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5 Iyar 5760 - May 10, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Special Elevating Nature of Shabbos

by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira

Part II

In the first part of the essay about the unique qualities of Shabbos, HaRav Shapira stressed how Shabbos and the Jewish People enjoy a unique relationship. He explained that the rest we have on Shabbos is a special, positive experience that brings brocho and kedusha.

Spiritual Levels on Shabbos

The Rishonim write at length about the special qualities of Shabbos. Rabbenu Avrohom the son of the Rambam, in Maspik Le'Ovdei Hashem (introduction), while presenting the first rule in avodas Hashem, writes that every mitzvas aseih and lo sa'aseh is identical for every Jew. No difference exists between Moshe Rabbenu, Yehoshua bin Nun, and the most ordinary person in Am Yisroel. Either a person fulfills or annuls the mitzvah. No differences in the general fulfillment or annulment of mitzvos exists.

Every mitzvah, however, has endless levels according to its inner meaning. Rabbenu Avrohom describes three levels in the mitzvah of Shabbos. The first level is that after a person has observed Shabbos correctly and has not profaned it, he reflects on the reason for Shabbos -- that the heavens and earth and all their hosts were created only during the Six Days of Creation -- and its aim. Through this reflection he strengthens his emunah that the world was created ex nihilo, that absolutely nothing existed beforehand, and that nothing came before HaKodosh Boruch Hu, Who brings the entire Creation into existence and Who renews it constantly. This is the first level of reflecting on the reason of Shabbos, a general reflection about Hashem's creation of the world.

The second level is that a person also reflects about the many details of the Creation. He enumerates every detail in the Creation in which the Creator's wisdom is revealed. In addition, he thinks about what was created on each day of the Six Days of the Creation until he realizes through these details that Hashem created the whole world. This level is higher than the first.

The third level -- which is the highest -- is that after one reflects about all the above he also searches further until he reaches true kedusha. He is so content with his spiritual attainments that he thanks Hashem and realizes that only Hashem gave him the intelligence he has used to see His greatness through His creation.

This is the highest level, and it is an altogether different level. It connects between man and Hashem. When a person attains this level he grasps the intellectual and concrete connection of what lies "between Me and bnei Yisroel." He realizes that Shabbos bonds HaKodosh Boruch Hu and Am Yisroel, just like the ties that bond a man to his wife, as in the above example of Chazal's. Although there are endless levels within each mitzvah, in general each Jew must attain these three levels described by Rabbenu Avrohom. This is the Shabbos of Rabbenu Avrohom the son of the Rambam.

Shabbos -- A Heritage for Each Person

According to the above we can reach the climax of shleimus through Shabbos. Rabbenu Yonah writes that the aim of tzaddikim and their sign of success is Hashem's being pleased with them. All that they do in Olam Hazeh is only to reach this level of rotzon Hashem. Shabbos, which is a matonoh of love and rotzon from Hashem can, more than anything else, help a person to be loved by Hashem and desired by Him.

HaRav Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz writes in Lecho Dodi: "To welcome the Shabbos come, let us go, for it is the source of brocho." All spiritual attainments and brochos emanate from the mitzvah of Shabbos. It leads a person who observes it to be loved by Hashem, to splendor and contentment, "a rest of magnanimity, a rest of truth and faith, a rest of peace and serenity, peace and serenity and tranquility and security, a perfect rest."

All the qualities found in other forms of kedusha and all the sublime levels that Rabbenu Avrohom describes -- the shleimus that Hashem wants -- are attained through Shabbos.

When one hears about such elevated levels of love from Hashem and rotzon Hashem, such a tie between HaKodosh Boruch Hu and am Yisroel, one can mistakenly think that all this does not concern common people, and that only the few extraordinary people, bnei aliya who labor at ascending spiritual levels, should take interest in them. We would think that it has nothing to do with us.

The truth, though, is that these madreigos are all relevant to us too. These are not Kabbalistic matters that only a few can reach and that ordinary people just believe in their existence and nothing more. Each one of us can attain these lofty achievements in ruchniyus.

As Rabbenu Avrohom writes, the way to do this is simply through reflecting about the details of the Creation, how Hashem gives us intelligence to recognize the Creator Who created such a wonderful world. This alone is sufficient to award a person a feeling of simcha when doing the mitzvah of Shabbos, and it creates the connection between us and Hashem. Doing this is not difficult at all.

The ability to raise oneself higher to attain such elevated levels is one of the segulos of Shabbos and is emphasized in the Torah: "However, My Shabbos shall you keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies you" (Shemos 31:13). The Torah commands this to every Jew, even the simplest. Even he must "know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies you." On Shabbos everyone must feel that Hashem makes him holy through His kedusha. If the mitzvah is knowing that Hashem makes us holy, surely Shabbos can make us feel the neshomo yeseiro that we have on Shabbos.

My great-grandfather, the Netziv, writes in Ha'amek Dovor that when a Jew feels the kedusha on Shabbos and Yom Tov by himself, this shows that HaKodosh Boruch Hu is surely helping him to become more kodosh, since the person himself wants to be mekadesh himself more.

Each one of us feels on Shabbos that something has been added to him, even if he has done nothing to attain it. The segulah of Shabbos helps a person reach these spiritual levels.

The Chayei Odom, who lived only about two hundred years ago, testifies about himself (in Hilchos Shabbos) that when he went to the mikveh on Erev Shabbos he felt the elevation given him by the neshomo yeseiro, and he adds that each person can feel the same.

