When we say kiddush on Friday night, we say that Shabbat is a “zecher litziyat Mitzrayim,” “in memory of the Exodus from Egypt.” We also recite the first verses of the Torah that mention Shabbat (Bereishit 2:1-3).


Shabbat is first mentioned not as a mitzvah, not as a commandment from God to Israel, but something set in nature. God creates Shabbat as part of the cycle of creating the world. Shabbat is a weekly celebration of Creation, of existence itself. 


The Torah’s connection between Shabbat and the Exodus comes in parashat Ve’etchanan (Devarim 5:11-14) in the retelling of the Ten Commandments:


Keep the day of Shabbat…. You shall do no labor, not you, your sons or your daughters, your manservants or maidservants…. so that your manservants and maidservants might rest like you. And you shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Eternal, your God, took you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. It is because of this that the Eternal your God commands you regarding the day of Shabbat.


Rashi asks an odd question in his first commentary on the Torah. If the Torah is a book of laws and commandments, why does it start with the story of Creation? Shouldn’t it start with the first commandment given to Israel (the mitzvah of marking Rosh Chodesh, and establishing Nisan as the first month)? The question sounds odd if we see the Torah as a book that helps people relate to the Divine. If the entire enterprise of Torah is that of relating to the world as something holy, then it makes sense that Torah should begin by talking about the holiness of the world by virtue of its being created by God. It is only if we put practice before theology or spirituality that Rashi’s question can make sense. After all, “na’aseh venishma, we shall do and we shall hear, is the traditional approach to Torah and mitzvot.”


Shabbat is a day set aside from work so that we can honor the One who spoke the world into being. We are only able to do so if we are free to do so. We are only able to fully serve the One who created the world if we are not enslaved to anything or anyone worldly. This is why we remember the Exodus on Shabbat. As slaves to Pharaoh, we could not direct our lives toward holier goals than being part of a tyrant’s plans of self-aggrandizement and oppression. Once free, we can live in a way that honors the holiness of the world and everyone in it.


Tying the Exodus to the culmination of Creation reminds us of three things: 

1) Our purpose as human beings is to live in a way that highlights the holiness of existence.

2) Human beings are made to serve the Divine, not to be enslaved or oppressed.

3) While we are meant to serve God in all ways, we were not born onto an equal playing field, and not all of us are enabled to fulfill our highest purpose in all ways. A Torah-committed Jew seeks to change that.


We must make certain to make our lives a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name by treating everyone with the dignity due to anyone created by the Holy One. We exercise our freedom by honoring the holiness of existence.


Shabbat shalom!

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