In sixteenth-century Cracow, there lived a Jew named R’ Isserl. He was a scholar, philanthropist, and a well-respected community leader, who made a fine living manufacturing and selling fine silk. Many member of the Polish nobility were his customers.
Late one Friday morning, a nobleman entered Isserl’s store to make a substantial purchase. He spent a great deal of time picking out various amounts of expensive materials. By the time he had chosen his fabric it was already noon, and the fabric still had to be measured and cut.
Isserl explained to his customer that he did not operate his store past noon on Friday, because he had to prepare for Shabbos. He promised to open his store early on Sunday morning so that they could complete the purchase.
The nobleman became incensed. He was not used to waiting for anything and he surely did not want to wait until Sunday to get his order. He insisted that the order be completed immediately. He reasoned that it would only take another fifteen minutes and Isserl would be netting a tremendous profit on the deal. The nobleman threatened that if he did not get his order immediately he would take his business elsewhere.
Isserl humbly apologized again and insisted that he was not going to change his mind. “In all my years of business I have never deviated from my practice of not working after noon on Friday. I cannot compromise on that now.”
The nobleman stormed out in a huff. The deal was off.
Sometime later Isserl and his wife were granted a son, whom they named Moshe. It was revealed to Isserl that Moshe would become a great Torah leader in the merit of the sacrifice he made for the honor of Shabbos. Indeed, that son became the legendary Rema , the foremost Ashkenazic halachic authority during the past five hundred years.
“G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I am holy, Hashem, your G-d. Every man shall revere his mother and his father and you shall safeguard My Shabbos – I am Hashem, your G-d.” (19:1-3)
The Torah juxtaposes the commandments that one reveres his parents and Shabbos observance. Rashi explains that it is to teach us that although one is obligated to honor and respect his parents, that obligation does not supersede one’s obligation to observe Shabbos. If one’s parents instruct him to violate Shabbos he may not obey.
The Chofetz Chaim offers an alternative, extraordinary explanation:
Shabbos is referred to as a bride, and the Jewish people as its groom. If a groom adequately honors and cares for his bride then his father-in-law will take care of him and provide for his needs. Seeing that his daughter is well cared for fills him with joy and he will want to shower his son-in-law and daughter with gifts.
So too, when we honor and glorify Shabbos – the daughter of G-d as it were – He showers us with blessing, as the verse says, “And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it.” The pasuk juxtaposes fearing one’s parents with the mitzvah of Shabbos to symbolize the idea that in a sense G-d is the “father of the Shabbos Queen” and if we care for His daughter He will provide for us.
The Gemara (Shabbos 118a) states, “Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is given an inheritance without boundaries… Anyone who delights in the Shabbos is granted all the requests of his heart.” All of the delicacies and customary foods that we eat on Shabbos are not extraneous, but are vital components of our Shabbos observance.
What is the meaning behind the concept of Oneg Shabbos (enjoying and “taking delight” in the Shabbos)? If Shabbos is such a holy day, why don’t we spend the day in meditation and prayer, as we do on Yom Kippur? Isn’t indulgence in food and physical enjoyment antithetical to spirituality and holiness?
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l explains that there is a fundamental difference between the holiness of Shabbos and the holiness of Yom Kippur. In Parshas Achrei Mos the Torah details the lengthy service that the Kohen Gadol performed throughout Yom Kippur. At the conclusion of its narrative the Torah states, “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, from all of your sins, before G-d you shall be purified.” Yom Kippur is a gift that G-d granted us as a means to purify our tainted souls so that we can achieve atonement. In order to express our desire to reconnect with G-d and right the wrongs we have committed, we temporarily forfeit our earthly needs to symbolize our true desire.
Shabbos on the other hand, is not our day. Shabbos is G-d’s day!
Rav Pincus explains with a parable: Imagine if you are invited to the home of a great and holy individual such as the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer loves you dearly and is extremely excited to see you. As you walk into his home his face lights up and you can tell from his countenance that he has been waiting for your arrival. He immediately invites you into his dining room and insists on serving you lunch.
He walks into his kitchen and announces to his wife, “Did you hear? He has finally arrived. Please prepare a delicious banquet consisting of all of your fanciest dishes in his honor.”
When the meal is ready the Chasam Sofer personally sets it down in front of you, and invites you to enjoy.
At that moment, would anyone be foolish enough to reply, “I’m sorry Rebbe, but I am working on myself spiritually and I have been employing self-flagellation to train myself to stay away from earthly pleasures. I appreciate all of the Rav’s efforts but all I want is some crusty bread and a half cup of water.” Certainly not! Although it is unquestionably valuable for a person to train himself not to indulge too much in physical pleasures, in the home of a distinguished person one adheres to his instruction. If he invites me to enjoy what he has provided, I cannot have the audacity to refuse, all my noble intentions notwithstanding.
Rav Pincus explains that on Yom Kippur we are involved with ourselves, i.e. our sins and our atonement. But on Shabbos we are “not in the picture!” Wherever we are in the world – even at our own tables – on Shabbos we are literally guests sitting at the table of G-d. G-d is our host and He instructs us to indulge and enjoy, and therefore we must oblige. When one’s enjoyment is divinely commanded, every bit of that enjoyment infuses him with holiness.
Every groom knows that the first time he spends a Shabbos at the home of his future in-laws he must make a good impression. He wants his future in-laws to believe that he can and will provide properly for their daughter. If he can do so he knows his in-laws will do their best to help him as well.
With the combined ideas of the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Pincus we can say that on Shabbos we go to the in-laws. Once there, nothing gives the “father-in-law” more pleasure and enjoyment than to see his son-in-law groom doting over his daughter.
One important way in which the groom exhibits his love and devotion to his bride is by demonstrating his desire to be with her as much as possible. In regard to Shabbos we express that love by preparing for and anticipating her arrival by entering into the holy day respectfully with serenity.
In one of the beautiful Shabbos zemiros we sing, “כי אשמרה שבת קל ישמרני – When I guard the Shabbos, G-d will guard me.” It has often been said that in exile “Shabbos has done more to preserve the Jew than the Jew has done to persevere the Shabbos.” Rav Pincus explains that “Shabbos” is a pseudonym for the Divine Presence.
The holiness of Shabbos is an ethereal extension of the holiness of G-d, as it were, much as a daughter is an extension of her parents. The Torah reminds us that if we take care of the daughter, her Father will take good care of us.
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead in Monsey NY. He is also Guidance Counselor/Rebbe in ASHAR and Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. His website is www.stamtorah.info. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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