Simchas Torah/Breishis – Kavod Shabbos vs. Kavod HaTorah

 On Simchas Torah we conclude the reading of the Torah and immediately start it again with the reading of the seven days of creation in the Torah portion of Breishis. The creation culminates with the Shabbos; yet the obvious question is, why did Hashem rest on the 7th day and declare it a weekly “holiday “ in perpetuity?
 The Medrish Tanchuma in the second paragraph for the portion of Breishis answers this question based on a Shi’iltos di’Rav Achai Gaon, that was added into the medrish, and says that “Jews are obligated to rest on the day of Shabbos for Hashem created the world in six days and rested on Shabbos. He blessed [that day] and sanctified it, just as a person who builds his own house, and upon finishing it would throw a party. They would have a feast commemorating the conclusion of building, so that is what ‘By the seventh day G-D completed His work’ (Breishis 2:2), means. Hashem says you shall rest on Shabbos just as I rested on Shabbos, as it is written, ‘And He rested on the seventh day therefore Hashem blessed etc.’ (Shemos 20:11).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish goes on to discuss various things we do differently on Shabbos than during the week, for example not fasting, eating and drinking fancier food and drinks to delight on Shabbos, as well as dressing up in fancy, clean clothing. One shouldn’t talk about the same subjects or in the same way as they do during the week; neither shall they walk the same way as they do during the week, for mundane matters. (The Radak in Yeshayahu 58:13 adds that one should even eat his meals at different times than during the week, before or after the normal weekday times).
 The medrish then asks, “However we have to figure out, if a person is going to do a mitzvah, or going to pray, or to learn in the beis medrish, is it permitted to take big steps on Shabbos [as they would during the week]? (Big steps are defined by the Anaf Yosef as more than an amah. A normal step is an amah, meaning a half an amah between each foot when taking a step, and the sole of the foot is about a half an amah as well. An amah is 21.25 inches.) Is a mitzvah better or is honoring Shabbos better?” (The Be’ur Ha’amarim explain the question is, is honoring the Shabbos more important or is kavod HaTorah, honoring the Torah and it’s mitzvos when performing them more important? Meaning, are you considered in violation of the pasuk in Yeshaya 58:13 which says one should walk differently on Shabbos if one’s steps are too big when going to perform a mitzvah, or does it only apply to doing personal tasks?)

The Medrish answers, “Come and listen, for Rebbe Tanchum said in the name of Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi that a person should always run to do any matter of a mitzvah and even if it is on Shabbos. And Rebbe Zeira said that originally when I saw rabbis running to a Torah class on Shabbos, I said to myself that these rabbis are profaning Shabbos. When I heard what Rebbe Tanchum said, I also ran, and I concluded in my learning that the reward for going to a Torah class is in fact for the running.”
The Etz Yosef brings two reasons why the reward in Heaven for going to a Torah class is for running:

  1. According to Rashi, the reward for most people listening to a drasha [speech] from the rabbi is in fact the actual running to the lecture, as most of them cannot follow what he is saying, and even if they can, they won’t be able to repeat the lecture after a short period of time from when they got the reward for learning.
  2.  According to the Maharsha, this is referring to the rabbis who show up but don’t need the shiur, for they already know halacha, but nevertheless they are rewarded for running to the class. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

How could Rebbe Zeira think his fellow rabbis were desecrating Shabbos and what was it that Rebbe Tanchum said which made Rebbe Zeira change his mind so emphatically?

On the one hand we see how respecting Shabbos is so important to the degree that we have to do many things differently, like what we eat and drink, when we eat, how we dress, talk, and even the way we get from one place to the next. They should be different on Shabbos than during the week in order to acknowledge our belief in The Creator and appreciate His handiwork.
On the other hand the importance of respecting Hashem’s Torah can be emphasized by the opening statement of the Medrish Tanchuma on this Torah portion, which is the beginning of the entire book when it says, “’In the beginning G-D created’ this is what the pasuk writes, ‘Hashem with wisdom laid out the foundation of the land’ (Mishley 3:19), and when Hashem created His world, He inquired into the Torah and created the world.” The Torah is the blueprints of creation and handbook for mankind, so in showing honor to the Torah by running to fulfill its mitzvos and learning from it, it does not take away from the sanctity and honor of Shabbos as both are for the purpose of honoring Hashem.

Rebbe Zeira must have understood all this but thought that if the pasuk in Yeshayahu went out of its way to emphasize that one must walk differently on Shabbos, then that must be in all situations. Therefore since performing a mitzvah with alacrity or learning diligently with understanding, or praying with deep intent, suffices to bring honor to the Torah on Shabbos, the speed of travel to begin that mitzvah can be slowed for the sake of honoring the Shabbos, for both can be accomplished. Indeed, it is uniformly a show of respect for Hashem; therefore it must be those rabbi are disrespecting Shabbos by running to do the mitzvah!

However when he heard Rebbe Tanchum’s statement that at all times, even on Shabbos, one should rush to perform mitzvos or listen to Torah being learned, he realized that the ultimate respect to Hashem is in showing one’s interest and passion to hear and perform the “Word of G-D,” even if one does not understand what he is listening to or knows it already and doesn’t gain anything. The rush to acknowledge the importance of listening to Torah and trying to perform His will is the ultimate show of honor to the King Of All Kings and is not a sign of lack of respect to the Shabbos, because it is all one thing, serving Hashem, The Creator Of The World, and showing excitement in performing His will.