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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Erev Shabbos: The Sweetness of Longing1

It’s not icing on the cake. It’s halachah.

The emotional component in readying ourselves for Shabbos is fixed in the literature of halachah. Rambam writes[2] “Our Sages command a person…to envelop himself in his talis, and sit solemnly, waiting to receive the presence of Shabbos as if he were going out to receive the king.”

In the hours immediately before Shabbos, both the various Worlds and the souls of the departed move to higher places. How are we to relate to such a time?

The Gemara provides us with an important start at an answer. We find [3] two approaches. R. Chanina would say, “Let us go out to greet the queen- bride.” R. Yanai, on the other hand, would say, “Come, oh kallah; come oh kallah.”

Shabbos is the kallah, explains the Maharsha, citing a medrash, because all the days of the week had “mates,” as the six days of Creation easily form three such “couples.” Shabbos gave the week an odd number of days. To restore harmony, Shabbos needed a partner, and found one in the Jewish people.

We experience the fullness of this marriage on Shabbos itself, which is like nisuin. We instantly comprehend that the avodah of erev Shabbos, then, is kiddushin. Shabbos, continues the Maharsha, is the bride. She is also a queen, in that Bnei Yisrael all become like royalty.

A groom ordinarily goes out to greet the kallah, arriving to ready herself for the wedding. So did R. Chanina, walking out to greet Shabbos. At the wedding itself, the chasan, ready to formalize the entrance of the kallah into the new life they will build, stands under the chupah, and bids the kallah approach. The entrance of the kallah into the symbolic house of the chupah will be followed a short time later with the groom’s bidding her enter their actual domicile. R. Yanai took up this role, in his doubled “come, oh kallah.”

Rabbenu Chananel adds a nuance to the Gemara’s description of R. Chanina. The Gemara offers that description in the context of a legal discussion, one that limits liability of people rushing about on erev Shabbos. When they inadvertently damage others, halachah frees them from the obligation to make restitution, arguing that “they rush about with legal approval.” The Gemara points to R. Chanina as the source of this legal approval. Rabbenu Chananel paraphrases the Gemara, and speaks of him as “dancing onwards, proclaiming �??come, oh kallah.'” While we don’t see the dancing in the words of the Gemara, Rabbenu Chananel did. He understood that the rushing about sanctioned by Chazal is not born of the pragmatic considerations of getting much done in a short period of time Friday afternoon. Rather, it is made of the same stuff as R. Chanina’s Shabbos-greeting ceremony: emotionally charged, unbridled enthusiasm for the approach of Shabbos, akin to the emotive release of dance. It was the heart that dictated R. Chanina’s behavior, not his wristwatch ticking off the little time remaining before shkiah.

The customary recitation of Shir Ha-Shirim is perhaps the clearest expression of the air of expectancy surrounding erev Shabbos. Elsewhere, the loving relationship between Klal Yisrael and HKBH is framed in terms of the parent-child relationship. “Banim atem” [4]- your are children to Hashem. Shir Ha-Shirim takes the love to the next level – that of a couple, both smitten with lovesickness. It is reminiscent of Rambam’s definition of the proper way to love Hashem: “One should love Hashem with a very great love, so that his soul should be bound up to His love…as if afflicted by lovesickness…All of Shir Ha-Shirim is a mashal to this state.”

More specifically, the recitation of Shir Ha-Shirim sharply defines the key difference between how we experience erev Shabbos relative to Shabbos itself. If Shabbos is a time of intense devekus to Hashem, then erev Shabbos is the time that we are consumed with longing for that devekus. (This is part of the intent of the verse [5] “And they will prepare what they bring.” We arrive at Shabbos’ devekus to Hashem only by preparing ourselves, by anticipating the imminent connection to Hashem through intense longing.) Within the orbit of love-related feelings, it is longing that most characterizes the mood of Shir Ha-Shirim.

The Ohr Ha-Chaim [6] offered a beautiful mashal for this thought. A king divorced his queen. As far as all in the realm were concerned, the divorce was final. He would not have distanced her unless he had completely lost all feeling for her. Their son, however, suspected otherwise. Speaking to his father, he determined that the king still had much love for the ex-queen. When he spoke to his mother, he detected the same feelings of love for her former spouse. To remedy the situation, he composed two songs or verses. One expressed the love of the king for the queen, and the second her love for the king. He sent each song to its proper recipient, and restored the closeness between them. This is why, explained the Ohr Ha-Chaim, the work is called Shlomo’s Shir Ha-Shirim, and not simply Shlomo’s shir. It is literally a song of songs, a song that merges two songs – one of the King and the other or His queen. Between the two versions, we understand the bond between Hashem and His people.

R. Elimelech of Lizhinsk famously stated that were it not for the sweetness of Shabbos itself, he would not be able to contain within himself the sweetness of erev Shabbos. Our approach makes sense of this. Shabbos and erev Shabbos each bring us to a different emotional place. The longing and desire of erev Shabbos disappear when Shabbos arrive, because we then achieve the object of our desire, as the longing gives way to devekus! Each experience is sweet in its own way – and potentially overpowering. R. Elimelech meant that he would be overcome by the strength of the erev Shabbos feeling if it did not come to an end by morphing into the very different feeling of Shabbos itself.

We should mention yet one more aspect of the pre-Shabbos longing. The Ohr Ha-Chaim [7] sees a connection between the word veshamru and a similar expression of “And his father shamar – kept the matter in mind.”[8] Part of our attitude towards Shabbos should be keeping it in mind at all times. We should look forward to it at all times during the week, impressing upon ourselves that all our other activity pales in comparison to the elevated state that we experience on Shabbos. A Jew should spend his entire week with Shabbos!

We are instructed in the Aseres Ha-Dibros to “remember the Shabbos day.” [9] The commentaries tell us that this means that we should mention it all through the week.[10] According to our thinking, however, it may mean more than that. We should live our lives suffused with Shabbos, making Shabbos the central and most important experience of our week.

We relate to the land of Israel in a similar manner. The Gemara[11] [says, “Both he who is born there, and he who longs to see it.” Here, too, the longing and desire are part of the mitzvah.

Through our loving anticipation of Shabbos, we make it the central pillar of our week. By doing so, we draw from the ohr of Shabbos, allowing it to enter all facets of our lives.

[1] Based on Nesivos Shalom v.2 pgs 40-43
[2] Shabbos 30:2
[3] Bava Kamma 32A
[4] Devarim 14:1
[5] Shemos 16:5
[6] In his Rishon Le-Tziyon on Shir Ha-Shirim
[7] Shemos 31:16
[8] Bereishis 37:11
[9] Shemos 20:8
[10]See Ramban, ibid., that we should count the days of the week towards Shabbos
[11]Kesubos 75A

Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and