Shabbos is under fire once again, this time sadly in our beloved Eretz Yisroel. After risking our lives to maintain its kedusha in foreign lands, Shabbos is now in danger from Israeli politicians in cities such as Teveriah, where no doubt the neshamos of the Rambam and other holy souls there interred are sobbing and disheartened.
The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of America has issued a proclamation that all of us should enhance our Shabbos in the great tradition of middah keneged middah (Brachos 12b). Although they have offered several suggestions as to how to accomplish this in our own homes (such as lighting candles early on Erev Shabbos, learning hilchos Shabbos at the Shabbos table, singing zemiros with joy and feeling, and being careful to speak only of permissible things on Shabbos), perhaps we should do even more. It behooves us to think deeply about our own relationship with this magical mystical day, consider how fortunate we are to have received this gift (Shabbos 10b), and redouble our efforts to create a weekly oasis of holy tranquility in our midst.
Like all things that have been part of our lives for all of our lives, we sometimes fall into the jaded mindset of taking that which is most precious to us for granted. This can be a person or a gift such as Shabbos, for which most of us have never had to fight or struggle.
We should begin with the Chofetz Chaim’s metaphor (Kuntrus Bais Yisroel 2) for understanding the exquisite value of Shabbos. He vividly describes the world of precious jewels where only the most powerful and wealthy own every one of the rarest gems. Some monarchs may have only sapphires, some only pearls. Still others have rubies or diamonds. Only the greatest have them all, including the heirlooms of royalty. When the wealthiest of all of these chooses a stone that he will be proud to present as his greatest gift, we know that it will be special indeed. “Imagine, then,” says the Chofetz Chaim, “when the King of kings and Creator of the Universe, who owns and commands all, decides to give the ultimate gift. How special it must be. This is Shabbos.”
Furthermore, Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l (Atarah Lamelech) points out that Rav Yehudah Hanosi, redactor of the Mishnah, returned to earth every Erev Shabbos after his passing until he was discovered by outsiders and had to cease (Kesubos 103a). Now, imagine, taught Rav Pam: Rebbi is in heaven with all the holiest of souls and no doubt close to the heavenly throne as well. Yet, he leaves paradise itself to spend Shabbos on earth. How fortunate are we who are privileged and fortunate to do this every week without miracles or fanfare! The only question is: Do we truly appreciate our good fortune?
Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l (Michtav M’Eliyahu 2:13) states unequivocally that “Shabbos is the source of all holiness and from it kedusha spreads to the entire week” (based upon the Zohar). He quotes from the Reishis Chochmah (Shaar Hakedusha 2) that when the Torah commands us to be holy, it means “that we should extend the holiness of Shabbos to every day of the week.”
In another place (1:230), Rav Dessler adds that the way to do this is to “sanctify all of the material things we do all week, such as when we eat and drink. In this way, the influence of Shabbos permeates each and every weekday” (see also Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach, Maamar 25, page 85). Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (see Pri Tzdadik 4:39) codifies this in a halachic responsum as a daily obligation, demonstrating eloquently that the entire week – indeed every moment of our lives – revolves around Shabbos.
Throughout the ages, many stories and many individuals, both great and simple, have personified this ideal. One recent Torah giant who managed to embody both a surface simplicity and a profound depth in his Shabbos preparations was the great gaon and mekubal, Rav Yisroel Eliyahu Weintraub zt”l. His children write (introduction to his sefer Raza D’Shabbos on inyonei Shabbos, page 2) that “he did not wish to interfere or impose upon the tranquility of Shabbos with his Erev Shabbos preparations. However, in his later years, the kedusha of Shabbos could be palpably felt as soon as he returned from immersing in the mikvah in honor of Shabbos. On Shabbos itself, he was mechadeish novel thoughts and interpretations, which he wrote down immediately after Havdalah.”
Rav Weintraub, who hid much of the incredible heights to which he had risen over the years, could not conceal the sanctity he acquired as Shabbos approached.
