order is no mere coincidence. Rather, Maimonides is sending us a message of how to celebrate Shabbat, and not just what to do and what not to do.
It is important to know — for ourselves and for educating our children — that first and foremost our perspective on Shabbat must be focused on what we do, not what we don’t know. This is not to diminish the importance of thorough knowledge and application of all the complex laws of Shabbat, but rather to help shift our perspective towards the positive.
With so many “dont’s” that can potentially overwhelm a person, it is all the more crucial that we focus on what Shabbat is, rather than what it is not: An opportunity to return to ourselves and recharge our batteries while connecting (and reconnecting) to G-d, friends and family.