“Until I was 16 years old, my father, a traveling salesman, would be out of town all week long,” my friend Dovid related. “Really? You didn’t feel like an orphan?” I asked him. “Not at all,” he answered with a smile, “because he always made sure to spend Shabbos with us!”
Throughout the generations, Shabbos has always been the time to spend with the family. Our children long for the warmth and encouragement that only parents can give. They want us to appreciate their accomplishments and to sympathize with their hard moments. On Shabbos we can give them the time and attention they desperately need.
But is the fact that we can spend time with our families just a fringe benefit of Shabbos or an integral aspect? In the zemer “Boruch Kel Elyon” (written by one of the Rishonim) we sing over and over “Hashomer Shabbos haben im habas – whoever keeps Shabbos with his son and daughter.” This implies that keeping Shabbos together with our children is something important. Then we mention a whole list of requirements for a proper Shabbos atmosphere: “b’machalei areivos, b’minei mata’amim, bimalbushei kavod… zevach mishpacha – with tasty foods, with various delicacies, with elegant garment …a family feast!” This all implies that an integral part of enjoying Shabbos is to do so together with our family – a zevach mishpacha!
Indeed, according to one interpretation in the Midrash (Tana D’vei Eliyahu) the pasuk in Tehillim (139:16), “Yamim yutzaru v’lo echod bahem – Hashem created many days, but there is one unique one,” refers to Shabbos. The Midrash explains that it is such a special day because all week long we are busy with our work, but on Shabbos we have time to appreciate our family. Once again we see that one of the reasons why Shabbos is special is because we reconnect with the family. Why is this an integral part of Shabbos?
Shabbos is a day of emunah, when we recharge our “faith batteries.” On this day we reiterate to ourselves that Hashem created the universe in six days and “rested” on the seventh, and therefore, we do the same. We recall that Hashem took our forefathers out of Mitzrayim in order to make us His Nation. Through the miracles they saw and experienced, it became clear that not only did Hashem create the world, He is totally involved and in charge. They saw that He rewards those who obey His commandments and punishes those who don’t. On Shabbos we remind ourselves that we received the Torah on Har Sinai, which gave us the ability to fulfill our task in this world. And finally, we remember that our true purpose is to achieve the ultimate reward of Olam Habah. As we have explained in previous articles, each of these basic tenets can be strengthened through different aspects of Shabbos.
Not only must we make sure that we remain steadfast in our faith, we also need to ensure that our children carry on the torch of faith. Merely sending them to a good Jewish day school is not enough – it is extremely important that we instill in them these ideas that are so dear to us.
The Torah (Devorim 4:9) commands us to always remember the magnificent revelation on Har Sinai and to pass it on to our children for all generations. The Ramban explains that since everyone in Klal Yisroel witnessed this revelation with his or her own eyes, and it was passed down from father to son, it will be the basis of our faith forever. It is human nature for a father to not bequeath a false legacy to his son. Since children feel their parents’ love and know that they will not lead them astray, they accept these important lessons as the absolute truth and will pass it on to their children as well. Thus, the strongest way to ensure that the mesorah will continue is to pass it on ourselves.
However, merely delivering a sermon on the “Tenets of our Faith” will not do the trick – we must really believe what we are saying. One of the things I have learned from being a father is that it is hard to fool our children. They can tell if we really are living our lives based on the fact that Hashem is the Master of the world or if we are just paying lip service. In order to instill this emunah in their hearts we must show them how real it is to us. If they see us doing things that appear to contradict what we preach, all the explanations in the world will not help.
Now we understand why family participation is such an important part of Shabbos. This is the day when we have the ability to instill all these important ideals into our children, for they will see us living them. The Shabbos meals start with the declaration over a cup of wine that Hashem created the world. Then we have a family feast to celebrate the creation together. We sing praises to Hashem, relate stories about tzaddikim and say divrei Torah from the parsha. And even though it may seem like we spend some meals breaking up fights and wiping away tears, when our children grow up (some day…), they will have good memories of Shabbos.
But it doesn’t stop there. In order to ensure that our children truly accept these lessons from us, it is crucial that we have a strong relationship with them. This is why it is so important to spend time with them specifically on Shabbos, and the long afternoon is a great opportunity to do so. The newspapers and magazines can wait – now is the time for our children. You can read them a book, play a game or go for a walk. I have a friend who gathers his family around a bowl of popcorn or chips and they read that week’s chapter in Pirkei Avos together. Others give treats to those who answer parsha or Torah trivia questions. And when we learn with our children, it should be a pleasurable experience – not a grueling examination. Basically, anything we do together should be done enjoyably!
This Shabbos is the 12th yahrzeit of Mr. Jacob Kornwasser, z”l of Los Angeles, after whom our night Kollel is named. His grandson once related that one of the most important things in his grandfather’s life was Shabbos with the family. He was a hardworking businessman who was busy all week long. But on Shabbos the family would spend much enjoyable time together learning the parsha and singing zemiros –and it is something they miss dearly until this very day.
One of my favorite Journeys songs is “It’s time to say Good Shabbos,” and the words “you canspend time with your family” come to mind. However, based on all the above I would prefer to sing “you should spend time with your family!” This opportunity to strengthen our connection with our children and fortify their emunah is something we shouldn’t miss out on!