Despite having already explained Shabbos in the last two Torah portions, the Torah does so again in this week’s: “Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest…” (23:12). Aside from the peculiar repetition of these laws, the verse also uses a strange phrase when segueing to the rest of our animals: ‘you shall rest in order that your ox… shall rest’. What does our rest have to do with the rest of our animals?
The Imrei Emes explains this phrase with an idea that is fundamental for not only Shabbos, but all human interaction. He explains that the rest of Shabbos, if done properly, can permeate throughout our environment, so much so that our animals also feel like resting. Instinctively, the animals will understand through our activity, or lack thereof, that it’s a day of rest. That’s what the verse implies by saying we rest ‘in order that’ our ox rests.
Of course, this concept stretches even beyond Shabbos. Our actions, demeanor and mood affect not only our decisions, but the people around us. When we’re in a bad mood, it rubs off on others. If we smile, it causes others to as well. Our mood is contagious, and it is certainly within our religious lives as well. If we treat the mitzvot with the devotion and care that they deserve, then our children, peers, and students will naturally be inclined to mirror our attitude. Despite what we sometimes like to think -that learning right from wrong can be accomplished simply through education- that’s only one side of the coin. It must also include observing, befriending, and surrounding ourselves with the right environment.