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10 Av 5764 - July 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Departing Majesty: Understanding the Special Tefillos of Motzei Shabbos

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

A Royal Farewell

A monarch paid a short visit to a tiny island in his empire. Months of planning and preparation were invested to ensure that the king would receive the honor that befits his royal status. Everything about his visit was grand, but the most striking part was the send-off: a two hundred-piece orchestra played a newly- composed piece to accompany the king's ceremonious departure.

"Hashem is King; He is cloaked in Splendor" (Tehillim 93,1). On Friday morning we say this chapter of Tehillim, as we begin to prepare ourselves for a fresh encounter with the royalty of Shabbos. After kabolas Shabbos we repeat these words, as the majesty of Shabbos actually descends upon us.

After a full day of experiencing her majesty, we cannot simply get up and begin the new week without offering an appropriate farewell. What can we do to honor Hashem, who is already "girded in strength?" The following three ideas are all incorporated in Tehillim 144 and 67 which some communities sing prior to nightfall on Shabbos.

The Chasam Sofer once remarked that after Torah study, music is the next most powerful medium through which to achieve Divine closeness. For this reason, music played a central role in the Temple service. Certainly our farewell to Shabbos should include some musical aspect.

Loshon hora is one of the most serious transgressions of the Torah. As destructive as it is however, the opposite trait, i.e. distancing oneself from slander, is even more powerful. If this is so, our good-bye to Shabbos should definitely express something of the importance of the mitzvah of shemiras haloshon.

As Shabbos ebbs away we experience a longing that this day should remain with us a few minutes longer. This feeling is manifested in the practical halochoh. When faced with the question of either making Havdoloh or performing another mitzvah, the other mitzvah takes precedence based on the principle of "delaying the departure of Shabbos is preferable" (Pesochim 105b).

Saying these chapters of Tehillim accomplishes all three of these aims. Singing them provides a musical escort to Shabbos, while keeping the members of the shul occupied, decreasing their opportunity to speak loshon hora. At the same time, singing these verses helps lengthen Shabbos for a few more minutes, enabling us to fully appreciate the last moments of this special day. (Mishnah Berurah 297,).

Back to Gehennom

Mystical writings reveal that during Shabbos, neshomos of the departed are granted leave of Gehennom. After Shabbos they return for another week.

When does this transition take place? Our Sages tell us that until the chazan says "Borechu" at the start of Ma'ariv, the neshomos are still out of Gehennom. For this reason the custom is to extend the recitation of these words (see Rema 293:3).

Kabbalistic teachings bring out additional significance of this practice. They say that by extending the saying of Borechu, one draws the blessing of Shabbos into the upcoming week. Doing so saves oneself and one's family from danger, and draws the prosperity of Shabbos into the upcoming week (Shaarei Teshuvoh 233:2, in the name of Rav Chaim Vital).

A Spirit of Impurity

Any time kedushoh withdraws from amongst us, an impure spirit is left in its place. The gemora tells us that the 91st chapter of Tehillim, Yosheiv beseiser Elyon, has the ability to halt this pattern. Therefore, at a funeral, when the neshomoh departs from the body, these verses are repeated many times. So, too, at night before going to sleep, when the soul temporarily leaves the body in order to ascend to the heavens, this chapter is recited.

"At the onset of Shabbos, every Jew is given a neshomoh yeseiroh, additional capacity to his neshomoh" (Beitza). At the end of Shabbos, its departure leaves a vacuum for impure elements to fill. In order to facilitate our safe return to weekday activity we again take advantage of the effect of Yosheiv beseiser Elyon.

If a holiday falls during the week we do not recite this prayer. Since this chapter contains the words "maaseih yodeinu" the work of our hands, and work is forbidden on the chag, it is inappropriate to say it as we approach the upcoming holiday. On a deeper level, the protection that these words offer is unnecessary in the atmosphere of added holiness that the upcoming festival brings (Siddur Yaavetz).

A Time for Redemption

After reciting this chapter of Tehillim, we say kedushoh desidra, omitting the words "and redemption will come to Tzion" (since the night is not a time for redemption). This marks the end of a forty-eight hour period during which the redemption cannot occur, as our Sages have revealed that Moshiach will not come on erev Shabbos or Shabbos. To celebrate our renewed possibility for redemption we sing "Eliyahu Hanovi," the prophet who will herald this auspicious day (according to Tur 295).

