Everyone is concerned about the economy. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, and to one extent or another, we are all impacted. This concern is not imaginary. It’s only too real, but there is an even greater danger that looms ahead, which has been obscured by our absorption with the economic meltdown. Ahmadinejad’s avowed plan to wipe Israel off the map remains unchanged. Even as Washington makes plans to engage Iran in dialogue, Ahmadinejad puts forth pre-conditions for such negotiation, ” that the U.S. stop supporting the Zionist outlaws and criminals.” At the same time, the Iranian government-controlled media reported that Iran has no intention of bringing its nuclear program to a halt.
While the entire world may dismiss these threats as the ranting of a madman, we, the Jewish people, can’t afford to do so. Alas, we have had too many madmen in our history that made good on their threats. From Pharaoh to Hitler, we have encountered them all… so no, we can’t afford to ignore Ahmadinejad. But what, you might ask, can we do?
I do not pretend to have any military expertise, and as it would be unconscionable for a layman to give halachic rulings, I believe it would be irresponsible to proffer advice to the IDF. But, and here is the big but, there are things I do know, not because I have special insight or knowledge that others lack – but rather, because what I advocate is based upon timeless truths – wisdom available to every Jew if s/he would only study our holy books.
In my last articles, I related a three-fold formula that our Talmud guarantees will protect our lives even in the most turbulent days of the pre-messianic period. I have already addressed the first two principles: Torah and Gemilas Chassadim, and now, let us consider the third: “To be scrupulous regarding Shalosh Seudos – the third Shabbos meal.”
However, before we focus on the meaning of this third Shabbos meal, let us consider the concept of Shabbos.
Our sages teach that the power of Shabbos is such that if all our People would observe it, we would immediately merit redemption and the coming of Messiah. In the Torah, Shabbos is referred to as an “Os – A sign [between G-d and the Jewish people].” What is the meaning of a “sign?” Or better still, what is a “sign?”
For example, the ring on a woman’s finger is a sign that she is engaged or married. Bride and groom, husband and wife may have altercations, and even a breakdown in their relationship, but as long as the ring remains on the woman’s finger, it indicates that she is still engaged or married. However, the moment she removes the ring, the moment the “os” is no longer on her finger, she is announcing that the engagement is off, or the marriage has been terminated.
Shabbos is the “os” the “sign” on the Jewish finger testifying that the individual belongs to Hashem. The magic of Shabbos is so all-encompassing that even Achad HaAm, a secular Jewish philosopher, wrote, “More than the Jew has kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jew.”
Yes, Shabbos has kept us and is the secret of our strength. Shabbos has enabled us to survive the vicissitudes of time and transform the dingiest, darkest hovel into a place of light and blessing. And this is not just polemics – I walked the walk, I talked the talk.
People have often asked me how I survived that satanic time of the Holocaust with my faith intact. Obviously, the immediate answer is, “By the mercy and chesed of Hashem.” But then I would also relate a story:
In Bergen-Belsen, my revered father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, would hide a portion of his meager daily ration of bread. Even as he did so, he would tell us children to count the days…. 6 more days, 5 more days, 4 more days, etc. and soon it will be Shabbos.
When Shabbos actually came, he would gather us in that hellhole and whisper in Yiddish, “Meine lichtige kinderlach – My precious lights, my children, mach tzee dee oigelech – close your eyes and imagine that we are at home. Mama just baked delicious challah…” And even as he spoke, he would bring forth those precious crumbs that he had saved at great sacrifice throughout the entire week and in his sweet beautiful voice, my father would sing, “Shalom Aleichem …Welcome angels of Shabbos…”
On one occasion, my younger brother, tugged at my father’s hand and said, “Tatty, I don’t see any malachim here. Where are the angels of Shabbos?”
My father’s eyes filled with tears and in a trembling voice, he answered, “Etz, lichtige kinderlach – You, my precious lights, you are the angels of Shabbos.”So it was that in Bergen- Belsen, we became angels of Shabbos.
Those words of my father were not only for us, in Bergen-Belsen. They speak for all time, for eternity. They call out to every Jew in every generation and remind him of his majestic calling and mission. No matter where destiny may take a Jew, no matter in what situation he may find himself, no one can rob him of his higher purpose – to be a malach of Shabbos, an angel of Shabbos – a source of blessing and serenity.
Yes, Shabbos is so holy, so awesome, that it has the power to transform us into malachim. And more, Shabbos can enable us to overcome all obstacles, triumph over enemies, and bring about our redemption.
Still you might ask, why is Shalosh Seudos, the third Sabbath meal, singled out for special mention?
We are enjoined to have three seudos on the Sabbath – Friday night, Sabbath Noon, and the third seudah in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these meals we honor the three Patriarchs and the three sections of the Scriptures -Torah, Prophets, and the Writings. At the same time, we recall the three Sabbath meals of manna with which G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).
This final Sabbath Seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally, means “Three Meals,” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our sages explain that is because all three Sabbath seudos are embodied by this one.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, and singing Psalm 23 (traditionally chanted at Shalosh Seudos) could have such awesome power that they can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs. But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching. The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah, we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal.
So, it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the third meal encompasses them all. The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual, and ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism.
In the period preceding the coming of Messiah, that is exactly what will occur. We will all have to understand “Ein od Milvado – there is no reality outside of G-d.”
All our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we placed our trust, will fall away. It is that painful disintegration which we witness today. From natural disasters to the collapse of the corporate world, government, religious institutions, science and medicine – we have seen failure everywhere, and worse, we no longer feel safe or secure in our daily lives. Shorn of all our defenses, we stand vulnerable and terrified and wonder what next.
How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth – that “we can rely on no one but our Heavenly Father.” Perhaps you are smiling and saying to yourself, “How simplistic.” But there is nothing simplistic about basic truths. Often that which appears simple is the most complex. Alas, ours is a generation that has expertise in every field… we pride ourselves on our knowledge of science, technology, business, etc., but we have tragically forgotten the simple truths of life given to us by G-d Himself.
To be sure, you and I have no control over the policies enacted in Washington, Jerusalem or for that matter, any other part of the world. But that is totally irrelevant, for our redemption shall not come from the governments of the world, but rather, from Hashem Himself. And for that, we must apply this three-fold formula: Torah, Gemilas Chassadim, Shabbos and the Third Meal. These three principles are part of our Jewish DNA and precisely because of that, it is within the power of each and every one of us to give renewed life to them and thereby revitalize ourselves, our people, and the world.
Should you feel that you already observe and there is nothing further for you to do, you are wrong! There is room for all of us to sharpen, beautify, and elevate our commitment. If we would only honestly scrutinize our hearts, we would quickly realize how much we are lacking and how much more we must do to fulfill the purpose for which G-d created us.
It’s all so easy, and yet, it is all so hard, for we obstinately refuse to understand that “Ein Od Milvado – There is no force, there is no power, that can help us but G-d.”