Shabbos is central to Torah and Jewish living. It must reflect the fundamental pattern we are studying. The week begins and ends with Shabbos - an inspired end to the week. From the holy to the ordinary to the holy again.
What is the message of this weekly cycle? What energies are being manifest in it that we should be using, riding? Why do we need a Shabbos every week whereas other mo’adim (festivals) occur only yearly? There must be a most essential lesson for the neshama (soul) in Shabbos which necessitates such close repetition.
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There are many ideas in Shabbos, but perhaps the most basic is that it represents an end-point, the tachlis of a process. The week is a period of working, building; Shabbos is the cessation of that building, which brings home the significance and sense of achievement that building has generated. It is not simply rest, inactivity. It is the celebration of the work which has been completed. Whenever the Torah mentions Shabbos it first mentions six days of work - the idea is that Shabboss occurs only after, because of, the work.
A process must have an end-point to give it meaning. If work never achieves a result, the work is foolish. If an inventor builds a machine which maintains itself fully - fuels itself, oils itself, cleans itself - that is clever; provided that the machine produces something useful. A machine whose only output is its own maintenance would be ridiculous.
The result justifies the work, the end-point justifies the process. The pleasure of the freedom and relaxation which accompany and end-point are the direct results of the satisfaction of knowing that the job has been done. That is the real happiness, the happiness of achievement. Shabbos is wonderful if a person has a week’s work to show for that week - then the relaxation is rich and full.
The Sages make the s strange statement that a talmid chacham, a person learned in torah, is called “Shabbos.” What is the meaning of this? The underlying idea is that Torah is the ultimate end-point; the entire world was created only so that Torah could be manifest. Torah is learned for its own sake, not as a means to an end; it is the end, not the means. And therefore one who learns Torah correctly, one who is imbued with Torah knowledge has an aura of Shabbos about him. He is steeped in the dimension of tachlis, the dimension of the goal realized. There is the deepest connection between Torah and Shabbos.
So Shabbos teaches that all work must be directed to a goal. Travelling must be towards the traveler's destination - if not, it is merely wandering. This message alone would justify weekly repetition - we need constant awareness that each of our activities must be aimed at meaningful growth. No business enterprise is run randomly - great care is taken to keep the activities of a business concern “on track”, directed towards fulfilling the aims of the company. Our lives deserve at least that degree of good management!
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But there is much more. Not only do we begin the week rested and inspired by Shabbos aiming to arrive at a higher, more developed state seven days later; we must remain aware that the entire span of our lives is patterned thus: born from a higher dimension, given our time here to work, to give, to achieve, we are aiming at a return to the higher dimension with a lifetime of hare work to our credit. This life is the week, the rest is the great Shabbos. Shabbos occurs weekly to teach that very fact: ultimately, sooner or later, there will be a final end to the work-phase and the long Shabbos will begin.
The illusion of immortality which we allow ourselves is powerful - I have forever to live. We never have more than seven days before we are reminded: remember Shabbos.
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Let us think into this idea. There are many parallels between Shabbos and olam ha’ba, the world-to-come. We prepare for Shabbos on erev Shabbos, Friday, in ways very similar to the way a person whose life has ended is prepared for that final voyage: washed, nails trimmed, dressed in white. We prepare everything which will be needed for Shabbos beforehand: when the sun sets one cannot prepare any longer. On Shabbos creative activity in the physical sphere is frozen; the message is that after the final transition from this world to the next, no more building or preparing can be done. In the next world a neshama must remain at the level which was attained during life. The ecstasy of that existence is the sense of being which has resulted from a lifetime of work. There one exists face-to-face, as it were, with one’s own genuine personality; no illusions, no facade protect one from reality. What has been built in the personality is real there, in fact all the raw materials which one was given in this world are stripped away, all that remains is the increase, the change which has been achieved using that raw material. That is the substance of the next world.
Conversely, the pain of the next world is the sensation of lack; lack of those parts of the neshama, lack of those middos (personality traits), lack of those refinements which one could have, should have, acquired in this life. Again, it is simply the experiencing of one’s own reality with no buffer, no protective layers intervening.
That is the great Shabbos. Activity frozen, a sense of the results of a lifetime made clear. What was prepared is now real. What was not prepared is forever lost. That world is an ocean voyage; provisions taken along are available, enjoyed. Provisions not taken are simply not available there.