The gemora Yerushalmi writes that some women have the custom not to do any melochoh on motzei Shabbos. Although this custom was not taken on fully, a small vestige of it remains. The general minhag is not to do any melochoh before reciting kedushoh desidra (Tosafos Pesochim 50b).

A Good Start

"Behold! G-d is my redemption, I will believe in Him and I won't be afraid! For G-d is my might and praise, [I called out] `Hashem!' And He was a salvation for me" (Yeshayohu 12:2).

One cannot help but feel a sense of loneliness when approaching the conclusion of a time of special intimacy with our Creator. The custom is to say a number of verses that speak of Divine redemption and salvation before reciting Havdoloh. These words, if allowed to penetrate the heart, have the power to strengthen us for the upcoming week until the next Shabbos, when we will once again have the opportunity to experience Hashem's splendor.

On Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the year, we eat foods that portend a successful new year. Similarly, on motzei Shabbos, at the start of a new week, we look for signs of prosperity. In addition to the pesukim recited before Havdoloh, many have the custom to say "Veyitein lecho," a collection of verses enumerating the blessings that Hashem showers upon us. Concluding Shabbos with these words ensures that we will start off the new week on the right foot.

Offspring and Wealth

Many have the custom to sing "Hamavdil Bein Kodesh Lechol" immediately after reciting Havdoloh. This piyut was originally intended to be recited after Yom Kippur, as seen by the frequent reference to forgiveness, but it eventually found its way into the motzei Shabbos prayers.

We are accustomed to say "Our offspring and our wealth may He increase like dust and stars" in the refrain of this piyut. Seemingly, asking for blessing for our children before our finances, shows that we value them more than our material belongings. This is in contrast to the tribes of Gad and Reuven, who asked for pasture for the sheep before requesting land for their children.

However, the Chasam Sofer changes the wording of this song. He writes that the correct wording is, "Our wealth and our offspring may He increase like dust and stars." Asking for an abundance of children should be preceded with a prayer for money to support them.

How does this differ from the mistake of Gad and Reuven? Since our request is that we should have appropriate financial means specifically to support our children, it is not considered to be placing materialism before their wellbeing. (Responsa Chasam Sofer). Notwithstanding this, the general custom is to say "our offspring and our wealth," as is printed in most siddurim.

Extra Perception

"Thus, the heaven and the earth and their whole host were completed. G-d blessed the Seventh Day, and He declared it holy. Then G-d completed with the Seventh Day His work that He had made, and with the Seventh Day He ceased from all the work that He had made, for it was on this day that God ceased from all the work that He had been creating" (Bereishis 2:1-3)

These verses are commonly referred to as Vayechulu, and are recited as part of the liturgy of Shabbos. Although every prayer is important, special significance is attributed to this one, for someone who says these verses is considered a partner with G-d in Creation (Shabbos 119b). Where lies the power in this seemingly simple passage?

There is a major difference between what G-d made during the first Six Days of Creation, and what He made on the Final Day. Everything brought into being during the first Days of Creation was easily recognizable to the senses. On the Seventh Day, G-d created menuchoh -- rest, which is a spiritual concept. It is impossible for humans to appreciate this Divine act without understanding what Shabbos is.

The most effective way to bring about appreciation of any concept is through speech. Thus, saying specific verses, i.e. reciting Vayechulu, which testifies to the existence of Shabbos, encourages man to fully appreciate its essence (Maharsha, ibid.). By doing this, man is assisting, as it were, in the creation of Shabbos (and becoming a partner in Creation).

Equally as difficult as recognizing the majesty of Shabbos at its inception, is perceiving the significance of its departure on motzei Shabbos. Only someone with a heightened level of sensitivity can fathom the stark contrast between the two days. Thus, our Sages added the tefilloh of Atoh chonantonu (You endowed us with understanding) in the conclusion of the Shabbos prayers.

In the merit of properly differentiating between the arrival and departure of the Shabbos queen, may we merit to see the ultimate revelation of His Majesty with the speedy rebuilding of His Palace in Yerushalayim.

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