The old year is coming to a close; Rosh Hashanah is but a mere two weeks away. So it behooves us to find inspiration for teshuva wherever we can.
It would appear that inspiring us is one of the goals of this week’s haftarah, in addition to its being one of the “sheva d’nechamta,” the seven haftaras whose purpose is to console us from the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash.
Yeshaya HaNavi tells us that even though we have sinned and were sent into exiled, there will come a time when we will return to Hashem and His anger will cease.
“Ki yamin u’smol tifrotzi… al tiri, ki lo seivoshi ve’al sikalmi – for you will spread out to the right and to the left… do not fear, for you will no longer feel embarrassed nor humiliated” (Yeshaya 54:3-4).
Of course, we recognize these words from Lecha Dodi: “Lo sivohsi velo sikalmi mah tishotchachi umah sehemi, bach yechesu aniyei ami vinivnisah ir al tilah – Do not be embarrassed, do not be ashamed! Why be dejected? Why moan? All my suffering people will find comfort in you and a city will be rebuilt upon the hill!”
In truth, Shabbos itself is an important part of teshuva in Elul and a comfort to us.
In the Friday night Kiddush, Shabbos is called, “techila l’mikra’ei kodesh” – the first of the holy days. What does this mean exactly? The Kobriner Rav says (mentioned in the Nesivos Shalom-Elul), if you want to become holy, if you want to begin doing teshuva, you must start with Shabbos. You have to make Shabbos the techila, the beginning of your coming into kodesh. This is because it is impossible to purge ourselves of the inner impurities that are present in our souls from the taint of sin, unless we allow the light of Shabbos to penetrate our essence. It is what will cleanse us from our spiritual filth.
Continuing, the Nesivos Shalom (end of Parshas Shoftim) asks why there are so many mitzvos that command us to remember yetzias Mitzrayim, such as Kiddush for Shabbos. The answer, he says, is that Hashem wants us to recall His love for us and His belief in us. Although we had descended to the 49th level of impurity in Egypt, Hashem still referred to us (when talking to Pharoah) as “Bni Bechori Yisrael.” He still considered us His firstborn child and remained confident that we would pull ourselves out of the spiritual mud.
The numerous mitzvos that are “zecher l’yetzias Mitzrayim” help us remember that Hashem desires closeness with us despite our failings. He took us out of Egypt and gave us His Torah because He believed we would actualize our potential.
So as we continue our long and hard climb toward the Yomim Noraim, we need to focus on the meaning and greatness of Shabbos.
Poetry has a way of touching us in a manner vastly different from merely reading the same insight in straight text. Poetry is able to move us with drama and emotion unlike information which is presented intellectually without verse or rhyme.
With this in mind, we share some beautiful selections of poetic words about Shabbos. I came across these lines in a book called, Am Yisrael Chai, published anonymously, and based on the teachings of Shlomo Carlebach.
“Every one of us is in exile in our own way. We’re not where we could be… until Shabbos comes. When Shabbos comes, we feel firmly anchored once again; we are where we are meant to be. Without the holiest day of the year coming every week, we would be adrift our whole life. Without being grounded on a regular basis, we would float endlessly in a sea of undercurrents. Shabbos is the connection between paradise lost and the paradise yet to come.
“G-d gave us the precious jewel of Shabbos. It has been with us since our very beginning and has kept us together through thick and thin, whether we were in our land or in exile. It is a pity that some think of Shabbos as unexciting. They think only in terms of do’s and don’t’s. They will save and save in order to take a holiday and get away for a vacation, away from stress, work, phones, computers, traffic, and the like, but we have this with Shabbos every single week! Shabbos is a beautiful day to refresh and renew, and it costs much less than an expensive getaway.
“You only really have Shabbos if you long for it, if you yearn for it. If you miss having Shabbos, you have it all the time. It is not enough just to keep Shabbos. We have to embrace Shabbos, otherwise we are outsiders. Unless Shabbos reaches something deep inside of us, Shabbos is not really our soulmate. When someone hugs you, you hug them back. If you embrace Shabbos, Shabbos will embrace you.
“Shabbos is our deep friend. It grows and expands just as friendships do. How do we feel when Shabbos leaves? Do the feelings for her linger? Do we make a melava malka? When I walk away from Shabbos I need to feel that I can’t live without my soulmate. Happy are those who walk the streets of the world with the peace of Shabbos.
“Maybe you’re an artist and you spend six days working on an image. You stand back to look at it and strongly sense that something is missing. You take the next day to add a splash of color that will give it life and meaning. G-d created the world in six days, but something was missing. On the seventh day, He added a soul to the world, giving it a real spark and spirit. Every Shabbos we receive a meaningful reason to exist, we are lifted from the mundaneness of the world.
“For six days we exist mostly on the outside, but Shabbos is devoted entirely for the inside.
Some people go through the six days of the week and say, ‘Master of the world, please give me a nice Shabbos. I want to eat cholent, kugel, and kishke. I want to sleep. I want to read a nice novel.’ And if that’s what you want, Hashem gives it. But others pray for a higher Shabbos, for a Shabbos which makes them spiritually great. We need six days to prepare for Shabbos, so shouldn’t we daven for the greatest Shabbos we can have? If we have to pray for six days let’s not settle for a little one, let’s daven for a great and spiritually powerful Shabbos!
“Many Jews have a custom to shine their shoes on erev Shabbos [or at least clean them]. As we walk to shul on erev Shabbos, we should think about how the world is changing,
transforming. The faces of tzaddikim would radiate, glow, and shine as Shabbos came in. We should be shining from head to toe. And on Shabbos we can see that someone else’s light can shine beautifully as well. When two friends meet and deeply connect even during the week, the light that shines at that moment is the light of Shabbos.
“On Shabbos, Hashem Yisborach gives us an extra soul, a newness. We should look at ourselves as if we were just born, pure and free from any sin. Imagine how holy we are on Shabbos! When you meet someone who truly lives Shabbos and glows from Shabbos, your face also begins to shine with the infinite light. Hashem shines this light on Shabbos and if we make ourselves proper receptacles, we will reflect this light and shine.
“Shabbos is not a day of rest. Yes, we experience physical inactivity, but our soul does not rest; our soul is awake! It is the one day we need to make sure to put our soul to work! Menucha for the body means rest. Menucha for the soul means spiritual exertion.”
“Shabbos is our return to paradise. All of our senses are heightened, we get a double dose, which puts us on high alert. This is why we can take stock of the past week, and discover clearly how we can rebuild and renew ourselves. With a fresh perspective we can fix ourselves and the world.
“The Shabbos Queen brings with her entry an entirely new world. Even the walls of the house are imbued with the holiness and rest of Shabbos. The Jew removes the yoke of work from his shoulders and rids himself from the dust of the six days of the week; the worried wrinkles on his forehead become smooth; his soul returns to her spiritual respite and the mind relaxes. This is what the holy Shabbos is to the Jewish People; her portion in our existence.” (This last selection is based on the words of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch.)
Reading the above lines makes us feel closer to Shabbos and can help us actualize all the meaning Shabbos offers.