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The parallel is deeper. One of the remarkable features of Shabbos is that things are on Shabbos as they are at the moment of its beginning. For example, muktza (muktza objects are those which, being unnecessary for Shabbos, may not be moved). An object is defined as muktza on Shabbos if at the moment of sunset it is muktza, even if a change occures later - a table with muktza objects on it is itself muktza if those objects are there at sunset. Even if the objects are somehow subsequently removed, the table remains muktza until Shabbos is over. Things do not change on Shabbos - it is the dimension of being, not becoming. And things remain as they are as Shabbos begins.
Mystical sources state that a person’s spiritual status in the next world is as it was at the moment of transition from this world to the next. Not an “average” of a lifetimes ups and downs, but rather a condition determined only by the final moment. Amazingly, this means that a lifetime spent in negativity can be corrected at the last moment of life, the negativity can be neutralized then. (Of course, waiting until then is not recommended! One may not have the chance or the ability to perform that comprehensive teshuva, repentance, at the last moment.) Conversely, a positive life can be seriously compromised if a person breads faith at the end.
A certain Rabbi once explained this idea as follows: life is like a pottery class. One is given some soft clay to work. At the end of the allotted hour the clay sculpture is put on to the conveyor which takes it into the kiln to be fired. Once it is fired its form is permanent, no changes can later be made. If a person is lazy and does nothing with his clay all hour, it will be difficult to fashion something beautiful in the final seconds, but whatever is achieved will e made permanent. On the other hand, a person who spends all hour making something beautiful must take care that it is not damaged at the end - pne crushing action at the last instant will result in a shapeless lump of clay being fired which will not reflect all the work put in previously.
Although this is a simplification of the process, it is true. Shabbos halts all work and preparation, things remain on Shabbos as they are at the moment of its entry; the end of life halts change, halts development, and the neshama remains as it was at that point.
The urgen message of Shabbos, therefore is: waste no time, build constantly, direct all your activities towards correct goals, prepare for the long voyage throughout life and keep faith always, even (and particularly) at the very end. The result will be real and permanent oneg Shabbos, pleasure of Shabbos, and Shabbos menucha, Shabbos rest.
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Shabbos is described as “me’eyn olam ha’ba” - a small degree of the experience of the next world. There is an idea that all spiritual realities have at least one tangible counterpart in the world so that we can experience them: it would be too difficult to relate to the abstract if we could never have any direct experience of it. Sleep is a sixtieth of the death experience; a dream is a sixtieth of prophecy. Shabbos is a sixtieth of the experience of the next world.
Why specifically a sixtieth? What is unique about the proportion of one in sixty? One who has sensitive ear will hear something very beautiful here. One in sixty is that proportion which is on the borderline of perception: in the laws of kashrus (permitted and forbidden foods) there is a general rule that forbidden mixtures of foods are in fact forbidden only if the admixture of the prohibited component comprises more than one part in sixty. If a drop of milk accidentally spills into a meant dish that dish would not be forbidden if less that one part in sixty were milk - the milk cannot be tasted in such dilution. The halachic borderline is set at that point where taste can be discerned.
The beautiful hint here is that Shabbos is one sixtieth of the intensity of olam ha’ba - it is on the borderline of taste: if one lives Shabbos correctly, one tastes the next world. If not, one will not taste it at all.
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How is this higher taste experienced? By desisting from work. Not work in the sense of exertion, that is a serious misconception of Shabbaos. What is halted on Shabbos is melacha - creative activity. Thirty-nine specific creative actions were needed to build the mishkan (Sanctuary) in the desert; these mystically parallel the activities Hashem performs to create the Universe - the mishkan is a microcosm, a model of the Universe. Hashem rested from His Creation, we rest from parallel creative actions. The week is built by engaging in those actions constructively, Shabbos is built by desisting from those very actions. The mishkan represents the dimension of kedusha (holiness) in space, Shabbos is the dimension of kedusha in time.
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Shabbos comes at the end of the week. But it also begins the week. It is the beginning and the end. It begins the week as the definition of the goal, the ideal. Then follows the work of the weekdays. And then a higher Shabbos is reached; what was a goal, an ideal a week ago has become real, an acquisition now. “Sof ma’aseh b’machshaba techila - Last in action, first in thought.”
The word “Bereshis - In the beginning” comprises the letters ‘yarei Shabbos’ “awe of Shabbos”. The genesis dimension contains the eternal dimension. The statement of genesis is a statement of the goal.
