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Shabbat Prayers: Morning Amidah: Rabbi Samson R Hirsch: The Sign of Shabbat

The 9th of Iyar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchak Bernays (Barneis) (1792-1849), teacher of Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch. “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel for ever, that in six days, God made heaven and earth, and with the Seventh Day, He ceased from work, and withdrew into His own Essence.” Our fulfillment of this covenant is the “sign” set up by God between Him and ourselves, to know that we recognize Him to be the Creator of heaven and earth, and that we acknowledge Him as such, by subordinating to Him, all of our own lives, our ambitions and our achievements.


There are thoughtless people who would like to view Shabbat simply as a day of respite from physical labor and effort which man, working by the sweat of his brow, needs in order to survive. If this were true, and the Shabbat was nothing else but a day of respite from bodily toil instead of a token of homage to God, conviction, attitude, and moral observance or non-observance, would be a matter of indifference. Every person would then have a Shabbat of his own, for everyone who works must have rest at some time.

Indeed, it would then be difficult to understand the need for a Divine commandment war for the establishment of the Shabbat for a specific day of the week. The day of rest would then be a natural outgrowth of man’s need for relaxation and recreation and the date on which that rest would take place would be immaterial.

But this is not the purpose of the cessation of all work on the Shabbat; the Shabbat was meant to be much more than just a day for physical rest. As opposed to creative labor, which entails the subordination of the world to the strength and power of man, the observance of the Shabbat is meant to be an expression of the obedience of man, of man’s subordination of himself and of the world about him to God, an act of homage by man to God as his Lord and Creator.

Hence, the proper observance of the Shabbat requires a complete change from the views, attitudes and moral relationships that commonly prevail. It is for this reason that God did not give the Shabbat, which is to be marked by the cessation of all work to those nations whose existence is rooted in their land which they have won and maintained by power and force. He did not permit the Shabbat to become the inheritance of those who view of the world as a territory peopled by a multitude of powerful forces which they worshiped as gods.

Nor can the true peace that is to be won through genuine Shabbat rest be attained by those who do not begin their homage to God with subordination of their own physical appetites.

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