Throughout the millennia of our People’s existence, Shabbos has been a cornerstone of Yiddishkeit. So fundamental is it to our faith, that Shabbos observance has practically become the barometer by which we judge if one is considered religious or not. Yet, a complaint has been voiced a number of times too many that Shabbos is all about what we cannot do, and that Shabbos does not have sufficient positive ways in which we may serve the Creator. Such a conception is patently false. This column aims to describe the innumerable ways in which we can actively serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu on the Holy Day. And so we go…
In previous weeks we discussed the growth one can achieve through the Kabbalas Shabbos service. Now let’s move on to the next thing we can do to grow on Shabbos: Maariv. Truthfully, we pray Maariv during the week as well, and the core difference in the evening service lies primarily in the altered Shemoneh Esrei. However, there are one or two minor changes in the text we recite before Shemoneh Esrei which may also contain valuable messages. Let’s take a look.
As during the week, the Shabbos Maariv contains the two pre-Shema brachos, the Shema, and the two post-Shema brachos. The only alteration in these blessings is found at the very end of the fourth bracha. During the week we end off asking Hashem to please “safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace from now to eternity. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who protects His People (Israel) forever.” On Shabbos, however, we end off “Safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace from now to eternity. And spread over us your sukkah of peace. Blessed are You, Hashem, who spreads the sukkah of peace upon us, upon all of His people (Israel), and upon Yerushalayim.” Why is the text changed on Shabbos?
The Tur (Orach Chaim 267, 3) explains that on Shabbos we do not need to say “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who protects His People (Israel) forever” because Shabbos itself is a protection, so it is superfluous to pray for Hashem to protect us.
This Tur asks two questions. First, why would we automatically be more protected on Shabbos more so than on any other day of the week? Second, if we indeed do not need to pray for protection on Shabbos, then why in the Shabbos text do we include the words “Safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace from now to eternity”? Didn’t we just say that it’s unnecessary?
To answer these questions, let’s take a look at the Chovos Halevavos (Shaar haBitachon). In the very beginning of his introduction, the author writes that it is crucial for a person to trust in Hashem because if he doesn’t, then Hashem will remove His direct and special providential care. Meaning to say, there are two ways in which Hashem can run a person’s life. Hashem can allow your life to be run according to the natural laws of the universe, or Hashem can provide you with Divine assistance in all your endeavors. The Chovos Halevavos is teaching us that a person can only merit that special care if he puts his trust in Hashem. Additionally, the more you trust Hashem, the more Divine assistance you will receive.
Now we can return to our questions. As we’ve mentioned before, Shabbos is a zecher l’maase breishis – a recall that Hashem created the world. Shabbos is the day when we focus on Hashem’s control over the world. Shabbos is the day when we focus on how Hashem is taking care of us. In other words – Shabbos is the day we learn to trust Hashem. If one observes Shabbos properly, he will not need to pray for protection on Shabbos because his level of bitachon will automatically earn him protection. In other words, we omit the closing of the bracha that talks about protection because when we spend a day focusing on Hashem’s control of the world, we automatically merit Divine protection – and we no longer even need to pray for it. Instead, we end off referencing the sukkah – a symbol of the Almighty’s control and our trust in Him.
The only question remaining is why we need to include the request to “Safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace from now to eternity”? The answer to this question can be found in the Taz. In his explanation of this halacha, Taz explains that nowadays we are spiritually weaker than we used to be. In the days when people used Shabbos to the greatest extent and thereby came to fully trust Hashem, it was indeed unnecessary to mention protection altogether. But now that now that we are spiritually weaker, we cannot presume that our level of bitachon is increased on Shabbos to the degree that we don’t need to pray for protection at all. Therefore, we mention protection one time (in a passing way), albeit not a second time (in the conclusion of the bracha).
So here’s a fifth thing you can do on Shabbos – pray Maariv and use it as a tool to focus yourself on trusting Hashem and noticing how Hashem is involved in your life (i.e. Hashgacha Pratis). Work to increase your bitachon on Shabbos and thereby merit Divine protection.