Shabbos has the segulah all by itself to raise us to all these madreigos. This is not one of the difficult things to do. Each one must feel tangibly that Hashem is sanctifying him. This is what we mean when we say at Mincha, "may Your children recognize and know that from You comes their rest, and through their rest they will sanctify Your name."

We can learn something about the kedusha of Shabbos from what the Vilna Gaon writes in his famous letter to his family. He warns them strongly not to, cholila, speak even one idle word on Shabbos. The Gaon cites the Yerushalmi that Chazal barely permitted us to greet another person with sholom on Shabbos. We see the magnitude of kedusha on Shabbos in the fact that even one mundane word should not be spoken during it.

In maseches Demai (ch. 4) the mishnah states that we believe what even an am ho'oretz says when we ask him on Shabbos if he has separated ma'aser from his fruit, even though we cannot believe him during the rest of the week when he says the same thing. The rishonim explain that Shabbos is taken seriously even by an am ho'oretz. He will not do an aveiro on Shabbos and therefore he would not lie on Shabbos, even though he is generally not reliable.

This is how Shabbos was once considered even by an am ho'oretz. Even a person who would not separate ma'aser from tevel would not lie on Shabbos. This is similar to how we feel on Yom Kippur: we feel its great kedusha and are careful not to say any lie during it. This was once the level of every am ho'oretz on Shabbos. He felt the kedusha of Shabbos the way we today feel the kedusha of Yom Kippur.

Where do we find among all the mitzvos of the Torah a single mitzvah like this, that elevates man to such a level that he can obtain everything he wishes: contentment, blessing, splendor, Shabbos rest, the kedusha of Shabbos, and a bond between man and Hashem? What more can a person wish?

It is, however, obvious that such elevation through the neshomo yeseiro cannot be achieved by sitting idle. The most proper way to gain such elevation is through Torah study. Chazal say that the Torah asked HaKodosh Boruch Hu: "When will bnei Yisroel, who are occupied with their livelihoods, find time to study Torah?" HaKodosh Boruch Hu answered: "Am Yisroel's mate when they study Torah is the Shabbos." Shabbos is the special day when we can study Torah.

What is meant by Chazal that Shabbos is the mate of bnei Yisroel so that they can study Torah? Why is it not enough for them to have free time on Shabbos when they do not work so they can study Torah? The meaning of Shabbos being the "mate" of the Jewish Nation is that the most proper thing to do on Shabbos is studying Torah. This is because the special segulah of Shabbos is Torah study.

This can be explained as follows: Shabbos is a day of menuchah for the nefesh, and Chazal write that the Torah too is menuchah for the nefesh. "He saw that rest was good and he bowed his shoulder to bear" (Bereishis 49:14). Chazal write in the Midrash (and the same is written in the Targum Yonoson) that this posuk refers to Torah. Although one has to "bow his shoulder to bear" a burden, because studying Torah is a heavy yoke, nevertheless suffering the yoke of the Torah is a person's real menuchah -- "He saw that the rest was good." The yoke of Torah is his rest.

"He gives strength to the tired" (Yeshaya 40:29). The Targum Yonoson explains that HaKodosh Boruch Hu gives renewed strength to someone who is tired because he has labored over the Torah. What is this strength? The ability to understand the sugya resulting from his exerting himself in Torah study, which causes him simcha. This is the strength that he receives.

The Netziv writes in the introduction to his commentary on the She'iltos that Yeshaya in the above posuk is telling us that the menuchah needed by talmidei chachomim is not for their body's sake. On the contrary, the menuchah consists of toiling over the Torah. From such toil he receives his rest. The strength that one gains from the simcha after one understands the Torah is the menuchah.

We must be aware that this is not just rhetoric. This is reality! True menuchah is only the menuchah of the nefesh which we receive after toiling over Torah. Someone who thinks that he can arrive at menuchah through giving his body rest is greatly mistaken. This is totally impossible.

Someone who accustoms himself to rest in Olam Hazeh is mistaken because in Olam Hazeh no rest exists. In Olam Hazeh we find only matters that bother us from morning to night. Every day, every week, and every month we encounter new problems. If a person wants to wait until he has quiet, menuchah for his body, and then he will start to study Torah, who knows if he will ever be zoche to this?

A person's avoda is to make his Torah study so fixed that no distractions or pressure of work will stop him from keeping his set time for studying Torah. If he accustoms himself to resting he will never be able to study Torah.

This can be compared to combat soldiers. During their basic training they are placed under the most difficult conditions: in deserts, without water, climbing steep mountains, and facing other obstacles. This is done so that when the battle comes nothing will disturb them. Even in the worst conditions a person must be able to vanquish the enemy.

The same is true of a ben Torah: he must accustom himself to letting no reasons, no needs of the body, prevent him from reaching his main aspiration of studying Torah. This is the avoda of true menuchah.

Shabbos is therefore not only a day free from work on which one can study Torah. Studying Torah on Shabbos has the special quality of menuchah, because the nefesh on Shabbos combines with the special quality of Torah study that is also menuchah for the nefesh. This is the most proper shidduch: Torah and Shabbos. When studying on Shabbos a person receives the blessing of Shabbos in his Torah and what he studies during the week is also blessed because of it. This is the avoda of studying Torah on Shabbos.

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah in Eretz Yisroel.

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