Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
All Men Are Created Equal
The mitzvah of Shabbos is repeated many times throughout the Torah. The reasons usually associated with Shabbos are straightforward: Shabbos is a zecher l'ma'aseh Beraishis, and a zecher l'yetzias Mitzrayim. It serves as a sign of the unique relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Shabbos appears to be a classic example of a mitzvah which is bein adam lamakom.
In Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah presents Shabbos in an entirely different light. Its appearance in the context of Parshas Mishpatim, which is devoted primarily to mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro, indicates that there is an additional dimension to Shabbos. The reason given for Shabbos in Parsha Mishpatim appears to be very different from those to which we are accustomed. Shabbos is given to us so that all members of society can rest; even servants are to be given a day of rest. "Vayinafash ben amascha v'hageir" is also a critical component of Shabbos. Even animals are to be given a day off.
This dual aspect of Shabbos, as a day to enhance our relationship with Hashem and a time to ease the pressure on the downtrodden members of our community, is also true of a mitzvah similar to Shabbos which also appears in Parshas Mishpatim. The mitzvah of shemitah is referred to in Parshas Behar as a "Shabbos leHashem" - a year dedicated to Hashem. Yet in Parshas Mishpatim the social aspect of shemitah is emphasized. It is a year in which the poor have free access to all fruit. Whatever remains can be eaten by the animals. Similar to Shabbos, shemitah serves as a Shabbos leHashem and a time for social equality.
This theme of Shabbos being a time to dedicate ourselves to helping all members of society is repeated several times in Yishayahu. The haftorah read on a taanis tsibbur beseeches us, "Shamru mishpat veasu tzedakah," - act justly and perform acts of charity. Immediately following this calling to assist our fellow man, the navi speaks of the significance of being the shommer Shabbos and the machzik bebris of Hashem. A similar connection between improving our ben adam lechavero behavior and enhancing our shemiras Shabbos is found on the haftorah we read on the morning of Yom Kippur. After reprimanding the Jewish people for not caring properly for the poor and the oppressed, Yishayahu concludes by extolling the proper observance of Shabbos. It is the combination of helping the downtrodden and sanctifying the Shabbos that will win us favor in the eyes of Hashem.
What is it about Shabbos that is so directly connected to tzedakah and mishpat? How does a mitzvah which appears to be only bein adam lemakom impact upon our observance of mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro? How does Shabbos sensitize us to the necessity of caring for our fellow man, particularly those who are oppressed and downtrodden?
In every society it appears that there are distinctions between its members. There are the fortunate, seemingly blessed members, and the less fortunate ones who are constantly struggling. Those who succeed tend to view their success as stemming from their own abilities. Those who are not as blessed are viewed with disdain and not as equals. This sense of inequality can lead to the taking advantage of the less fortunate members of society. The message of Shabbos is the remedy to this misconception. One who truly accepts his role in the world as a creature rather than a creator can never succumb to this error. Our equality with our fellow man derives from our common Creator. In the eyes of Hashem there are no distinctions between the different segments of society. It is the Shabbos which instills in us the fundamental truth of the Creator that enables us to view each individual properly. It is the Shabbos and shemitah that call out a simultaneous message - remember your Creator and let your servants and even your animals breath easier. Honor the Shabbos and care for your fellow men who are your equals in the eyes of Hashem.
May we merit to observe Shabbos in its entirety. Let its lessons of acceptance of our place in the world guide us as we improve our relationship with each other.