Interestingly, the Maharsham reported that he had learned from Rav Shlomo Kluger to write his most complex sensitive teshuvos on Erev Shabbos after returning from the mikvah because of the “spirit of purity which comes upon me” (Borchi Nafshi 3:500).
Another story about the power of Shabbos preparations does not involve famous and brilliant scholars. On the contrary, the same source (Borchi Nafshi 4:351) reports the moving saga of a young boy who simply could not understand Gemara. Day after day, he remained “silent as a statue” as his friends engaged in lively Torah discussions and debates. He began to cry to his mother about his situation, demanding, “How long will it continue that my brain is sealed shut? Can it be that it has been decreed that I will remain a fool and a dolt for all of my life?”
His righteous mother’s heart went out to him, so she finally made a suggestion. “My dear child,” she said tearfully, “I, too, am greatly pained by your situation. However, there is one time during the entire week when I light the Shabbos candles and Hashem listens intently to my prayers. It is considered an eis ratzon, a propitious time to be answered favorably about the plight of one’s children. Come, let us daven together this Friday night at that time.”
Both mother and son cried bitter tears before the holy lights, as they poured out their hearts and souls. This Erev Shabbos scene continued for several months, until one day the rebbi called, asking politely, “Could you please tell me if anything has changed radically in your family or home? Your son has suddenly begun to understand the Gemara, Rashi Tosafos, and everything we are learning. His heart and mind have suddenly opened like a great hall and every word of Torah is imprinted upon his mind. Please tell me your secret formula.”
One leil Shabbos in 1943 Vichy France, a startling neis took place. A Nazi quietly entered the back of the shul armed with three hand grenades to murder as many Jews as possible while they prayed. Suddenly, he dropped them all, injuring a few but saving hundreds from even being hurt, let alone murdered in cold blood. What happened? He was about to unleash his deadly weapons when the entire shul turned around at Bo’ie beshalom ateres baalah. The would be mass-murderer thought that the Jews had discovered his plan and were all going to attack before he could issue his rain of death. Everyone present knew instantly that they had been saved by the kedusha of Shabbos and their heartfelt tefillos.
Plain and simple Jews? Perhaps. Or perhaps representatives of the shomrei Shabbos of all generations who had rushed to their aid.
Of course, sadly, these miracles do not always happen and certainly not every Shabbos. But it is enough that Hashem sends us the eternal reminder that “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jewish people.”
So what is the secret of Shabbos and how do we access its treasures?
The Alter of Kelm (Chochmah Umussar 2:33) reveals enough to help us. He notes that Chazal (Brachos 57) teach, “Shabbos constitutes one sixtieth of Olam Haba.” We know that “there is no joy comparable to the resolution of doubt.” Every Shabbos, when we enter our private taste of Olam Haba, some of our doubts are resolved, so we enter a state of great joy. As our brains and hearts expand to assimilate this new knowledge and understanding, we literally become greater. The poskim are able to write clearer responsa even on Erev Shabbos and the rest of us soar to new heights of sanctity and clarity. Each new bit of Torah grants us serenity, for we are one step closer to appreciating and understanding Hashem’s plan for the universe. Of course, the greater we begin, the greater is our Shabbos progress, but everyone achieves some measure of newfound intelligence. This is the source of the joy of Shabbos.
I have two friends who became frum during an NCSY Shabbaton. They were invited to spend the first true Shabbos of their teenage lives, but they were separated, as is the custom, so that each could be inspired and influenced by their already religious mentors. After an inspirational long Friday night Kiddush, meal and divrei Torah, the two returned exhausted but exhilarated to their respective rooms. Johnny called Bobby, who picked up the phone. “Bobby, we’re doing it.” Bobby responded happily, “Yay, Johnny, we’re doing it.” They hung happily, suddenly realizing that they hadn’t quite “done it” yet.
Most of us are also “doing it,” but perhaps are not completely there yet. But as long as we’re getting there, we are on the way, and soon we will all celebrate “the day of complete Shabbos,” when we will finally understand it all. May our new madreigos this Shabbos and beyond enlighten those who would destroy our national treasure so that they have no doubt at all Who and what is preserving and saving our nation.