The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) teaches, “Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘I have a matanah tovah, good gift, in My treasure house and Shabbos is its name, and I seek to give it to Yisrael. Go and inform them about it.’” The Steipler Gaon, zl observes that, obviously, when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to inform Klal Yisrael about Shabbos, it was not concerning hilchos, the laws of Shabbos, because Moshe had an obligation to teach the laws of all the mitzvos. In this area, Shabbos would not be unique. In what area was Shabbos distinguished from all other mitzvos that Hashem instructed Moshe to “inform them”? The Steipler posits that this applies to Kedushah, the sanctity of Shabbos. Unlike any other mitzvah, one who observes Shabbos is ensconced in a period of extreme sanctity with which he is infused and essentially altered. One who observes Shabbos is privy to added Kedushah.
Furthermore, the Steipler quotes Chazal (Shabbos 118b), “Whoever guards Shabbos in accordance with halachah, even if he worshipped idols on the level of the generation of Enosh (in which the generation was totally steeped in every form of idol worship), he is absolved.” The Steipler questions this statement. If the person who had worshipped idols has not yet repented, what does he gain from Shabbos? Shemiras Shabbos does not erase idol worship. He must repent. If he repents, for what does he need Shabbos to repair his relationship with Hashem? His repentance will affect his forgiveness.
The Steipler explains that there are transgressions that, although one has repented, there still remains a taint, a vestige, an impression on his neshamah, soul. We cannot say that it is once again pristine. The sin left “something” behind. Shabbos, however, through its kedushah, has the power to expunge completely that strain which taints the neshamah.
Friday night we chant (in zemiros), Kol mekadeish shevii karaui lo, kol shomer Shabbos kadas meichallelo; “Whoever hallows the Shabbos as befits it, whoever safeguards the Shabbos properly from desecration.” The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains that there are two distinct levels with regard to Shabbos observance. First is the shomer Shabbos mechallelo, who safeguards Shabbos properly from desecration. He observes Shabbos, but Shabbos does not add much to his personal level of holiness, as he remains the same after Shabbos as he was prior to Shabbos. The second level is mekadesh shevii karaui lo; whoever hallows the Shabbos as befits it, he leaves the Shabbos a different person – having been spiritually elevated and sanctified by Shabbos. It goes without saying that not only are their individual Shabbos experiences dissimilar, so, too, are their individual rewards disparate.
Horav Shlomo Bloch, zl, premier student of the Chafetz Chaim, related that when the sage completed his magnum opus, the Mishnah Berurah, he made a festive meal for six days straight, inviting the Torah scholars closest to him. Every day they would sit and discuss the halachos connected to that volume of the Mishnah Berurah. When Shabbos arrived, he once again invited all of the scholars to join him for the Shabbos meal. One of his close students questioned this arrangement, since there are only six volumes to the Mishnah Berurah. The Chafetz Chaim replied that the night before “Shabbos Kodesh” had appeared to him and demanded an extra festive meal in honor of Shabbos (Hilchos Shabbos), claiming that Shabbos is the essence of the Glory of Hashem and His Kingdom. It is the source of all blessing, both in the material and spiritual spheres. So, should it not be accorded the proper honor that it deserves?