When my siblings and I were younger and waiting for our father to come home from shul on Friday nights, we would sometimes get into childish squabbles. Our mother would turn to us and say: “You don’t want the bad malach to be happy, do you?” She was referring, of course, to the Gemara (Shabbos 119b) that states, “Two heavenly angels escort a person from shul to his home each Friday night: a good angel and an evil angel. If they find the candles lit, the table set and the beds made, the good angel blesses him that next week should also be this way, and the evil one unwillingly answers amein. And if they find that it is not, the evil angel curses him that it should be this way next week also, and the good angel unwillingly answers amein.”
This Gemara requires explanation. Why is it that we merit such special chaperons specifically at this time? And why do they give our house an inspection?
But wait, that’s not all. The same Gemara also says: “Rav Hamnuna says, one who says ‘Vayechulu’ is considered to be a partner with Hashem in creating the Universe!” This is amazing! Through this one small statement, we take a great leap to become a partner in the Creation! Why is this so?
Let us explain with the following parable.
You are standing in front of the courthouse and suddenly a splendid carriage, emblazoned with the emblem of a foreign king, drives up. The door swings open and two servants step out, dressed in royal attire and standing on either side of the door. And then, out comes … a simple commoner, wearing an extremely expensive suit! What is going on, you wonder. The servants escort him into the building, and as your curiosity gets the best of you, you follow behind. The man walks into the courtroom and over to the witness stand where he gives very important testimony on behalf of the kingdom he comes from. Now you understand – the man is a witness for the king and thus gets the royal treatment.
Are you aware that every Shabbos you are also a royal witness?
The Rambam (Avodah Zara Chapter 1) tells us that a series of mistakes resulted in most of mankind forgetting that there was a Creator. Avrohom Aveinu subsequently rediscovered Hashem and passed this knowledge on to his children. However, the years of slavery in Mitzrayim caused most of the nation to forget about Hashem. Moshe Rabbeinu, through the lessons of the Ten Makkos, reawakened this truth buried deep inside the nation. We saw that Hashem has total control over nature, changing the rules whenever and however He wants, and came to understood that the world didn’t always exist. This fact became so clear it gave us the ability to testify to it as if we had seen Creation take place with our own eyes! Therefore, Hashem declares (Yeshaya 43:10): “Atem Eidai – you are My witnesses!” But what is the point of our testimony?
Chazal tell us that Hashem created this world so that we can get to know and become close to Him. To reward us for “discovering” Him, He intentionally hides His presence. Our job is to proclaim His existence in this world and to bring more hashra’as haShechina – awareness of Hashem’s presence. The more Hashem becomes known, the more the world reaches its completion.
Now we understand what happens when we say “Vayechulu.” We explained in our last article (Feb 7; Three Zones) that Friday night corresponds to Shabbos Bereishis, the time when Hashem caused His Glory to dwell in this world. Thus, our job at the beginning of Shabbos, the time when that great event occurred, is to say “Vayechulu” and declare that there was a Creation and there is a Creator Who is present in this world. Without this knowledge, the world is not yet considered complete, for it lacks the main component. We are therefore considered to be partners in completing the world through this statement.
After Shemoneh Esreh we say it once again – this time out loud and together – in order to testify as it is done in Beis Din (Tur siman 268). And then we say it one last time, in our homes, in order to allow those family members who were not in shul to be part of this great testimony.
However, this third time adds an extremely crucial nuance. If we were only to make this declaration in shul it might cause some to think it is a religious citation or a nice philosophical idea that does not play a role in our lives. Such a misunderstanding would render our words worthless, for we would not be declaring that Hashem is truly the Master of the Universe. Our testimony, therefore, is only completed through the way we act afterwards in our homes. Consequently, Hashem sends two heavenly angels to escort us to our homes, as befitting the King’s witness. If the house has a Shabbos atmosphere, with lit candles and a set table, it shows that we meant what we have said. We are well aware that the King of the Universe will be spending more than 24 wonderful hours with us, to celebrate the world’s completion, and we are acting accordingly. When the angels see how we are successfully fulfilling the task we were created for, they bless us that we should continue to do so. And if Heaven forbid, we are not doing so, a curse is given instead of a blessing.
But why are the blessings and curses carried out through the good angel and evil angel together? It is possible to suggest an explanation through the words of the Mesilas Yeshorim (Chapter 1): “When a person accomplishes the task he was created for, he is elevated and the whole world is elevated with him. But if he uses the world to distance himself from his Creator, he destroys himself and the world gets destroyed with him.” Thus, when we say Vayechulu, the whole world is elevated, including both the good angel and evil angel and so they both bless us that we should continue. But if Heaven forbid, the opposite happens, then the good angel is pulled down to the level of the evil one and has to concede to his ill wishes.
This new understanding should help us put more meaning into the way we begin Shabbos. When we put on our Shabbos clothing we should think that we are getting dressed in honor of the King for whom we are about to testify. When we say Vayechulu let us think about the meaning of these great words. When we repeat it with the tzibbur, imagine that we are testifying before Beis Din. On the way home from shul, let’s try to imagine the two angels escorting us – it will definitely affect the way we walk and act. When we enter our home, let us greet our family with a hearty “Good Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom” and bring the Shabbos atmosphere with us, showing that our testimony was not just lip service. The song “Shalom Aleichem” will certainly be sung with more meaning, now that we understand why the angels are here. Then, pick up the cup of wine and say Vayechulu with joy, to include everyone in this great truth.
Now that’s called starting the seudah on the right foot!
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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