The special days of Tishrei have come and gone. But hopefully, we managed to elevate our level of spirituality so that we now feel closer to Hashem, even if just a little bit. I think that now is the right time to approach an extremely mystical aspect of Shabbos.
The Talmud teaches us (Beitza 16a) that on erev Shabbos, Hashem gives each person a neshama yeseira — an extra soul, which leaves after Shabbos. Of course, the full understanding of what this means is beyond our comprehension, but let us see if we can process it on a simple level. Rashi (ibid.) writes that it “opens our hearts in order to have more relaxation and joy… so that we can eat and drink without the soul being disgusted by it.” Hmm… that doesn’t sound too holy! Why should a heiligeh neshama help us consume large amounts of food?
What is the reason for the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos, to enjoy Shabbos through eating, drinking, and relaxing? Let us use the following parable, based on the Midrash Tanchuma (Breishis 2), to explain.
After spending ten years planning and building his country estate, Bob the billionaire threw an inauguration party for all his close friends. When each guest arrived, they received a luxurious Lexus SUV for a self-guided tour of all the gardens, orchards, lakes, and sporting areas. Everyone was encouraged to spend time enjoying the areas that appealed to them. Finally, toward evening, everyone made their way to the large mansion perched on a hill overlooking the estate. They were given a tour of the mansion and were allowed to try out the state-of-the-art technology and comforts in each room. In the beautiful dining room, they were served a seven-course gourmet meal on stunning dining ware while an orchestra played in the background. As they left, they had no doubts anymore — all of Bob’s hard work and planning had really produced a splendid place to live!
Shabbos is the anniversary of the day Hashem finished creating the world and He tells us: “Come and see what a splendid world I created! Partake of the delicacies, contemplate the wisdom found in every inch of the universe, and realize how everything is made for your pleasure.”
In a previous article (“A Psalm for Shabbos” 7-19-2013) we explained how even though the verses of the Psalm of Shabbos (Chapter 92) don’t seem to be connected to Shabbos, they concisely describe the theme of the day. Dovid HaMelech is teaching us that on this day, when the world was completed, we should look around the world, enjoy its many aspects, and proclaim: “I rejoice at the work of Your hands! How great are Your deeds Hashem!” We must realize that on every Shabbos Hashem is inviting us to the inauguration festivities for the world! R’ Avigdor Miller zt”l would say that our job on Shabbos is to “try to smack your lips and feel how delicious it is — feel the taste of Shabbos!”
Let us take, for example, the kindness of sleep. A man may be full of worries and feel physically and emotionally exhausted, but when he wakes up in the morning he feels like a new person! In addition, while he is sleeping and not in motion, the body puts all the energy that is now available into repairing damaged cells. The heart also does not have to work as hard to pump blood and has time to rejuvenate. Thus, we wake up feeling refreshed! Bearing this in mind, we can now properly fulfill the mitzvah of taking a nap on Shabbos. Go ahead and take a large dose of that wonderful Jewish sleeping pill called cholent! Snuggle under the covers and enjoy the “heavenly” pleasure of a short Shabbos snooze. But make sure to take a moment before you sail off to dream land to thank Hashem for the wonderful creation of sleep, and especially the ability to fall asleep without too much delay!
Feasting on Shabbos is a great mitzvah, but if we don’t bear in mind the purpose of eating, it will not be a mitzvah anymore. In fact, it’s even worse. The Navi Yeshaya (1:14) allows us to hear the soul as it cries out in agony: “Chodsheichem u’moadechim sonah nafshi — my soul abhors your Rosh Chodesh and your Yom Tov!” The Vilna Gaon in Aderes Eliyahu explains that Klal Yisroel’s level of yiddishkeit was so low that when they feasted during these days they were not doing so for the sake of Heaven, but rather to “fress” and enjoy themselves! Thus the soul calls them “your” Rosh Chodesh and “your” Yom Tov because they certainly had nothing to do with Hashem. Their neshamos wished that these special days wouldn’t happen, for on those days people eat more than usual, which just causes more torture to the soul.
On the other hand, one who eats with proper intentions actually gives the soul much delight, for now it can fulfill its purpose! The soul is what transforms worldly pleasures into holiness, just as the altar in the Bais HaMikdash converted a lowly animal into a holy sacrifice. But if you don’t plug in the right intentions, the soul screams in pain because the animalistic side of the person rears its ugly head. This means that when we partake of a Shabbos meal we are walking a tightrope, and we must make sure to walk it carefully. For whenever we forget why we are eating, we will have turned a moment of holiness into one of emptiness.
But don’t worry — Hashem provided us with a safety net — the neshama yeseirah! The extra dose of kedusha provided by this neshama elevates our spirituality so that we can keep our animalistic tendencies under control. It helps us remember why we are eating — not merely to enjoy a gourmet meal but rather to celebrate the creation of this wonderful world. Now we understand the words of Rashi describing the power of the extra neshama. It does not save us from indigestion; rather, it makes sure that our angelic side will not be disgusted by all the extra food on Shabbos. This extremely holy addition helps us turn the mundane act of eating into a sacred experience.
So how do we make sure to remember at our Shabbos meals or “oneg Shabbos” that we are dining at the inauguration festivities of the Universe? Perhaps setting the proper atmosphere will do the trick. Take a few minutes to prepare a dvar Torah for the Shabbos table and a short story for the kids, so that the seudah will take on a brand new look. Singing a few Shabbos zemiros will also add to the royal ambience. And of course, making sure to avoid loshon hara and other topics that would displease the Host of the banquet will ensure that the meal stays “Shabbosdik.” All these things will help to imbue the food we eat with holiness, as we truly celebrate with the Master of the Universe the magnificent world that He created!
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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