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…
Moving right along, we now are up to the next thing we can do on Shabbos: Birchas Habanim. This tradition is comprised of giving our children a blessing on Friday night. Some confer the bracha immediately after they come home from shul, others wait until after Shalom Aleichem, and yet others wait until after Kiddush. All customs are acceptable, as this beautiful tradition is not a matter of halacha brought down in the Shulchan Aruch or its commentators. The earliest sources (that I know of) for this tradition are the Maaver Yabok (17th century) and Siddur Yaavetz (18th century). Both sources indicate that this practice is rooted in Kabbalah, which tells us that we must tread carefully when exploring the matter. With that preemptive dose of humility and caution, let’s get started.
Why do we give a blessing specifically on Shabbos? A blessing is always nice, but why is a bracha on Shabbos any better than during the week? A little research reveals that there are essentially two schools of thought. Maaver Yabok explains that technically one has the same power to bestow a blessing on Shabbos as he does during the week. However, during the week there is a Satan Mekatreig (literally, a prosecuting Satan) who prevents the bracha from taking effect, while on Shabbos the Satan Mekatreig is silenced. The second school of thought, quoted by the Maaver Yabok and the Siddur Yaavetz, maintains that there is actually an increase in our ability to grant blessings on the holy day. Their respective explanations relate to the ideas that on Shabbos we have a neshama yeseira and that Friday night is when the special shefa of Shabbos comes to our world.
Let’s start by explaining the first school of thought. What is a Satan Mekatreig? Judaism most certainly does not ascribe to the belief that there are powers other than Hashem who can stand in the way of His will. So who is this Satan fellow? Our Sages explain that Hashem chooses to run the world in accordance with a particular legal system. Part of this legal system is an angel – commonly known as Satan – whose job is to bring forward any misdeeds committed on Earth so that the sinner can be punished accordingly. With this understanding we can explain that during the week Satan is permitted to prosecute, but on Shabbos he is forced to take a sabbatical (pun intended). What comes out from this is that although Satan may correctly point out during the week that we don’t deserve to have our blessings take effect, on Shabbos there is nobody prosecuting the case! Therefore, our brachos are deemed worthy and are consequently effective.
However, we still need to understand why there is no Satan on Shabbos. The truth is, I don’t know. What goes on in the other worlds is a matter of Kabbalah, a study in which I am not versed. Nevertheless, perhaps we can suggest an explanation and pray that it might be correct. Firstly, it is well-known in Jewish Thought that what we do in this world causes similar things to happen in the other worlds. Therefore, it could simply be that just as we desist from our jobs on Shabbos in this world, the Satan is also told to take off from his job in the upper worlds.
Alternatively, we can suggest an explanation based on a Rosh Hashana thought (I believe from the Ramchal’s Maamer Hachochmah). Ramchal addresses a famous question: why do we spend most of the Day of Judgment proclaiming Hashem as King? How do Malchuyos relate to Din? Ramchal explains that coronating Hashem is actually the best way to be acquitted in judgment. You see, we really don’t deserve a sweet year. The prosecutor (Satan) brings our wrongdoings before the court and inevitably, we are found wanting. However, says Ramchal, if we accept Hashem as King, then Hashem says “I always react to my children in the way they treat me. If they say that I am the king, then I can act above the law. I can choose to ignore the prosecutor and pardon my children.” Perhaps we can extend this idea to Shabbos. Shabbos is the day when we accept Hashem as the Creator of the world, and we desist from creative activity in order to show that we recognize Hashem’s omnipotence. Wouldn’t it then be logical for Hashem to respond by silencing the prosecutor with His super-legal powers? Perhaps these two explanations can sufficiently elucidate the above statement that there is no Satan Mekatreig on Shabbos, and thereby explain why we have the custom to give a blessing on the holy day.
Let’s now move on to the second school of thought. We mentioned earlier that on Shabbos we have a neshama yeseira and that Friday night is when the special shefa of Shabbos comes to our world. What do these ideas mean? Once again, let’s turn to the Ramchal, although this time let’s look at his sefer Derech Hashem. He writes there (Part 4, Chapter 7) that world needs a certain amount of Divine light to survive. To that end, Hashem’s wisdom decreed that on certain days in the year, a Divine light will shine down, thereby sustaining our world. Shabbos is one of those unique days when a degree of Hashem’s light (automatically!) shines and lifts us to greater levels of holiness. The Ramchal adds that not only does this light have the ability to elevate the 7th day, but it can also serve as a “seal” for the rest of the week and thereby “uplift and rectify” the other six days as well.
(Incidentally, Ramchal adds that this idea can explain why one may not engage in the 39 forbidden labors on Shabbos. He explains that the 39 primary categories of labor are the epitome of physicality. If a person engages in them, he is essentially attaching himself to physicality – which is entirely inappropriate for the day when a special spiritual light is shining.)
Perhaps this piece from the Ramchal can help us understand our topic. Hashem would love to constantly shower us with kedusha and all the brachos that come along with it, but He holds Himself back, as it were, so that we can earn greatness on our own. However, on certain days, Hashem opens the pipes of Divine benevolence. Shabbos is one of those days when we get a freebie – an extra neshama. The world also gets a freebie – an abundant flow of holiness and blessing. This understanding helps us explain why on Shabbos we give blessings. Shabbos is the day when Hashem sends down brachos to His creation; our job is merely to catch it as it comes and channel it to those we love.
So here is a ninth way to grow on Shabbos: bless your children on Friday night. Take advantage of the Satan’s sabbatical and channel Hashem’s beneficence into those who mean the most to you.