In the Friday night Kiddush we recite at the Shabbat table every week, there is a phrase that is puzzling at best, nonsensical at worst: “Blessed are You … Who has sanctified us ... gave us His holy Sabbath … a remembrance of creation.” So far, so good. Observance of the Sabbath is a reenactment of creation, where the Creator worked on the world for six days and rested on the seventh. We, too, work for six days and rest on the seventh — a remembrance of creation. But then we continue, “For that day is … a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt.”
There is no doubt that the Exodus is an important event in our national history; it is the moment of our liberation from Egyptian slavery and the moment we became an independent nation. The closest parallel we have in modern-day history is the formation of the Zionistic state. We were no longer living under the rule of foreign masters, subject to the whims of other men — we now had freedom, independence and an identity of our own. It is, without question, an event worthy of having a remembrance of.
And indeed we do. That holiday is called Passover. With its meaningful Seder, the family grouped around a gleaming table bedecked with a white tablecloth and a lively intergenerational discussion with multiple views being expressed, Passover is one of the highlights of the year. But how is the Sabbath a memorial for the Exodus? How can the Exodus be a memorial for the Exodus? There was no nation of Egypt, there was no nation of Israel — there were no nations at all! It would take thousands of years till the development of the nation of Egypt and hundreds more until our national Exodus!
A few parshat ago, the Torah prefaces the building of the Tabernacle with a brief article on observing the Shabbat. The sages derive from this that all of the constructive labors of the Tabernacle are forbidden on the Sabbath. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh explains that these labors demonstrate mastery over this world. For six days we plow and plant, trap and till, sew and sift. We demonstrate our ability to use and shape products of the world to our benefit. When we rest on the seventh day, we declare that there is a Master over even that — that we are beholden to One greater than ourselves.
There is one forbidden labor, however, for which this does not seem to apply. It is forbidden to carry from the private domain to the public domain and vice versa. We don’t change the item in any manner. Nothing changes but its location. What is being demonstrated when we carry? What are we declaring by desisting from carrying? What aspect of the Divine are we acknowledging?
Rabbi Hirsh explains that “carrying” represents social interaction and the ebb and flow of our daily lives. It is a microcosm of our lives — who we meet up with and, when a series of events that may be sparked by a chance remark, the minutiae of our existence. When we rest from carrying we acknowledge that our destiny, too, is in the hands of G-d.
Passover is the holiday which most vividly demonstrates that G-d is intimately aware of the happenings in this world. He heard our cries of pain and distress. He intervened dramatically, with great miracles, to extricate us from our Egyptian taskmasters. He responded immediately to the prayers of Moses and Aaron. Shabbat is “a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt,” not in the sense of the event of the Exodus but of the message of the Exodus, that G-d is Master not only of the world but of our destiny as well. JN
Rabbi Sholom Twerski is the assistant rabbi at Beth Joseph Congregation of Greater Phoenix.