When the Torah refers to Pesach as the beginning of the omer phase of counting, building, it calls Pesach “Shabbos”! Pesach, understood as an inspired beginning, contains an aspect of Shabbos. Just as Shabbos begins the week as its transcendent origin, Pesach begins the weeks of counting towards Shavuos as a higher source. The Shem Mi’Shmuel says that this is why we count the omer from the second day of Pesach, not the first - the first day of Pesach is such an elevated state that it requires no counting by us, it is a time of inspiration naturally; only after it departs do we have to begin building. Shabbos is k’via ve’kayma, established in time as holy from the Creation, unlike the other mo’adim, festivals, which depend on our fixing of the new month. Pesach has something of this aspect of transcendence; the Torah calls it “Shabbos”.
The Torah mentions Shabbos immediately after the building of the mishkan to teach how Shabbos is to be kept: these actions which you have just performed to build the holiness of the mishkan must be stopped for Shabbos to be experienced.
But the Torah also mentions Shabbos before the instructions for the building of the mishkan to teach that Shabbos takes priority over the mishkan: do not build it on Shabbos. The building is secondary, the goal is primary.
The goal is first set, and lastly achieved. Shabbos is the plan and the result. It is the life of the week, the spark of kedusha which animates time.
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Shabbos rest is an opportunity for introspection. What have I achieved this week? How am I better, more aware, more sensitive? Where do I need to develop in particular? Stocktaking; facing up to oneself honestly. This itself is a faint reflection of the eternal facing up to oneself which is of the essence of the next world. The meditation of Shabbos is the meditation of being, not becoming. But from that awareness the next week’s “becoming” is generated.
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Shabbos ends with havdala, the ceremony of “distinguishing” the holy from the mundane. A profound lesson can be learned from havdala which is part of the theme we have been studying.
Shabbos exits, the week begins. There is a natural sense of let-down, holiness has left, the lower state is experienced. This is why we smell spices at havdala - to revive the wilting neshama.
But a deep secret is revealed here we take wine for havdala! Wine is used when elevation occurs, as we have noted already. What is the meaning of this paradox?
The idea is as follows. Certainly the week begins with the sadness of sensing Shabbos fade. The relinquishing of kedusha is palpable. We smell spices. But the week’s beginning means a new opportunity to build, to elevate our present status towards another Shabbos which will be higher than the last, which will reflect another week of work and growth added to all the previous ones! We take wine! This is called “yeridaa l’tzorech aliya - a descent for the purpose of elevation”, a higher and greater elevation than before.
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Shabbos is closely related to the idea of teshuva (repentance, the mitzva of correcting past mistakes). The letters of ‘Shabbos’ are also those of ‘tashev’ the root of teshuva. Shabbos is the celebration of the remembrance of Creation, a return to the primal, perfect state, a return to the source. Teshuva is a return to the pure state, the state which existed before sin caused its damage. But more than this: just as each Shabbos is built by a descent from the previous one into the work of the week, so too the state of teshuva is in one way higher than the original unblemished state which preceded sin.
Teshuva, when motivated and performed correctly, transforms sin into merit! The mechanism of this seeming paradox is this: before a person sinned, the potential for that sin was latent in the personality. It was an undiscovered, unexpressed weakness waiting to bread through. The act of sin revealed it and made it actual in the personality. Before the sin there was a serious deficiency in the personality, that person carried a flaw; the opportunity to sin proved that - the flaw was revealed.
The definition of teshuva is that when it has been sincerely performed the person has reached a state in which, if presented with the opportunity and temptation to sin again, he would not do so. The flaw has been removed! Sin revealed the weakness, teshuva corrected ti. Amazingly, the sin was an integral part of the process of reaching a new level where the personality defect which led to that sin has been eradicated; the sin itself has been uses as a tool for growth - it has been transformed into a merit!
Of course, one may not sin deliberately in order to utilize this process - in fact, sinning deliberately for this purpose blocks that path to teshuva. The ideal pathway is to recognize a character flaw before it manifests as sin and to eliminate it immediately - in this way development of the personality can take place without the damage of sin. But the fact remains that if a flaw is unrecognized and uncorrected and leads to sin, teshuva can redeem and even improve.
Our pathway again - a state unblemished by sin, a descent into the state of sin , and ascent to a new level of growth, stronger and clearer. The descent has turned out to be “l’tzorech aliya”, essential to ascent.
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So we see our overall theme reflected most seminally in the cycle of Shabbos and the week; a high beginning, a descent, a loss of that high level of kedusha, but only for the purpose of being able to work, to achieve. And then the result of that work: a return to the dimension of the beginning, higher, more inspired, more sensitive; closer to that final Shabbos and better prepared.
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