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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Coming Off the Bench in Olam Haboh 1

You can’t get to Olam Habo unless you’ve been there before. Shabbos is the best way to get there early.

These two statements are not at all contradictory, but complementary.

It is absolutely impossible, writes the Ohr HaChayim, 2 for a person to attain elevation to the Upper World without having attained some tributary portion of it while still in this world. In that world, a world that is entirely Shabbos, there is nothing but delight and happiness. The extra neshamah we gain on Shabbos comes from that world. When Hashem commands us to guard the Shabbos, He means the neshamah that goes by that name. If Jews do not achieve the content of that neshamah, they are unable to remain in the upper realm and delight in its treasures. Shabbos, then, readies a person for the experience of the next world while still residing in this one. It provides us with the preparation we need, without which we would be unable to partake of what olam habo has to offer.

Building upon this, Toras Avos offers a chilling observation. A person can observe all the mitzvos and keep Shabbos in meticulous detail. If he has never stirred his heart to feel the delight of Shabbos, he will merit admission to the world to come, but his experience there will parallel his experience here. There too he will be incapable of feeling its delight. He will surely be in olam habo, but he will be a bench, an unfeeling piece of furniture!

The Rambam3 underscores the special gravity of Shabbos. Both it and avodah zarah, he says, amount to the equivalent of the entire Torah. If you transgress other precepts of the Torah, you are a transgressor. Publicly transgress Shabbos, on the other hand, and you are likened to an idolator! The specialness of Shabbos operates in the opposite direction as well. If one properly observes Shabbos, says the gemara, 4 even if he had worshipped avodah zarah like the generation of Enosh, his prior misdeeds are forgiven. No similar offer is linked to the observance of any other mitzvah.

We begin our explanation with a different aspect of Shabbos. Shabbos is an eternal sign between Myself and Bnei Yisrael. 5 The sign is not in our observance of Shabbos, but rather in its essential quality. Its inner content is that it serves to connect and bind us to HKBH!

To understand this, we must look at the words of the Ramban. 6 The musaf offerings of Shabbos do not include a chatos, because Shabbos finds its mate in Knesses Yisrael. In it, all is peace. In the spirit of love covers over all offenses, 7 there is nothing but peace and tranquility between the lovers. Their relationship will admit no wrongdoing; there is no need for any atonement. Therefore, there is no chatos.

From the standpoint of individual avodah, 8 we can easily appreciate what this means. The soul leaves its heavenly source under the Throne of Honor, and is forced into a world that is spiritually arid, a world in which lurk all kinds of forces that oppose kedushah. The journey requires an initial descent for the purpose of eventual elevation.

How is this precious neshamah supposed to hold fast to its nature, and to its goal? How can it be expected to survive in its pristine purity while immersed in the impurity of this world? How can it possibly maintain its connection and bond to Hashem, while placed so distant from Him?

The answer, of course, is the program of mitzvos that Hashem gave us. These 613 are 613 opportunities to safeguard the sanctity of the soul in its sojourn through this world. One of those 613 comes potentiated far beyond the powers of any of the other mitzvos. This is what Chazal mean in calling Shabbos the equivalent of all the other mitzvos: its ability to bind us to Him, which is the purpose of Torah itself. Shabbos is the chief form of Divine light and holiness that He abstracted from Ein Sof, 9 and made available to us. Shabbos is called a goodly gift in My treasure trove 10 by virtue of its inner nature as a fraction of the light of Ein Sof, which has the ability to return Jewish souls to their source.

We refer to Shabbos as from the substance of olam habo. We understand that there the righteous dwell and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. 11 We further understand (as Mesilas Yesharim12 teaches explicitly) that the indescribable happiness of connection to Hashem is reserved for a special place, which is not of our present existence, but appropriate to olam habo. The Besht, however, taught that this is not absolute. Some of that other-worldly glow can be felt even in this world especially in the form of Shabbos.

