During Makas Choshech, plague of darkness, the Egyptian people were overwhelmed with an opaque, fog-like condition that enveloped the country and extinguished all flames. Thus, even if an Egyptian could reach his lamp, any flame that he would kindle would immediately be extinguished. Horav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Shlita, says that the word b’moshvosam, in their dwellings, contains within it the letters which comprise the word b’shabbosam, in their Shabbosos, which he feels alludes to the notion that the reason the Jewish people were able to withstand the darkness of the Egyptian exile was that they observed Shabbos Kodesh. Indeed, Chazal (Shemos Rabbah 1:28) teach that the Jewish People in Egypt took upon themselves to observe Shabbos. Concerning the pasuk Va’yaar b’sivlosam, “He observed their burdens” (Ibid. 2:11), Moshe Rabbeinu went out to his brethren and saw that they had no rest. He went to Pharaoh and contended that one who owns a slave and does not grant him one day of rest will end up burying his slave. No human being can work non-stop without time off to rest. Pharaoh acquiesced and instructed Moshe to provide the Jewish people with a rest-day. Moshe established Shabbos as their day of rest. The spiritual illumination engendered through the medium of shemiras Shabbos eradicated the darkness of the exile that suffused the lives of the Jewish People throughout the ages.
This idea is alluded to in the Havdalah service, which we recite at the conclusion of Shabbos. Hamavdil bein ohr l’choshech; “He Who makes distinction between light and darkness.” This verse implies that immediately following Shabbos we enter into a period of darkness. Rav Gamliel explains that the weekdays that follow Shabbos are dark in contrast to Shabbos. When one observes Shabbos properly, he causes the Shabbos illumination to overflow and continue during the entire week. Thus, Shabbos continues to be a source of light that radiates our lives throughout the various circumstances that we confront.
Entire volumes of Torah literature have been dedicated to explaining the profundity of Shabbos Kodesh. Yet, for the majority of the Jewish People, it remains an ancient tradition heaped together – often rejected – with the rest of Jewish tradition and values. Perhaps, it is its profundity which makes it so difficult to accept. After all, what is the difference between one day of the week and another? At times, the most profound question can be elucidated with a simple answer: To Hashem, Shabbos has special meaning. He asked you/us to observe this day by sanctifying it. Is it so much to ask?
Horav Elchanan Wasserman, zl, visited his Rebbe, the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl, in Radin. Rav Elchanan related that in a nearby city, a number of shopkeepers had decided to keep their establishments open on Shabbos. He was able to convince all but two of the owners to shutter their stores for Shabbos. The remaining two were determined to play hardball and defy his request that they close. When the Chafetz Chaim heard this, he said, “Quick, we are traveling to that city, so that I can pay a visit to these two men.” Rav Elchanan did not want to burden his Rebbe, whose advanced age transformed this trip into a major hardship. Thus, he said that he would not go. The Chafetz Chaim countered, “Fine. So I will go myself.” Obviously, Rav Elchanan would not permit his Rebbe to travel alone; he accompanied him.
They arrived at the store of one of the recalcitrant owners. The Chafetz Chaim did not waste any time getting to the point. “Tell me, my friend,” he asked the owner, “do you have money?” “I have done well. I am quite comfortable.” “Do you have children?” the Chafetz Chaim asked. “Yes, I have a decent sized family.” “Is there anything that you are missing?” the sage asked. “Nothing, I am doing well. I have no complaints.”
When the Chafetz Chaim heard this, he began to weep bitterly and asked, “Hashem has been so good to you. He has given you everything: wealth and children. You are lacking nothing. Yet, Hashem makes only one request of you: that you give Him Shabbos. Is that too much to ask? Why will you not grant this to him?”
When the man heard such a “simple” request emanate from such a pure soul he could not say no. He acquiesced to closing his store for Shabbos. The second storekeeper agreed as well. The most profound questions can sometimes be answered with a simple, sincere response.