Step 1: Revealing Hashem’s Presence
When we put away our sukkak and machzorim over a month ago, many of us let out a sigh wishing that these wonderful days of simcha and closeness to Hashem would never end. But in truth Hashem does not want it to be Yom Tov all year long. He wants us to take what we received during those special days and integrate it into our daily life. It sounds nice, but how are we supposed to do that? The answer is through Shabbos! This wonderful day, which comes every week, has the ability to lift us once again to those same spiritual heights and help us recharge our batteries for the coming week.
This raises a difficult question. Why is it that many people don’t experience that special intensity on Shabbos as they do on Yom Tov? One reason may be that they are missing the preparation. Like all of Yiddishkeit, the more you effort you put into something, the more you will get out of it. Because Yomim Tovim occur only a few times a year, we put special effort into understanding them and therefore receive more in return. However, Shabbos, which comes so often, remains an untouched topic for many people. They don’t know the meaning of Shabbos and certainly don’t know how to tap into it.
This can be seen from the Gemara in Masechtas Shabbos (10b): “Hashem told Moshe – I have a wonderful present in my treasure house and its name is Shabbos. Go tell Klal Yisroel about it.” Why did He have to tell them how special it is – when Shabbos arrives won’t they realize it for themselves? The only way to feel the kedusha of Shabbos is by understanding Shabbos and why it is special.
Let us embark on a fascinating voyage through the world of Shabbos. In this series of articles we will be’ezras Hashem touch on some of the important and intriguing aspects of this multi-faceted day. Hopefully this will make Shabbos an experience we and our families will look forward to every week.
We begin by clarifying what Shabbos is. Every Yom Tov gives us a special gift to take throughout the year. On Rosh Hashana we add to our yiras Sshamayim – fear of heaven; on Yom Kippur, we are given repentance; on Sukkos, simcha; and on Shavuos, the Torah. What do we receive from Shabbos?
The Darkness Of This World
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt”l explains that in reality, when we look around at the world, we should be immediately overcome with love and fear of Hashem, as the Rambam says (Yesodei Hatorah 2:2): “How does one come to love and fear Hashem? When a person examines all of Hashem’s amazing and huge creations and sees the astounding wisdom which is endless, he is immediately overcome with love of Hashem and praises and glorifies Him … and he will have an extreme desire to know more about the Great Hashem…. And when he thinks about these things he immediately will jump back and be filled with fear and trepidation as he realizes how he is such a small and lowly creature standing with such puny intelligence in front of the One with Perfect Intellect.” So why don’t we also feel this way? The Gemara in Bava Metziyah (83b) reveals the answer.
“‘Ta’shes choshech va’yehee l’ayla – darkness settles and it is night’ (Tehillim 104:20) – the night refers to this world (the physical world), which is compared to night.” We learn from here that Hashem has placed a great darkness in this world that hides His presence. Our job is to repel this darkness, and thus see Hashem everywhere. During the week this is a difficult task, as we are involved with worldly pursuits, such as earning a living and taking care of our needs.
Shvisa – Putting Everything on Halt
On Shabbos, though, everything stops, and it is much easier to reach this goal. We do not involve ourselves in any activities of production, so much so that the Shulchan Aruch (306:8) tells us that on Shabbos we must view all our work as finished. The reason: Shabbos is “M’ein Olam Haba” – a preview of the World-to-Come. In Olam Haba we will be exclusively involved in the greatest pleasure – basking in Hashem’s Glory. Nothing else will exist besides Hashem and us. Shabbos is similar, but on a smaller scale. The King comes to spend time with us, and we therefore gladly remove ourselves from all other activities. We must cook and bake before Shabbos, because once the Guest has arrived we want to spend all our time with Him. And Hashem’s presence is everywhere. Every second of the day should be a reminder that it is Shabbos. We walk differently, talk differently and prepare food differently. In the street we do not carry (if there is no eiruv) and we do not drive. And most of all – we cut ourselves off from the world! We turn off our BlackBerries and iPhones, and we are left only with Hashem. Now the darkness of the world is just a thin wrapper, which can easily be removed.
Shabbos And Light
With this thought we can explain another aspect of Shabbos. The longest standard brocha we have is yotzer ohr in the morning prayers – where we praise Hashem for the fabulous creation of light. However, we find many differences between the version said on Shabbos and the one for the rest of the week. Aside from the additions describing the special qualities of Shabbos, we find a much longer description of the sun and the other celestial bodies. During the week we recite a list of praises with one word corresponding to each letter of the alef-beis. On Shabbos, however, we recite the poem of Kel Adon, which has four words corresponding to each letter of the alef-beis. Why do we make these additions and why do we speak about Shabbos specifically in this brocha?
On Shabbos, when we are less involved in the materialistic darkness of the world, we are finally able to look around and see Hashem’s presence. Therefore, we thank Hashem for this gift in the brocha of light, the great creation that allows us to see His World. Shabbos and light work in tandem to dispel the great darkness that Hashem has placed here. The introduction to this brocha on Shabbos is “Hakol yoducha, vihakol yishbichucha, vihakol yomru ein kodosh k’Hashem – Everyone will acknowledge You, and everyone will praise You, and all will say there is no one as Holy as Hashem!” Now on Shabbos, even before we come to the next world, it is much easier for us to realize that there is no comparison to You, Hashem!
Shabbos teaches us how to dispel the darkness of this world. Discovering Hashem everywhere on Shabbos, makes it easier to continue doing so during the rest of the week. Let us try to be aware – even just a few times on Shabbos – that Hashem is with us. Each time we do something differently because it is Shabbos is an opportunity to transport ourselves to a different world – the world of Shabbos, where it is only us and our beloved Hashem!
B’ezras Hashem, in future articles we will see how this understanding will instill much feeling and meaning to many of the different aspects of Shabbos!
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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