When was the last time you sang a new zemer on Shabbos?
Our haftarah contains a phrase that connects to a zemer most people don’t sing. The actual words appear in the haftarah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, “lema’an tinku u’sevatem, so that we nurse and become satiated.”
This week, Yeshaya (60:16) describes how we will vanquish the nations of the world and nurse as a suckling infant from their bounty. What is the deeper meaning of this phrase?
Singing zemiros is an important facet of a meaningful Shabbos meal. Its purpose is to remind us of what a Shabbos seudah is all about. That is why we sing songs that describe the greatness and holiness of Shabbos. Yet, if we always sing the same songs and tunes, it becomes just part of the day and not something we focus on. This happens with davening as well.
A friend told me about a niggun for what to me is a new zemer and I have recently begun singing it. It has had a profound impact on me and how uplifted I feel on Shabbos, and I hope it will do the same for you. It is not printed in many standard zemiros booklets, so it may be new to you as well.
It begins with the words Shimru Shabbosai and has a chorus with the phrase, “U’levu Alay’” which ends with Shabbos HaYom L’Hashem. It appears in the section of zemiros for Shabbos day. The niggun I highly recommend for it is on the album “Say Asay,” by Shloime Gertner, and the song is called, “Chazek Kiryasi,” which is the beginning words to the last stanza of the zemer. Email me for a recording of the song.
The zemer centers around a Chazal (Beitzah 15b) that declares, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to Yisrael, ‘My children, borrow on My account (for the expenses of oneg and kavod Shabbos), sanctify the holy day, trust Me, and I will repay.”
“U’levu Alay Banay, v’idnu Maadanai, Shabbos hayom L’Hashem, borrow on My account, and enjoy My pleasures, today is the Shabbos day.”
This seems comparable to walking into a restaurant and meeting a wealthy, good friend who says, “Have whatever you want on the menu. Enjoy to your heart’s delight! The bill is on me!”
This is what Hashem says about Shabbos.
Yet, things are not as simple as they appear. There is another Gemara that says the opposite. Pesachim 112a states, “Make your Shabbos like a weekday, rather than making yourself need (taking or borrowing from) others – Aseh Shabboscha chol, v’al titztarech l’briyos.” How do we reconcile these two statements of Chazal?
The Tur (Siman 242) writes that he was extremely poor, never had enough money to survive, and always needed charity. He asked his father, the Rosh, if he should make Shabbos like a weekday? The Rosh never gave him a clear answer. Later, the Tur writes that Rashi on “hevei az kanamer” (Pirkei Avos 5:20), gives an example of trying your utmost not to make Shabbos like a weekday, even if you are very poor; rather, Rashi says, you should be courageous like a leopard to honor and respect Shabbos properly. Therefore, says the Tur, one must save money during the week, even skimp if necessary on his weekday food and sustenance, in order to have enough money to honor the Shabbos. If you do this, Hashem will make sure to pay you back for your sacrifice in providing you with enough of a livelihood.
Essentially, the Tur is saying that barring extremely dire and impossible circumstances, the Gemara’s instruction about making one’s Shabbos like a weekday is virtually never applicable. On some level, we need to purchase and set aside special foods for Shabbos and differentiate Shabbos from the week in a demonstrable way.
Why does Hashem Yisbarach instruct us to sacrifice so much for Shabbos? Why is it so important to make sure to have culinary delights on Shabbos? We understand the idea of going out of one’s way and sacrificing for all mitzvos but there seems to be an extra focus when it comes to oneg Shabbos. Why is this?
It would appear that the answer to this question is spelled out in the opening words of the zemer. “Shimru Shabbsosai, lema’an tinku u’sevatem, m’ziv Birchosai, el hamenucha ki vasem, observe my Shabbosos so that you can be nourished (literally, nursed) and satiated, from the radiance of My blessings, you have arrived at true rest.” It continues with main chorus, “U’levu Alay Banay, v’idnu Maadanai, Shabbos hayom L’Hashem, borrow on My account, and enjoy My pleasures, today is the Shabbos day.” The next stanza states, “Le’ameil kiru dror, venasati es Birchasi, from toil, proclaim freedom and I will grant My blessing.”
The words tell us that if we work hard and somehow come up with money with which to honor Shabbos properly, we will merit blessing in our lives. Rav Yaakov Weingarten writes in his Zemiros HaMefurash that these lines of the zemer are based on a Zohar which tells us that the source of all blessings for the week is Shabbos. We say this as well in the Lecha Dodi, “kee hee mekor habracha.”
The reason why Hakadosh Baruch Hu pleads with us to even borrow money to honor and enjoy Shabbos is because to succeed financially, we need to experience Shabbos as Hashem means for it to be. If we don’t live Shabbos in an honorable way, then we can’t tap into the blessing that Shabbos provides. Thus, in order to succeed, we need to borrow money so that we will receive bracha, which will allow us to pay it back. It’s impossible to make money if we don’t invest in Shabbos. (Of course, as poskim tell us, this does not mean we can spend extravagantly and well beyond our means.)
By keeping Shabbos, by experiencing the rays of Hashem’s blessings, by coming into contact with the true serenity and rest that only Shabbos contains, we can be, tinku u’sevatem, nourished and sated. How is it that only Shabbos can provide this satisfaction? The answer is that when we experience the light and splendor of Shabbos, we are able to see that all we receive comes directly from Hashem. Only when we allow ourselves to enter the menucha of Shabbos do we clearly feel that we are getting exactly what we need and do not any more.
Only on Shabbos can we sense being sameyach b’chelko, being happy with what we have, and as if all our work is completed. We don’t need more than what Hashem has given us. We are like an infant nursing from his mother who always feels satisfied after he finishes, and doesn’t want or need any more. The infant doesn’t look at what others have, he has all he needs and isn’t interested in any more.
Shabbos is the day when we can appreciate Hashem’s personal blessings which are designed only for us. Only then can we know that we have exactly what we need and are truly wealthy.