How Shabbos Works1
Use a word often enough and you can convince yourself that you know what
it means. The Torah employs the word “kedushah” so often in regard to
Shabbos, that we can easily lull ourselves into accepting it just so.
At least until we start thinking about it. Then we realize that we are
more comfortable associating kedushah with objects than with time. 1
How are we to understand the Torah’s designating Shabbos as kodesh – and
its multiple repetitions of that designation?
We could offer a suggestion. When the Torah tells us that Hashem blessed
Shabbos and made it holy,” it does not mean just that He turned it into a
special or elevated time. Rather, it means that He made Shabbos the root
and source of all blessing, and the wellspring from which all kedushah
flows. From this understanding we will be able to make sense of many other
phenomena about Shabbos.
Kabbalistically, there is a ready explanation for seeing Shabbos as the
source of all kedushah. On Shabbos alone, the light of the three most
elevated sefiros is allowed to radiate to the other seven. This light is
the spiritual substance of all the kedushah we experience – and it makes
its way into our world specifically on Shabbos.
Some works explain the special quality of kedushah on Shabbos in terms of
greater resistance to forces of evil that dilute or mask kedushah at other
times. We understand that as a consequence of Hashem’s insistence on
creating balance between the good and evil (and therefore leaving room for
our choosing between them), any display of kedushah is met with resistance
from its opposite. Kedushah attracts its foil, which masks and mutes it.
Consequentially, we must view good and evil as a single continuum. Where
good leaves off, evil immediately begins, in the form of the ten negative
sefiros of tumah. On Shabbos, writes the Pri Etz Chaim, Hashem creates a
buffer between the good and the evil. Good can be manifest without being
set upon, as it were, by the forces of impurity.
Alternatively, we can simply view Shabbos as a presence of kedushah
(coming as it does from the three most elevated sefiros) with which tumah
simply is unable to coexist, and is banished from its presence.
As the source of all kedushah, Shabbos can provide us with the beginning
of a framework to solve an enigmatic problem. Meor Eynayim questions how
humans can ever imagine themselves connected to Hashem. Even in our puny
understanding, we realize that there should be no way for this to occur.
Hashem is infinite and limitless. We are stuck in limitation and
dimensionality – not just different from G-d, but in a sense the polar
opposite. We might yearn for connection to Him, but such attachment
should be impossible. It can be poetry, but not real.
He answers that our devekus comes through something that is intermediate
between the two end points, which acts as a kind of binding agent between
us. This intermediate is Shabbos itself. It is not, of course, a divine
being, but its kedushah does come from Him. On the other hand, it is
accessible enough that we can bind to it, and through it, to Hashem.
The Torah begins a listing of holidays with a restatement of the mitzvah
of Shabbos. (We pithily make reference to this in the siddur, in speaking
of Shabbos as techilah l’mikra’ei kodesh – the first among holy days.)
People have long puzzled over this. In what way does Shabbos belong to the
special, seasonal observances of the holy days, of the yearly circuit
around the calendar? Our thinking thus far may provide a satisfying answer
to the question. Shabbos is first and primary in the list of holidays,
because all of the kedushah resident in the special days of the calendar
derive from what is made available to us on Shabbos. Remove Shabbos from
the picture, and you are left with a blank. There simply cannot be any
holidays without drawing from the kedushah that Hashem makes available to
us on Shabbos.
We could stop at this point, having found a deeper meaning to the kedushah
of Shabbos, and content with the pleasure of enriched understanding.
There is fulfillment to be found simply in comprehending things properly,
even when those things are abstractions. We would be selling ourselves
short, however. The surfeit of kedushah on Shabbos translates directly
into a different experience of Shabbos. The dividends to us are
practical, not just theoretical.
Toras Avos explained the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov with a
mashal. Yom Tov is analogous to a king, who decides to leave the regal
comforts that ordinarily surround him, in order to visit his impoverished
son and spend time with him in his humble abode. Shabbos, however, can be
likened to the king finding the son and transporting him to spend time
together in the royal palace. In other words, on Yom Tov, Hashem
illuminates the lives of Jews on whatever spiritual plane they inhabit.
He comes to us, and spreads kedushah within our flawed, corrupt world. On
Shabbos, on the other hand, he enables us to escape our limitations and to
join Him in His inner chambers.
When we say that Shabbos is a bit of Olam Habo, we do not just mean that
we find so much happiness and contentment in it, that we sense that it
comes to us from a very great distance. What we really mean is that
Shabbos takes us to a different world, that it transports us back to Gan
Eden, where we function on a plane superior to that of ordinary existence!
(Chumash alludes to this. We are aware of the tension between the Names
of G-d in the story of Bereishis. Creation takes place with the Name
Elokim, or din, alone, signifying the establishing of lawful and
predictable Nature. With Man’s formation, unvarnished judgment is an
insufficient characteristic to sustain a world in which he would commit
many sins. Rachamim, compassion, needed to be added; the Four-Letter Name
thus appears. Looking at the text more carefully, however, we realize
that the Name of Havayah is not used immediately after the creation of
Man, but shows up only after Shabbos is described. Havayah, in
contradistinction to the Nature implied by Elokim, refers to transcending
Nature, rising above it. This happens only through the creation of
Shabbos is very much part of the system of holidays, of the mikra’ei
kodesh. As we explained above, that system would fail without it, since it
supplies the kedushah to all the other special days. This is why the list
of holidays includes Shabbos. Shabbos, however, is treated to a
designation that the other days are not. It is called “kodesh,” without
any modifiers, because it is the source of all kedushah. The other days
are appropriately referred to as mikra’ei kodesh, days called to
kedushah. They achieve their holiness only by our calling to them, by our
preparations and readying ourselves, by our isr’usa d’lesasa. The
kedushah of Shabbos inheres in it. It is fully there, brought to us
through isr’usa d’l’eila.
Because Shabbos does not function in this world, but takes us to a place
above it, Man can achieve on Shabbos accomplishments that are beyond his
ordinary grasp, above Nature. Chazal 2 describe Hashem’s instructions to
Moshe about relating the laws of Shabbos to Bnei Yisrael. “I have a
wonderful gift in my house of treasures. It’s name is Shabbos. Go forth
and make it known to them!” Why is Shabbos called a wonderful gift, while
other mitzvos are not? Because only Shabbos takes us elsewhere – to the
house of treasures, which exists not here, but in Gan Eden.
1So much of the Torah concerns itself with the Bais HaMikdosh and its attendant levels of holiness. There, we encounter holy space, holy utensils, and materials that become sanctified to Hashem. We may be conscious of the fact that the word “kadosh” means set aside, and could see kedushah as merely a description of specialness, of the way we treat something, be it objects, space or time. Our knowledge of halachah, however, has gotten us used to seeing kedushah as something substantive, as a quality that is resident in an object. It is hard to then see kedushah as applying to time.
2 Shabbos 10A
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org