The Shabbat Persona: “Safeguard” and “Remember” in One Utterance – Introduction

By Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

This lesson was given to a group of young girls by the light of the Shabbat candles on the 18h of Cheshvan 5779.

We are now in the year 5779. One of the gematria’s that equal this year’s value is “Zachor-Shamor”, which means “Remember-Safeguard” (זָכוֹר שָׁמוֹר). The Ten commandments appear twice in the Pentateuch. The first time is in the Torah portion called Yitro. The second time is in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan, when Moses recounts the events of the 40 years that had passed since they left Egypt and recounts the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. In Yitro, the word opening the fourth commandment, the one that commands us about the Shabbat, opens with the word “Remember” (זָכוֹר, pronounced: zachor): Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it.” In Va’etchanan, the fourth commandment begins with the word, “safeguard” (שָׁמוֹר, pronounced: shamor): Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it.”

So, which is it? Did God begin the fourth commandment with the word, “Remember” (zachor) or did He begin with the word “Safeguard” (shamor)? The sages[1] answer that “Zachor and Shamor were said together in one utterance” (זָכוֹר וְשָׁמוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד נֶאֶמְרו) explaining this idea with the verse, “God spoke once, I heard two, for God possesses might”[2] (אַחַת דִּבֶּר אֱלֹהִים שְׁתַּיִם־זוּ שָׁמָעְתִּי כִּי עֹז לֵאלֹהִים).[3] God said one thing, but for us, it sounded like two simultaneous utterances: Zachor and Shamor.

How would we, using modern language, describe God’s ability to speak two things at once, which the verse from Psalms calls, “possesses might?” We would say that the might God has that allows him this is the might of paradox. There is another verse  that relates to this type of “might” (עֹז), “God will give might to His people, God will bless His people with peace”[4] (הוי' עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן הוי' יְבָרֵךְ אֶת עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם). The sages say the “might” being referred to is the Torah, “There is no oz other than Torah.”[5] The Torah is called “might” (עֹז) because of its power to bear paradox. Thus, this last verse from Psalms can be read as saying that, “God will bless His people with peace—with Shabbat Shalom. (The notion of peace, “Shalom” is itself associated with the capacity to bear paradox).

Numerically, a beautiful allusion connecting the fourth commandment is found when we calculate the value of, “Zachor and Shamor were said together in one utterance” (זָכוֹר וְשָׁמוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד נֶאֶמְרו). We find that its numerical value is 1309, which is also the product of 77 and 17, where 77 is the value of “might” (עֹז) and 17 is the value of “good” (טוֹב). As we said, “The word ‘might’ (עֹז) is nothing other than Torah,” and also, “the word ‘good’ refers to nothing other than Torah.”[6]

The Zachor and Shamor Couple

A married woman lights two Shabbat candles, corresponding to Zachor and Shamor. The Zohar writes that Zachor is the masculine aspect and Shamor is the feminine. It is the woman who safeguards the home – she watches over her husband, her children and the Torah observance in the home. Despite the fact that the Torah commands the father to educate his children, we see that in reality – and there are many letters and writings of the Rebbe on this – it is the woman who is the main educator in the home. The Chabad custom – and many others follow this custom as well – is that an unmarried woman lights one Shabbat candle and when she marries, she lights two candles (at least) – one candle for her and one candle for her husband. Two candles to correspond to Zachor and Shamor, which are included together in one utterance.

The patriarch Jacob has two names: Yisrael and Yaakov, and two inclusive wives – the two matriarchs, Rachel and Leah. Thus, there are four unifications spoken about in Kabbalah: Yisrael and Rachel, Yisrael and Leah, Yaakov and Rachel and Yaakov and Leah. The highest of these unifications is this year’s unification, the unification of Yisrael-Rachel (יִשְׂרָאֵל רָחֵל), which also equals 779, the value of this year (minus the 5000). Zachor corresponds to Yisrael and Shamor corresponds to Rachel.

 “Zachor and Shamor in One Utterance”                               ,

In the “Lecha Dodi” liturgical poem that we sing at the beginning of Shabbat, we say, “Shamor and Zachor in one utterance, God the One and Only caused us to hear” (שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד הִשְׁמִיעָנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד). We mention Shamor before Zachor, which is the opposite of the saying of the sages, “Zachor and Shamor were said with one utterance.” The simple explanation for this discrepancy is that Lecha Dodi is an acrostic poem that spells out the author’s name, “[Rabbi] Shlomo Halevi [Alkabetz]” (שְׁלֹמֹה הַלֵּוִי) using the initial letters of each stanza.

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר…

לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה…

מִקְדַּשׁ מֶלֶךְ עִיר מְלוּכָה…

הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי…

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי…

לֹא תֵּבֹשִׁי וְלֹא תִּכָּלְמִי…

וְהָיוּ לִמְשִׁסָּה שֹׁאסָיִךְ…

יָמִין וּשְּׂמֹאל תִּפְרֹצִי…

Therefore, Rabbi Shlomo had to start the poem with the shin (ש) of Shamor (שָׁמוֹר) But there are deeper explanations.

One of these other explanations is that Zachor and Shamor correspond to two different aspects of Shabbat. The Gemara says, “If Israel would keep two Shabbatot [the plural form of Shabbat], they would immediately be redeemed.” Chassidut explains that this does not necessarily mean two Shabbatot on two different weeks, but rather, that every Shabbat has two aspects: Shabbat evening, which is called “ma’alei Shabtah, corresponding to Shamor – and Shabbat day, Shabbat d’yoma, corresponding to Zachor. This would make the internal order in each Shabbat one of, “Shamor and Zachor” – first the night and then the day. The sages, however, kept the order of the words as they appear in the Torah: Zachor in the portion of Yitro precedes Shamor in the Torah portion of Va’etchanan. There are other explanations, as well.

In the following chapters, we will contemplate some of the explanations on “Zachor and Shamor were said with one utterance,” and arrange them in a partzuf, a persona, according to the ten sefirot.

[1]. Rosh Hashanah 27a.

[2]. Psalms 62:12.

[3]. Sanhedrin 34a.

[4]. Psalms 29:11.

[5]. Midrash Tehillim 21:2.

[6]. Avodah Zarah 19b.


The Shabbat Persona series of teachings is dedicated for an Aliyat Neshema for 

Raizel bas Yosef and Chava z"l and Anchel Yehoshua ben Shmuel and Kranya z"l

Part 2 of this series


Image by Olaf.herfurth – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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