The Chevron Hagaddah points out that the slavery in Egypt was not only physical, it was also spiritual. How so? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov, Shemos 5:9) based on the Medresh (Shemos Rabba 5:18) that Moshe Rebeinu was able to secure from Pharaoh a weekly day of rest from the hard labor for Bnei Yisroel. Moshe Rebeinu chose Shabbos. Moreover, Moshe arranged that Bnei Yisroel should gather each Shabbos and read Megillos that were in their possession that gave them comfort and hope for their redemption from Egypt by God.
However, after Moshe told Pharaoh to free Bnei Yisroel, he cancelled the day of rest and prohibited the reading of the Megillos. Rabbi Kamenetsky later suggests (Shemos 6:9) that the loss of Shabbos and reading of the Megillos made it no longer possible for Bnei Yisroel to listen to Moshe Rebeinu under the oppressive labor.
We therefore already see from Egypt how important Shabbos observance is for the very spiritual sanity of Klal Yisroel. There is a striking gemara (Ketubot 103a) that underscores how special Shabbos really is:
Just before Rebbi (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi) passed away he called his children. He said, “Light a candle in my place, prepare a table in my place, prepare a bed in my place” … What is the reason? He would return to his home every Erev Shabbos …
Why would Rebbi return to Shabbos in this world from his well-earned place in the World to Come? Rabbi Avraham Pam (Atara L’Melech, p. 7) concludes based on the gemara that Shabbos observance in this world is even greater than the World to Come!
From the Talmud above we learn an amazing insight – how great the holiness of Shabbos actually is. For Rebbi left his place in Gan Eden from before the very Presence of God and dressed his soul with his body in order to return to this lower world and enjoy the holiness of Shabbos and honor the Shabbos with Kiddush and a meal. This was a huge merit awarded him, one not granted to other great righteous people …
In the Shabbos zemiros, we sing that Shabbos is “likened to the World to Come.” But from the level of Rebbi we see that the World to Come is likened to Shabbos, not the other way round. Someone who reaches the level of Rebbi, instead of being given an experience comparable to Shabbos, is given Shabbos itself. What an incredibly profound idea to contemplate! However, we need to remember that we have this merit (to experience Shabbos) only while we are in “this world.” Afterwards there will no longer be such an opportunity.
We therefore learn from both the overwhelming spiritual loss of Shabbos observance in Egypt and the fact that Rebbi chose to return to this world each Shabbos when he could have remained in the World to Come enjoying his closeness with God, teaches us the precious opportunity we have each Shabbos to experience such holiness!
To help prepare for your Seder and classes this Pesach, click below for the NLE Morasha Seder Guide, two shiurim on Pesach and a Thinking Gemara shiur on the Four Cups: