On Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed we read from parshas Ki Sisa, “אלֹהי מסכה לא תעשה לך: את חג המצות תשמֹר .../Do not make for yourself any molten gods. You shall observe the festival of matzos …” From the juxtaposition of these two laws, Chazal teach us that one who belittles the holidays is as if he worships idols. On the second day of Pesach we read in parshas Emor, several paragraphs commanding us regarding all the holidays. These are preceded by the command to keep Shabbos. Here Chazal teach us that one who keeps the holidays is considered to have kept the Shabbos and conversely, one who profanes the holidays is considered to have profaned the Shabbos. What is the meaning and significance of these teachings?
The following fundamental premises will help us to understand. The first premise is that the entire physical Creation is rooted in the spiritual. Everything we see around us is simply the physical manifestation of an entity whose root is spiritual, outside of the natural world.
The second premise is that on Shabbos the entire physical Creation is more sensitive to its spiritual roots. The words of the Sfas Emes are, “Shabbos means an uplifting of every thing to its root which is above nature and which is the source of life of every thing.” On Shabbos, this sensitivity to the spiritual is automatic. This is why the sanctity of Shabbos (as opposed to the sanctity of the holidays as we shall soon see,) is not dependent upon us.
It is important to note though, parenthetically, that people will experience Shabbos differently depending upon how they prepare for Shabbos during the week. This is the point of a Midrash in Shir HaShirim which we read this Shabbos. The pasuk in Shir HaShirim states, “שחורה אני ונאוה/I am black and beautiful.” The Midrash says that “black” refers to the days of the week whereas “beautiful” refers to Shabbos. The Sfas Emes asks that apparently “black” is also a praise but what is the praise? The praise is, the Sfas Emes answers, that I can draw the holiness of Shabbos into the days of the week. Even as we are busy with our necessary weekday activities, we understand these activities, too, are rooted in holiness, in the spiritual. By recognizing this, we draw an aspect of Shabbos into our weekdays as well. To use the metaphor, even as I am black with mundane activities on a physical level, I am beautiful when I recognize the aspect of Shabbos holiness which inheres in those very activities.
The ability to experience a more spiritual Shabbos is alluded to by the halachah of Toseffes Shabbos, the requirement to accept Shabbos early before sunset on Friday and to keep it until after nightfall on Shabbos night. (Click here to see VaYeishev 5631 First Ma’amar for a more detailed discussion of Toseffes Shabbos.) We see that we can “add” to Shabbos.
The third premise is that God gave us the authority to establish when we celebrate the holidays. The mechanism we use to do this is establishing when the month begins. Beis Din alone decides when the month begins. Chazal teach us that the new month is established according to the decision of Beis Din, even when Beis Din made a mistake and even if they intentionally established the wrong day as the beginning of the new month.
(There is a famous story brought in Maseches Rosh HaShanah in which Rabban Gamliel, the president of the Sanhedrin, required R’ Yehoshua to profane the day on which Yom Kippur fell according to R’ Yehoshua’s reckoning. Rabban Gamliel needed to drive the point home. Beis Din sanctifies the days of the month. According to the Sanhedrin’s reckoning, R’ Yehoshua’s Yom Kippur was a regular weekday. R’ Yehoshua’s calculation may have been correct and the Sanhedrin may have erred. This is missing the point. The Sanhedrin has the authority to decide on which day Yom Kippur falls, even in error.)
Since the holidays fall on specific dates, Beis Din has the authority to sanctify specific days of the month. The calendar, having everything to do with time, represents the physical Creation which exists within time. Time itself is part of the Creation having been created as well. We learn from the holidays that we can sanctify the physical. Whereas on Shabbos the Creation is automatically more sensitive to its spiritual roots, the holidays teach us that we have the ability, as well, to make the physical more sensitive to its spiritual roots. We are able to reveal the spiritual inherent in the physical.
Now, with these premises, we can understand the two teachings of Chazal regarding keeping the holidays. Keeping the holidays is an acknowledgement that the physical world exists because it is connected to spiritual roots. One who does not keep the holidays, denies this connection. He believes that the physical has an autonomous existence. Believing that there is an autonomous power outside of God, outside of the spiritual, is the fundamental definition of idol worship. In the words of Chazal, “One who belittles the holidays is as if he worships idols.”
The Zohar is clearly referring to this concept when it says that one who does not keep the holidays is like one who does not believe in God because belief in God is dependent upon the holidays. This otherwise enigmatic Zohar is understood according to what we’ve said; keeping the holidays is a demonstration of our belief that the physical is part of and in fact, stems from, the spiritual, from God.
In the same vein, a person who profanes the holidays is considered to have profaned Shabbos as well. The only difference between Shabbos and the holidays is that on Shabbos the sensitivity to the spiritual is automatic whereas on the holidays we cause it. Denying the connection on the holidays, therefore, is the same as denying it on Shabbos, too.