2/27/2006

Zachor and Shamor: R' Shimon b. Yochai Part X

[Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX ]

We concluded the last installment by suggesting that R’ Shimon’s question and the Old Man’s answer lie within meaning of the ‘Zachor/Shamor’ duality of Shabbat.
‘God has spoken once; but I heard twice’
-Tehillim 62:12
The most well-known and blatant discrepancy between the Decalogue as recorded in Shemot and as recorded in Devarim is the initiation of the passage on Shabbat with the term Zachor in the former and Shamor in the latter. Perplexed by this discrepancy of meanings between the two texts which we expect to be identical in content if not form, Chaza”l suggested that these two words were uttered simultaneously by God, an act incomprehensible to the human ear. God’s statement, when it struck the human mind, refracted into two elements, Shamor and Zachor.

The Shamor/Zachor dichotomy includes a tension characteristic of the sacred in general. On one hand, the sacred is wholly transcendent, sharing nothing at all with the profane. Entering it means entering a different world. With regard to Shabbat, this aspect of sacredness, the cessation of all workaday labor, is encapsulated by the term ‘Shamor’.

At the same time, the sacred has a very important role to play vis-à-vis the profane. By experiencing the sacred, one returns to the profane with an eye toward elevating it, imbuing it with the spirit of the sacred, allowing the sacred to ‘spill over’ into the profane. This elements of Shabbat, encapsulated by Zakhor, represents the way in which Shabbat sustains the week and makes it meaningful.

Shabbat, paradoxically, is therefore both part of the week and completely distinct from it. Would Shabbat be just another day, but with a different set of prescribes activities, or an experience so divorced from the paramount reality that there would be no way to meaningfully carry it back, Shabbat would lose its centrality; only by preserving this paradox does Shabbat keep its power.
What is true of Shabbat extends to other realms of the sacred as well, including sanctified people. Israel, on one hand, is unique and wholly other, belonging to a different order of existence and enjoying a different type of relationship with God than any other nation. At the same time, Israel is charged with a mission vis-à-vis the other nation; there is a message to be spread. Israel is both a nation like other nations and an incomparable ahistorical entity. This duality is captured in the Torah’s designation of Israel as ‘a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation’, remaining wholly other yet fully participating in the unfolding of history.

R’ Shimon began this story rejecting Rome, and ultimately rejecting the temporal world, in favor of matters eternal. The old man running teaches him that it’s possible to live with the paradox of Shamor and Zachor, to remain fully rooted within Chayei Olam, and yet to participate fully within Chayei Sha’ah, and that to forsake either is to deny Israel’s mission. Indeed, those most rooted in Eternity have the most to contribute to temporality; the most transcendent Shabbos can have the greatest impact on the ensuing week.

Thus, to see R’ Shimon’s return to society as a form of ‘calming down’, a necessary moderation which follows a period of intensity, is to miss a crucial element of R’ Shimon’s transformation and, indeed, a crucial element of the Jewish religious experience: full engagement of and participation in the human sphere and communion with God are not mutually exclusive, and, in fact, can become one and the same. Mitzvah is the totality of the manner by which Eternity is trapped in a single moment of human life. R’ Shimon has gone beyond rejection, beyond the place where there’s a choice whether to accept or reject, and has arrived at a place marked by a rootedness in the Eternal on what hand, and a willingness to invest anything that temporal life may present him with the spirit of that Eternity.
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