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Why does God care that we do melacha on Shabbos?


When someone asks something like “why does God care about you ripping on Shabbos?” Or “why does God care about all these minute, seemingly meaningless details that he requires you to do?” What is a proper answer/response for someone that may actually be interested in the answer?


You are asking an important question. It is obvious that G-d does really care about this, because he attached the most severe punishment to violating the Shabbos. The fact that to us it seem to be a meaningless detail, doesn’t mean that this is the way it is viewed from G-d’s angle. There are many times in our lives that minute detail do matter, such as with tiny circuits in a computer or gadget – if one breaks it can cause the device not to work, or whether in regards to some tiny vein or nerve in the body which ruptures can God-forbid lead to death. Nevertheless, your question is WHY does this in fact matter so much to G-d? I am sure there are many answers to this question, but here is what I tell people.

Someone once asked R’ Shimshon Pincus zt”l  “Is it true that in the Torah it says that someone gathered a few twigs and he was killed for it? So he answered “Yes,” it says that in the Torah. He asked WHY? He answered him with a parable.

There were two surgeons that were performing surgery, and both made mistakes. One was a hand surgeon and he cut his patient’s hand 1/10 inch too much. This was a bad mistake! The other surgeon was a neurosurgeon and he usually works under a microscope, if he makes a minute mistake of even a 1/100 inch, it is a fatal mistake and he can sit in jail for it! Why is it like that? Because he is working in the nerve center! Over there, there is no room for mistakes, every single move matters because of where he is working!

Besides for Shabbos   there is another place that we see a lot of stringency and that is, in the Bais Hamikdash. In the Bais Hamikdash for any wrong move the punishment was death. A wrong thought by the kohen while doing the service, was death, if the kohen didn’t wash his hands beforehand death, if his clothes weren’t the special garments …death, if his cloths were too long or too short…death, if there was a little air in between his skin and the garments …death, any wrong move was death! Why was it so? Because when it is in front of the king then everything is critical! It is in front of the king! This is why everything in the Bais Hamikdash was such a big punishment. It wasn’t what was done, rather where it was done.

The Talmud (Yevamos 6a), compares Shabbos to the Bais Hamikdash that we are to fear the holiness that there is in both of those places. The Sefer Yireim says that the same way that we are commanded to honor and fear the Bais Hamikdash, so to we must honor and fear the Shabbos, because they are compared in the Torah to each other. What is it that they both have in common- the presence of Hashem!

Shabbos is like being in the Bais Hamikdash, when Shabbos enters, we are like in the king’s throne room. We see that all the things that were in the Bais Hamikdash we have on Shabbos.

  1. In the Bais Hamikdash there was the Aron Hakodesh which represents the Torah, and was also the place where the connection between Hashem and the Jews was greatest. On Shabbos there is an idea of learning Torah, as stated in the Talmud (Yerushalmi Shabbos 15-3) Shabbos was given for the stuy of Torah”. We mentioned that Shabbos is when we have special time with Hashem, the reason for this is that even if we are in the house of Hashem on Shabbos, but we must talk to him or else what good is it to be in his house. Learning his Torah, talking to Hashem.
  2. Also in the Bais Hamikdash there was a Menorah, on Shabbos we have the candles. Not only that, but in the Bais Hamikdash there were two mitzvos to be done with the מנורה, one was the preparation of the Menorah, to clean it out, and set it up, and the second one was the actual lighting of the Menorah. So to on Shabbos, we have these two ideas, because the husband sets up the candles and then the wife lights them.
  3. In the Bais Hamikdash there was a table, on Shabbos we also have a representation of this table, we have a Shabbos meals. We can add to this that in the Bais Hamikdash on the table there was the Show bread, the 12 special breads that was baked on Erev Shabbos and put on the table to stay until the next Shabbos and remained warm until then. We also have a minhag to bake Challos on erev Shabbos to put on the Shabbos table. Some women have the minhag to either bake the challos from six pieces or to knead them from six strands, so that when they will put down two challos on the table it will be from 12 parts like the show bread.
  4. Before Shabbos we must change our clothes. Where do we know this? The verse says regarding the kohen gadol ופשט את בגדיו ולבש בגדים אחרים” ” that he will change his clothing before doing the service. We do the same thing because on Shabbos we are like a kohen doing the service in the Bais Hakmikdash!
  5. Before entering the Bais Hamikdash one was required to wash his hands and feet. Prior to Shabbos we also wash our hands and feet, like the kohanim.

6.The Bais Hamikdash had korbanos and we have the Shabbos meal. All this is because on Shabbos we are like in the Bais Hamikdash, because were in the presence of Hashem.


Now we can appreciate why on Shabbos the punishment is so great, not because of what was done but where we are at that time standing in front of the king.

This idea also has a deeper aspect to it. The idea of Shabbos is that Hashem made man to rule over the world, like it says ומלו את הארץ וכבשוה” ”. Man accomplishes this by using his mind, and therefore manipulating the world, and making changes in it. For example, by trapping animal, by planting food, making clothing, building houses, cooking, etc. All of these processes give a man dominion over the world, and are represented in what is called the 39 melachos (39 types of thought provoked processes). Hashem however said, you can work and dominate the world for six days a week, however on the seventh day I want you to give me back the dominion of the world as a proclamation that I am the real king and boss of the world. It is as if the king gave us the “keys” to rule the world, but on Shabbos He wants the ruler ship back, therefore all creative work of how to manipulate the world are prohibited for us to do, because on Shabbos HE is the king. Now when a person does melacha, it is we are as if taking the keys away from Hashem, and saying NO! I am the boss of the world! Imagine such a scene, the king gives one of his ministers the right to rule over a particular country, for a certain period and then wants him to return it temporarily. He calls the minister in to the throne room, and when he asks this from the minister, the minister replies, No, that country actually belongs to me! It is pretty obvious what will happen to the minister in short order… he will lose his head.  Therefore when a Jew dos melacha on Shabbos (on purpose) it is really mutiny against the king, in no less a place than the king’s own palace! So, what comes out is that in G-d’s eyes, when a Jew desecrates the Shabbos, he is doing the worst crime in the worst place- the kings throne room!

I have a friend that is about to put on a book entitled “Why do I need to keep Shabbos”. If you would like to be in contact with him, of to get a pdf copy of the book, let me know.

Best wishes

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent answer! I would be interested in a PDF copy of the book.

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