The Torah (Shemos 16:27) tells of two members of Bnei Yisrael — whom Chazal identified as Dassan and Aviram — who left the camp in the morning of the first Shabbos after the manna began to fall, expecting to find manna. This was in violation of Hashem’s command to the people not to leave the camp on Shabbos morning, as no manna would fall on Shabbos. Hashem responded in an angry tone to this violation, and He said to Moshe, “Until when will you refuse to obey My commands?!” The question naturally arises as to why Hashem includes Moshe in His condemnation — “…will you refuse to obey…” Certainly, Moshe was not guilty of disobeying G-d’s command regarding the manna. Why, then, does Hashem castigate Moshe along with the violators?
The answer is found in Rashi’s comments several verses earlier (16:22), in discussing the events that occurred the previous day, on Friday. The Torah there relates that a double portion of manna fell on Friday morning, and the people came to Moshe to inform him. The clear implication is that the people were surprised by the extra portion, as they evidently had not been told beforehand that G-d would be sending two portions on Friday and no manna would be falling on Shabbos. Rashi explains that Moshe had neglected to convey this information to the people, and for this reason he was called to task by Hashem the next day after Dassan and Aviram transgressed.
The question, however, remains — what does Moshe’s mistake have to do with Dassan and Aviram’s brazen disregard of Hashem’s command? Even once we understand that Moshe had not informed the people when he was supposed to, we still need to understand why Hashem included him when condemning Dassan and Aviram.
The great Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in Kedushas Levi, explains that a mitzvah requires preparation. By spending time preparing for a mitzvah, one shows how dear the mitzvah is to him, the importance he affords it, his eager anticipation to fulfill it, and his determination to fulfill it the right way. Shabbos, too, requires preparation.
The Ramban (Shemos 20:8), for example, writes that it is a mitzvah each day to declare, “Today is the first day of the Shabbos [cycle],” “Today is the second day of the Shabbos [cycle],” and so on, to show our anticipation of Shabbos. The Kedushas Levi writes that had Moshe Rabbeinu informed Bnei Yisrael about Shabbos earlier in the week, rather than waiting until midmorning Friday, they would have had the opportunity to prepare and to build their anticipation. This effect would have been so significant that Dassan and Aviram would not have gone out to look for manna on Shabbos. This disregard for Shabbos could have been avoided if they had had the opportunity to prepare for Shabbos, and thus Moshe Rabbeinu, who neglected to teach the people about Shabbos earlier in the week, was held to task for this incident.
For this reason, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak explains, Hashem criticized Moshe and the people for failing lishmor mitzvosai. The root shamor often means “observe,” but it can also refer to anticipation, as in the Torah’s description of Yaakov Avinu anticipating the fulfillment of Yosef’s dreams (Bereishis 37:11): va’aviv shamar es hadavar — “but his father kept the matter in mind.” And thus when we speak of shemiras Shabbos, we refer not only to the observance of the laws of Shabbos once Shabbos arrives, but also the preparation for Shabbos and the eagerness with which we anticipate its arrival.
This message applies to all the mitzvos, but our Sages emphasized in particular the importance of eagerly anticipating Shabbos: mi shetarach b’erev Shabbos yochal b’Shabbos — “the one who toils on the eve of the Sabbath will eat on the Sabbath“ (Avodah Zarah 3a). By personally spending time preparing ourselves and our homes for Shabbos, we show how important Shabbos is and how excited we are to experience the holiness of this special day.
As we know, in America, Shabbos observance fell by the wayside for many years. When Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States, they failed to rise to the challenge of Shabbos observance, and the result was widespread desecration. Baruch Hashem, the tide has turned. However, a certain Torah Sage remarked that although Shabbos has been restored, Friday has not. The special Erev Shabbos atmosphere that is felt in Eretz Yisrael, as stores close and the streets and markets gradually quiet down, is not generally felt in American Jewish communities.
In truth, we live in galus and are not in control of our surroundings. Nonetheless, as individuals we can create an “Erev Shabbos feel.” Let us recommit ourselves to the concept of preparing for the holy days, so that we will be able to take full advantage of the great spiritual benefits offered by Shabbos and by the Yamim Tovim, and bring blessing upon ourselves, our families, and all Am Yisrael.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.