Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayishlach ) Expanse and Limits!

Our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov observed all the laws of the Torah even though the Torah was not given to their descendants until hundreds of years later. They were able to perceive the Torah laws through their keen spirituality. Still, the Torah highlights specific laws that were unique to each one of our forefathers.

In this week’s portion the Torah relates that when Yaacov returned to the Land of Israel after being absent for twenty-two years, he purchased a parcel of land by the City of Shechem. The Torah then says, ‘Yayichan’ – and he encamped. Our Sages tell us that this is a hint that Yaacov observed the laws of Techum Shabbos – the boundaries of Shabbos.

The law of Techum Shabbos is that the Torah states that one may not leave his place on the day of Shabbos. This means that one may not walk more than 2000 cubits from his home or the last home in a city. Before the onset of Shabbos, Yaacov surveyed the position of his encampment and demarcated the edge of the last structures on the periphery of the encampment so that he, his family and entourage would be permitted to walk 2000 cubits (approx. 4000 feet) past that last structures and no further.

Let’s attempt to gain an appreciation of the concept of the boundaries of Shabbos and how it specifically related to Yaacov. G-d specifically blessed Yaacov that he and his descendants will spread to all corners of the world. This blessing meant that Yaacov’s descendants would have no physical boundaries where they could live in the world while being the ambassadors of G-d’s Torah and message.

Yes, Yaacov was given the blessing of the expanse of the world. However, in regards to Shabbos and Holidays, one’s expanse is limited within the parameters of the laws of boundaries of Shabbos. There are places in this world that have intrinsic Holiness to them, such as the area of the Temple in Jerusalem, and there are places and entities such as a cemetery and a human corpse that give off ritual impurities.

Ritual impurity from a Jewish corpse (in an open area) emanates four cubits around it, and contaminates those who are in that space. Additionally, one cannot pray, recite blessings or study Torah if they are within four cubits of foul smelling items, such as feces.

Reb Tzodok Hakohain explains: In the Torah, when G-d speaks of His abundant reward for those who follow His ways vs. the penalty for those who neglect His ways, the ratio is one to five hundred. G-d’s outlay of good exceeds His measurement for bad, five hundred times. With this said, we can understand one of the reasons why 2000 cubits was specifically chosen to extend one’s boundary of Shabbos. Because it is five hundred times more than the four cubits that ritually infect an area.

There are circumstances when one’s space of four cubits around him is elevated due to spiritual involvement, such as, when one is in the midst of the Amidah – silent devotion of prayer while he/she is essentially standing before the King. The four cubits around them contains Kedusha - holiness.

The halls where Torah is studied are referred to as the “four cubits of Halacha – law.” Since the time of the destruction of our Temple this is where G-d’s presence on earth dwells.

When one honors and observes the laws of Shabbos he becomes invested with the sanctity of G-d’s presence – since he is actively observing its laws and thus his essence and four cubits around him becomes an abode for G-d’s holiness!

On Shabbos, this special aura of holiness extends up to the 2000 cubits past the border of one’s dwelling.

The question raised is why on Shabbos does our expanse have limitations?

Perhaps, we can explain with the following idea. Our Sages tell us that in the beginning of creation, the world was rapidly expanding until G-d declared Dai – enough! The world stopped increasing. G-d in fact revealed Himself to our forefathers with this Name, Sha-dai and it is the Name of G-d that is inscribed on the Mezzuza parchment that is affixed to our doorposts.

At times, limitations and boundaries are opportunities for our personal growth.

On Shabbos our world is limited so that on the exalted day of Shabbos we can elevate our personal levels of sanctity by focusing on its laws and our families and be able to bask in the absolute delight of the holy day of Shabbos!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!

Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family