Two Shabbats

I have heard it said that, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

Clearly, Shabbat continues to be a cornerstone of Jewish life.

Most people who are even vaguely familiar with Shabbat, know that there are many prohibitions associated with the day: One may not drive; no phones; no cooking; etc. etc. the list goes on.

Rather than view these prohibitions as mere restrictions, I think they can be viewed as a method of harnessing energy. Much like a laser, which gets its power from the fact that its light is restricted and focused into one penetrating point, so too, Shabbat enables us to harness our spiritual energy.

The Talmud (Shabbat 118b) states that, “If only the Jewish people would keep two Shabbats, they would be immediately redeemed.”

I always wondered: Why two? Why isn’t one sufficient? Or, if the point is that we prove it wasn’t just a fluke, perhaps we should be required to keep three Shabbats in order to merit the redemption…

What is the meaning behind this oft-quoted Talmudic dictum?

This week, I came across an intriguing answer by Rabbi Dovber of Mezritch (? – 1772), which I will do my best to paraphrase below.

Every relationship is built on the concept of giver and receiver. Let’s begin with the analogy of a calf and its mother. The cow nurses her calf; who is the recipient?

Certainly, the calf is the recipient in this relationship. Yet, our sages tell us that, “more than the calf wants to suckle, the mother wants to nurse” (Talmud, Pesachim 112a). Any mother will tell you that there are times when she feels a need to nurse, even if the child is not hungry.

While the mother is the giver and the child is the receiver, in truth, it works both ways. The mother also gains through nursing her young. The child receives food from the mother; the mother receives a sense of satisfaction from feeding her child.

So too, with G-d and His people.

We generally view G-d as the Giver, and we are the recipients of His blessings. Yet, as in the analogy above, it works both ways.

Shabbat is a gift to us. It allows us to step back from our hectic lives and spend uninterrupted time with our families. We have more time to focus on prayer and study.

Yet at the same time, G-d, so to speak, receives pleasure from giving us the gift of Shabbat.

And this is why, explains Rabbi Dovber, the Talmud states that we need to keep two Shabbats in order to merit the redemption, for it represents the dual aspect of our relationship with our Creator. We are meant to imbue every action with an awareness that we can give our Creator a sense of pleasure, so to speak, via our positive actions.

This is why the Hebrew word for “give” – נתן – is a palindrome, hinting that when you give, you also receive (sometimes even more than the recipient!)

May we merit to keep two Shabbats and experience redemption!

L’chaim and Shabbat Shalom,