Everyone knows that when we fly to Eretz Yisroel, we pass through time zones quite rapidly. As a result, the time normally allowed for davening Shachris passes by in a blink of an eye – if you aren’t careful you can miss the whole thing! However, most people don’t know that every Shabbos we also pass through three different “time zones,” otherwise known as z’manim, quite quickly: night, morning, and afternoon. Every part has its own facets and qualities, and we act differently during each one.
The Tur (O.C. Siman 292) deduces this from the fact that on Yom Tov we say the exact same Shemoneh Esrei for all three tefillos. On Shabbos, however, the middle bracha of each of the tefillos is different. This is because each part of Shabbos corresponds to one of three special Shabbosos. Friday night corresponds to Shabbos Bereishis – therefore we discuss the creation. Shabbos morning corresponds to the Shabbos when we received the Torah, so in Shachris we mention that. And finally, Shabbos afternoon corresponds to the Shabbos of the World to Come, so in Mincha we talk about the Oneness of Hashem, which will be clearly revealed at that time.
These three Shabbosos were the three greatest revelations of Hashem’s presence in the world. The Maharal writes (Tiferes Yisroel, Chapter 40) that until Shabbos Bereishis the world was a mundane place. Once Shabbos arrived, through the great holiness and kedusha of the day, the world attained the ability to accept the presence of Hashem and He caused His Glory to dwell in this world. In truth, the Chafetz Chaim writes (Shem Olam, Chapter 4) that the kedusha of the rest of the week is only through Shabbos. Thus, the “Grand Entrance” of Hashem into the world was on that first Shabbos.
The next revelation occurred when we received the Torah. Even though Hashem had “entered” at the time of Creation, our job in this world was still not clear. On the Shabbos of Matan Torah, through the greatest revelation of Hashem’s Glory ever, we saw clearly the purpose of the entire world and received His Torah, which tells us exactly how to live our lives.
And finally, the Yom Shekulo Shabbos – Olam Haba, when we will clearly see that there is no other power in the world besides Hashem.
What still needs to be explained is the correlation of each special Shabbos to a given z’man of Shabbos. On a simple level, we can say it is based on the time that each one occurred. Hashem entered the world right at the beginning of Shabbos, and Matan Torah occurred in the morning. And since the geulah will come at the time referred to in Zecharya (14:7) as “V’haya leis erev y’hyeh ohr – And towards evening it will become light,” Shabbos afternoon corresponds to that time. However, there is a much deeper connection, which opens our eyes to a brand new aspect of Shabbos.
Getting Closer and Closer
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (58b) states that for a non-Jew to keep Shabbos is considered an extremely severe offense. The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 25:11) explains this with a parable. When the king sits across from the queen, anyone who passes between is invading their privacy and will obviously be punished severely for his audacity. So too, Shabbos is the day when we spend private time together with Hashem. Keeping the laws of Shabbos is the way we block out the whole world and focus exclusively on our relationship with Hashem. Therefore, when an outsider joins he disturbs an intimate time and deserves a harsh punishment. This reveals to us just how close we can get to Hashem on Shabbos!
Close relationships take time to build. The same is true for our relationship with Hashem through Shabbos. At the start of Shabbos, we begin to get close to Him. As we pass from one stage to the next, our relationship gets stronger, until finally, by the end of Shabbos, we reach the highest level of closeness possible in this world; a minuscule preview of the extreme closeness of the World to Come.
This can be seen clearly in the way each tefilla begins. The Elya Rabba (O.C. 292) explains that each of z’manim of Shabbos corresponds to a different stage of the marriage process. In the first step, called kedushin – betrothal, the chosson gives the kallah a small amount of money or its equivalent (such as a ring) and says that he is mikadesh her. By doing so he sets her aside from the whole world, but she still does not enter his domain. The beginning of Shabbos corresponds to the Creation of the world. At that time we did not have a personal connection to Hashem, but Hashem had set the world aside, preparing it for its ultimate purpose of helping us to get close to Him through Torah and mitzvos. Since the world was created for us, specifically so that we can achieve that goal, this act was equivalent to the first stage of our “marriage” to Hashem – the kedushin. Therefore, we start off with “Ata kidashta – You have made holy.”
On Shabbos morning we receive the Torah and enter the next stage, nissuin – marriage, when the bride leaves her father’s home and enters the jurisdiction of her husband. Through the Torah we received a personal connection to Hashem. He chose us from all the nations and gave us an instruction manual. Thus we say: “Yismach Moshe - Moshe rejoiced!” for this is the time of the marriage celebration.
Then, finally in the afternoon, after we have passed through so many hours of the holiness of Shabbos, we reach the yichud stage – seclusion, when the chosson and kallah are all by themselves, completing the marriage bond. This is what we say in Mincha: “Ata echod, v’shimcha echod, u’mee k’iamcha Yisroel, goy echod ba’aretz –
You are One, Your name is One and who is like Your people Yisroel, one nation on earth!” We describe a situation where no one will interfere with our relationship with Hashem. It is no surprise, therefore, that this special time is the one that few people take advantage of. For the Satan knows what can be achieved and therefore makes sure to tell us, “Shabbos is almost over, you’re soooo tired and worn out.” But that was before…now that the secret is out we will make sure to use that time properly!
Many years ago when I was in yeshiva, a bachur began to sing “Yom Shabason” during the evening seudah. The Mashgiach leaned over and said with a smile: “That song is for Shabbos day….” At the time I didn’t understand. So what if it is printed in that part of the bentcher? But now the answer is clear. Just as the tefillos reflect the various time zones of Shabbos, so do the zemiros.
Just a little homework: This Shabbos, let us take a look at the different zemiros and try to figure out why we sing each one during that part of Shabbos. We will probably discover many interesting things in the process. Most of all, it will help us feel the specialness of each time and cause us to become closer and closer to Hashem!
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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