Shabbat for everyone: Hol Hamoed Pesach, 5774

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This coming Shabbat carries the complicated name “Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach” (“Shabbat of the Intermediate Days of Passover”).
As Shabbat approaches, we will examine whether there is an essential connection between Shabbat and Passover, or if it is merely a coincidence that one of the intermediate days of the festival is Shabbat.
The answer to this question is known to everyone who makes Kiddush on Friday evening, in which we recite that Shabbat is “in memory of the Exodus from Egypt.” Indeed, one of the reasons that the Torah gives us for the commandment of resting on Shabbat is the following: “Six days may you work, and perform all your labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your ox, your donkey, any of your livestock, nor the stranger who is within your cities, in order that your manservant and your maidservant may rest like you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5, 13-15) Many commentators tried to explain the connection between Shabbat and the Exodus from Egypt.
Let us look at the words of the sages of the midrash: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt – and the Blessed be He liberated you from there to rest, and therefore your manservant and maidservant will rest.”
At this point, let us return to the Exodus from Egypt, the founding event of the Jewish nation, expressed in many commandments, specifically those of Passover, and let us delve into the significance of this event.
The Jewish nation lived for centuries under foreign rule that degraded strangers and made them slaves without rights while abusing people with no civil or economic standing. Then the Jewish people was liberated through a series of wondrous events which we tell on Seder Eve: the Ten Plagues, eating the Passover sacrifice, and then the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians while their former slaves watched.
This freedom that the Jewish nation merited became a special message in the ancient world, and this message continues to have an impact to this day. The fact that a demeaned and enslaved nation was privileged to stand tall and be completely liberated contained – and still contains – a message of freedom and equality for generations.
This message gradually affected almost the entire world, and certainly Western culture. But undoubtedly, it mainly obligated us, members of the Jewish people.
A man who has the Exodus from Egypt etched into his consciousness cannot enslave another. A nation whose existence is based on being liberated from slavery is incapable of having an alien with no rights. Even when slavery was considered a legitimate phenomenon, there was one nation whose slaves were entitled to a weekly day of rest, the same nation whose collective memory holds the value of freedom. This is the Jewish nation.
On Shabbat, every person gets to rest. This rest, which in ancient times was considered by other nations to be an expression of laziness and idleness, is a wonderful expression of freedom for every single person.
We learned from the Exodus from Egypt that there is no man without rights and there is no man who is not entitled to rest. If anyone takes away the one weekly day of rest to which a man is entitled, he is thus expressing lack of respect, as though the person does not have the right to rest from his work.
This value which the Torah deduces from the events of the Exodus has accompanied the Jewish nation wherever it has ended up and has preserved the nation’s moral level. In this way, there is truth in the phrase “More than the fact that Am Yisrael kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept Am Yisrael.”
It is true because keeping Shabbat without any discrimination between master and slave, between citizen and alien, was a moral code that always made sure the Jewish nation would remain one that maintained high values and lived according to them.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach. There is nothing like Shabbat that occurs during Passover to return us to the consciousness of the liberation and the internalization of the beauty inherent in Shabbat and in keeping it.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.