The dynamic of Shabbos should now be clear to us. At its core, Shabbos creates closeness, devekus to Hashem. Without having experienced it, the neshamah has no way to function fully when it arrives in olam habo; lacking it, the neshamah remains a bench in the heavenly abode. This closeness occurs only when Shabbos is not only observed, but appreciated emotionally. We only make use of Shabbos gift when we delight in it, and when this delight leads to lovesickness for Him.

We can understand the words with which the Rambam cited above continues. Tradition explains the reward a person receives in this world beyond that sequestered for him in olam habo, when he enjoys Shabbos according to his ability. This reward is the ability to benefit from the radiance of the Shechinah even in this world; the reward he receives here is related to his ultimate reward in olam habo.

The Rambam.s son13 lyrically describes the connection to Hashem in mind and obedience – that Shabbos is meant to inspire within us. [A person ought to] diminish any activity that might weaken this connection. He will refrain.[from them] lest they interrupt his focused thought. He will refrain from any conversation that does not pertain to areas specifically related to this; he will certainly refrain from idle conversation. At the end of his journey his inner self will achieve fear of Hashem, the love of Heaven, and a longing for the Living G-d. This will be so intense that even if the limbs of his body lay claim to their sustenance, he will not notice his hunger, so enriched will his soul be by its portion. Sounds will press against his ears, but he will remain captivated by his reverie and not hear them.

The Sochachover Rebbe likened avodas Hashem to the steps that constitute a marriage. The first step is to ready and commit oneself to the relationship, similar to kiddushin. Moving closer, we arrive at the next step, which is comparable to chupah, or bringing the bride into one.s own domain. These steps are followed by yichud, which in our analogy means joining Hashem with all parts of our soul nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.

Every Shabbos follows a similar progression. Shabbos evening achieves kiddushin, our readying ourselves for His company. On Shabbos morning, we stand under the chuppah, within His enveloping light. The most intense closeness, however, is reserved for the waning hours of Shabbos, at the time of the third meal.

The Avudraham proposed the same structure hundreds of years before. In it he finds an explanation of why each of the tefilos on Shabbos has a different liturgy, in sharp contrast to the single formula used for Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv on any holiday. Since each tefilah reflects a completely different level of connection to Hashem, each requires a matching liturgical expression.

A passage in the Sifri14 sees a reference to Shabbos in the pasuk on the day of your rejoicing.. 15 Halachically, however, Shabbos does not require simcha, as does Yom Tov. 16 Our approach solves the problem. Shabbos does not call for activities of simcha, but its entire essence is the simcha of closeness to Hashem.

Having come this far, we can offer a different understanding of why Shabbos weighs in as the equal of all the other mitzvos of the Torah, and why violating it offends as seriously as avodah zarah, the ultimate repudiation of Judaism. In the final analyis, being Jewish is all about relationship with Hashem, specifically moving closer to Him and clinging to him. The closer one gets, the more Jewish he is. The opposite is true as well. When one breaks the connection entirely, he becomes, in a sense, un-Jewish, similar to the position of an idolater. Shabbos is the make-it or break-it experience. It is unique in its ability to bring us closer to Him to make us more Jewish – and spend quality time together. Spurning the opportunity by violating Shabbos leaves us distant and remote so distant that we resemble those who are not Jewish at all.

1 Based on Nesivos Shalom vol.2 pgs 36-40
2 Shemos 31:16
3Hilchos Shabbos 30:15
4Shabbos 118B
5 Shemos 31:17
6 Bamidbar 28:2
7 Mishlei 10:12
8 I.e. rather than the more mystical role of Shabbos in attaching our world to specific aspects of the Upper Worlds and to Divinity
9 The most .distant. and profound aspects of Hashem.s nature
10 Shabbos 10B
11 Berachos 17A
12 Chapter 1
13 Sefer Hamaspik L.Ovdai Hashem, Hahalichah b.chukos haTorah
14 Bamidbar 77
15 Bamidbar 10:10
16 Oneg is required on Shabbos, but not simcha

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and