By Nosson Chayim Leff
Bereishis, 5631 (1871)
Let us begin from the beginning, the first ma'amar of the Sfas Emes on
The Sfas Emes starts by quoting Rashi's comment on the posuk (Bereishis,
2,2) "Vayechal Elokim ... " Says Rashi: "Ma haya ha'olam chaseir? Menucha!
Bah Shabbos, bah menucha. Kalsa nenigmera melacha." That is: "What was
missing from the Cosmos that HaShem had created? Repose. When Shabbos
came, repose came as well. Creation was now complete."
Continues the Sfas Emes: HaShem created the world in order to let His
goodness flow out to this world, the world of teva (nature) . Further, this
is why the word in Hebrew for the world is "olam" (hidden). Because
HaShem's Presence is hidden in this world. This perspective -- that HaShem
is really there, but His Presence is hidden -- is a recurring theme in the
Sfas Emes. In support of this key insight, the Sfas Emes cites his
illustrious grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim.
Note what is occurring in this piece: The Sfas Emes makes a statement --
that HaShem created the world specifically in order to suffuse it with
goodness. That is standard and accepted Torah hashkofo (doctrine). But
this precept stands in glaring contrast with the world as we see it -- -
full of misery and suffering. Many authorities ignore this blatant
contradiction between received doctrine and perceived reality. By contrast,
the Sfas Emes draws our attention immediately to this tension, confronts it
head-on, and incorporates it as an integral part of the story. That is, we
are enjoined to glorify HaShem specifically andespecially in this state of
His being hidden. In fact, this is one of the things that the Torah intends
by saying: "HaShem saw all that He had made ("KOL asher assa"), and,
behold, it was very good!"
In the same vein, the Sfas Emes cites a posuk (Mishlei, 16, 4) "KOL pa'al
HaShem lema'aneyhu." (That is: "All of creation glorifies HaShem.") For,
although individual features of the world oppose kedusha (sanctity), the
generality (the "KLAL") of creation joins together to glorify HaShem. As we
ourselves know and proclaim: "HAKOL bara lichvodo"!
The Sfas Emes continues: This is why without Shabbos, the world lacked
menucha. For Shabbos brings together ("KOLel") and unites all the days of
the week. By so doing, Shabbos elevates all Creation to a higher level of
spirituality, all united by one theme: to become an instrument (a KELI) for
serving HaShem's will.
The Sfas Emes has told us that on Shabbos, all Creation surges forward to
come closer to HaShem. This movement toward HaShem occurs not only in
intellectual terms. Shabbos also comes ---and brings with it-- a powerful
emotional charge. Thus, the word "vayechulu" -- a word that we say in
Kiddush -- implies a yearning to come closer to HaShem. So, too, the posuk
in Tehilim (84, 3): "... Kal'sa nafshi ..." ("My soul yearns to come closer
... to HaShem").
Finally, the Sfas Emes tells us how a person can attain the goal of this
yearning. How? By hisbatlus -- subordinating our will to the will of
HaShem, something that is feasible only because each of us is connected
with HaShem. This hisbatlus is what Chazal meant when they said that when
Shabbos comes, menucha comes into our lives. This is what Rashi had in
mind, concludes the Sfas Emes, when he declared that with Shabbos: "KALsa
venigmera hamelacha". (That is: Creation was now complete). For this
dedication and selflessness to HaShem is the purpose of Creation.
The Sfas Emes is not light reading. It will become more clear when you read
1. "Menucha" does not mean sleeping the Shabbos away.
2. When we say -- in Kiddush -- the word "vayechulu" our minds, too, can be
sparked to the picture of all Creation yearning to come closer to HaShem,
coming together to become an instrument of His will.The picture of all
nature joining together to glorifying HaShem may appear too "mystical" for
some people. But we find similar images in mainstream Yiddishkeit -- e.g.,
in passages of Tehilim which are incorporated in Kabalas Shabbos (the
Friday night prayer service).