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The Shabbat Persona: Wisdom and Understanding

Part 3 of a lecture on how Shabbat corresponds to the ten sefirot. Delivered by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh to a group of young women by the light of the Shabbat candles on the 18h of Cheshvan 5779

Wisdom and Understanding (chochmah and binah) are also referred to in Kabbalah as the Father and Mother principles (Abba and Imma). Clearly, the Father principle (wisdom) corresponds to the masculine commandment Zachor (remembrance of the day of Shabbat– shares a root with zachar, ‘male’) while the Mother (understanding) corresponds to the feminine commandment Shamor (safeguarding the day of Shabbat). In Binah, there is a concept called makifim d’imma, which refers to the surrounding energies of Imma. We surround or envelop something in order to safeguard it. An essential trait of a woman and mother is to safeguard and protect that for which she is responsible by enveloping herself around it. This begins with her pregnancy, when she safeguards her baby. After giving birth, she continues to safeguard her children and entire family.

Two reasons for the Shabbat

In the previous chapters about Zachor and Shamor we saw that they appear as two variant readings of the fourth commandment, the first appearing in the Torah portion of Yitro and the second in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan. From these two sources we learn about the wisdom-understanding (chochmah-binah( pair from what is explicitly written in the Ten Commandments in both places. Apart from the difference in wording between Zachor and Shamor, there are other differences between the fourth commandment in the two sources, but most are minor. Nachmanidies (known also as the Ramban) to Exodus 20:8 says that these are not even considered differences because they do not change the meaning. Indeed, according to the Torah’s revealed dimension, these differences are not significant.

The only one that is noteworthy is the reason given in each for why we are commanded to observe the Shabbat. In Hebrew, “reason” and “flavor” are the same word, an allusion that Shabbat has to be accompanied by good flavors. Shabbat has to have a good flavor and there has to be a good, digestible reason for the fulfillment of the commandment of Shabbat.

In the Torah portion of Yitro, the reason for Shabbat (which we mention in the daytime Kiddush ) is, “For in six days God made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all in them, and He rested on the seventh day, therefore God blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.” In this verse, the reason for Shabbat is tied with creation. However, in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan, the reason for Shabbat is, “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Havayah, your God took you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, therefore Havayah, your God commanded you to make the Shabbat.” Thus, the second reason is in memoriam of the Exodus from Egypt. The fact that in Va’etchanan (which used the commandment, Shamor) the reason given for Shabbat is also related to memory (to Zachor), “And you shall remember,” shows that Zachor (remembrance) is the inner dimension of Shamor.

When we make the Kiddush on Shabbat eve, we mention both reasons. First, that Shabbat is “in remembrance of the workings of Creation,” which is the reason given in the Torah portion of Yitro. Afterwards, we say that Shabbat is. “in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt,” the reason given in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan (which also includes remembrance: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and He took you out, etc., as above).

Creation and Exodus from Egypt: The Process of Becoming and Divine Supervision

The creation of the world relates to the sefirah of wisdom (chochmah). Wisdom is the experience of something new, a lightning bolt of understanding. The Aramaic translation of the Torah (called the Targum Yerushalmi) translates the Torah’s first word “In the beginning” (בראשית) as, “With wisdom.”

The Exodus from Egypt, on the other hand, relates to the sefirah of understanding (binah). The Exodus represents the birth of the nation, a birth from the womb. Egypt is the womb of the other side, but the nation of Israel was born from there, as if it was the womb of the mother.

With this in mind, we can offer another explanation for the phrase found in Lecha Dodi, “Shamor and Zachor [were said] in one utterance.” In spite of the fact that in the reason given for the Shabbat in the Ten Commandments as they appear in Yitro is that they are remembrance of creation, both accounts of the Ten Commandments begin with the Exodus, “I am Havayah your God who took you out of the land of Egypt from a house of bondage.” A well-known question[1] is why the Ten Commandments do not open with, “I am God who created the heavens and the earth”, which seems to be a greater wonder than the Exodus? According to what we have just learnt, in both accounts of the Ten Commandments, the commandment to keep the Shabbat follows the reason related to Shamor: as a remembrance of the Exodus. So even though the reason of remembrance of creation (related to Zachor, the masculine) also appears in relation to Shabbat, it is overshadowed by the general opening of the Ten Commandments that is the reason related to Shamor, the feminine. Thus, the masculine is surrounded or included within the feminine.

Freshness together with Providence

We can use the parallel just developed in an even more abstract way that pertains to our psychology. In a certain sense Zachor and Shamor are within each of us. A Jew is regarded as portraying Shabbat in his or her very character. How so? The Tanya states that every person can feel the recreation and renewal of creation at every moment. Thus, from the Zachor aspect of Shabbat we feel that we are always renewed. It is as if we have been created at this very moment; our feeling is that life is always fresh. The Exodus, which reflects the Shamor aspect of Shabbat, translates into Divine Providence over us. Thus, it allows a person to feel that the world is real and always supervised by God.

The result of these two aspects of Shabbat coming together in the psyche is that we can feel the relatively feminine steadiness and corporeality of our being on the outside, as it were, like a shell holding our being in place as it is constantly looked over by God. While, at the same time, we feel how inwardly we are at every moment fresh and new, as if we just came into being. This inner sense is the sense of the soul that is relative to the body considered more masculine.


To be continued…

[1]. See Book of the Kuzari 1:25 and elsewhere.

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