Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Foundations of Faith
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

36. Well-balanced Character Traits

Honoring the Sabbath is tantamount to thanking the Almighty. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Hence, observing the Sabbath brings man closer to the Almighty than numerous prayers or acts self-denial and mortification.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

For some reason, people think that in order to truly worship God one must separate oneself from ordinary life and behave like an ascetic. The Khazar king was also under this impression. Therefore, after the King heard about the spiritual preeminence and great faith of the Jewish people, he asked the Rabbi, "If this is the case, we should find many Jews worshiping God through asceticism. However, this is not the case."

The Rabbi responded, "I see that I must reiterate that central principle which we have discussed a number of times already, namely, that God must be worshiped according to His own laws, according to the commandments which He himself has given us, and not according to human sentiment or imagination.

The Divine Torah does not exhort man to worship God through self-mortification. The Torah commands us to worship God with all of our spiritual and physical faculties and not to give preference to one faculty over another. leaning too far to one side comes at the expense of the other. If one concedes too much to physical appetite, one will neglect the mental faculties, and vice versa. Exaggerated stringency weakens the desire to bestow goodness upon others, while exaggerated kindness comes at the expense of sometimes-necessary sternness.

A person who is physically weak yet nevertheless fasts often is not performing the service of God. He is in fact doing the opposite. A weak person must rather strengthen his body so that he can serve God properly. Living in an overly meager manner causes sorrow, lack of vigor, lack of satisfaction in one's service of God. Such meagerness is not true service of God. One who has exaggerated physical appetites must surely curb refine them. And one who is weak, to the contrary, must strengthen his faculties instead of suppressing them.

In sum, the Rabbi says to the Khazar king, "There are three pillars of divine service according to our Torah: fear, love, and joy. The Jew must draw near to God through these three faculties. Fear in appropriate matters and joy in appropriate matters. Our submission on fast days does not bring us any closer to God than our joy on Sabbaths and holidays - if that joy is guided by proper reflection and intention.

Joy in the fulfillment of a commandment, together with love for the God who commands it and recognition of the good which God bestows upon us by commanding us - this is as if one has been called to enter the house of God and eat at the Almighty's own table. This, after all, is the idea that underlies the holidays and their attendant Pilgrimages to the Holy Temple. The Sabbath too is a day of joy, a sacred day, a day on which the sanctity comes into our house. We merit, as it were, hosting God himself in our own home. The joy in these days, the joy of the Sabbath and the Festivals, is a wonderful act of Divine worship."

The Rabbi continues, "If, because of the Joy of fulfilling a commandment, a person becomes enthusiastic and rejoices and exalts to the point where he dances and sings, this is divine worship which causes him to cling to God. The Torah does not leave it up to man to decide regarding the correct proportions between fear and joy. Rather, the Torah prescribes special times, Sabbaths and holidays, Sabbatical years and Jubilee years, and all of these are days of remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt and remembrance of the creation of the universe. Keeping and honoring the Sabbath, then, is tantamount to thanking the Almighty. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. This being the case, observing the Sabbath brings man closer to the Almighty than numerous prayers, or acts self-denial and mortification.

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