Motza’ei Shabbos: Preserving the Treasure1
In the hours immediately after Shabbos, we endeavor to preserve enough some of its holiness, and find a way to interject it into the mundane affairs of the rest of the week. We need guidance on how to do this. Where are we to find a discussion of motza’ei Shabbos in the Torah?
The answer might just be in Yaakov’s fleeing his father’s house and heading toward his brother Esav. Looking at the narrative, we do not initially find any link to Shabbos, until we take notice of one telltale clue.
Yaakov leaves from Be’er Sheva.  The Sforno  discovers what he believes is the plain significance of the term. Simply put, it was the site of the seventh well that Yitzchok dug. Earlier, he had restored three of Avraham’s wells  that had filled in by the Plishtim. He had gone on to dig three of his own: Eisek, Sitnah and Rechovos. The next well was the seventh, and it’s success was met with much fanfare. (“And they said to him, �??We have found water!'” Yitzchok had dug six well prior to this. None but the last was greeted by such exultation.)
If we assume, as we ought to, that no section of the Torah deals unidimensionally with the issue at hand and nothing more, we quickly intuit the allusion to another topic. Torah is eternal, and its purpose – in whole and in each part – is to instruct us in how to live. The six wells can be taken to represent the six days of the week. The discovery of water in the seventh well, to the animated delight of all concerned, represents the wellspring of berachah that is Shabbos. None of the other wells was greeted with the excitement that this one received, because Shabbos is the source of all blessing, whether that berachah is part of the upper or lower worlds.
Following our clue, every detail that follows enlarges our understanding of the nature of motza’ei Shabbos. Yaakov leaves Be’er Sheva for Charan, alluding to the charon af, the Divine anger that often meets up with many of the pitfalls and wrong turns we take in a world of weariness and temptation. From the holiness of Be’er Sheva, of Shabbos, we inevitably take leave and reluctantly venture forth into a very different world.
Immediately, “He encountered the place.” As the medrash describes it, as much as Yaakov tried to move on, the world became an impassable wall to him. As a Jew cautiously steps out of the kedushah of Shabbos and back into the world of everyday performance, he finds himself boxed in. Feeling the effect of the precious hours of Shabbos during which each Jew according to his level has moved closer to HKBH, he now finds himself paralyzed. How can he leave that new-found elevation, and throw himself back into the mundane?
“He lodged over, because the sun had set.” Shabbos enlightens the rest of the week. As the Ohr Ha-Chaim explains, Hashem created the world to last only through the end of the six days of Creation. He then created within Shabbos the power to renew that world for another six days. Each weed He repeats the process, assigning to Shabbos all the energy and resources that the world – and every individual within it – will need in the days that follow. Whatever takes place during the week draws on the power invested in it on the Shabbos that precedes it.
“And he dreamt, and behold a sulam/ ladder was set earthward, and its top reached heavenward.” Sulam, according to mystical sources, is an acronym for Seudas Livui Malka – the seudah of escorting the Shabbos queen. The time of melaveh malkah is the conduit through which the the enlightenment of Shabbos flows to the rest of the week.
The explanation of this fits a familiar pattern. We note that between polar opposites, we always find some middle ground. The days of the week and their profane nature give way to their opposite – the holiness of Shabbos. The turnaround does not happen instantaneously. The period from midday on erev Shabbos until evening is one of transition, incorporating some of the kedushah of Shabbos within the framework of a weekday. This allows us to properly prepare for Shabbos, to take stock of what we wish to take out of the Shabbos. It gives us the opportunity to walk into Shabbos with a plan and a purpose, rather than as creatures of habit.
Similarly, the kedushah of Shabbos does not give way in an instant to the resumption of weekday ordinariness. Motza’ei Shabbos, until chatzos, eases us back into the week gradually, allowing us to decompress. While we seem to be set earthward, we are really still connected to the Heavens. The world of Shabbos and chol remain attached and connected during this time, permitting a flow of the ohr of Shabbos to the days that will follow.
“And behold Hashem was standing over him.” In the union between Shabbos and its mate Knesses Yisrael, the Jewish people serve as the vehicle that brings Hashem’s Presence to the world, while Hashem stands over them to protect them. It is Shabbos that provides this protection, as we contemplate our relationship with Hashem on that holy day, and renew our understanding of Him as the great King whose honor fills the entire world, and Who takes note of all our actions. We revisit this truth and comprehend it more fully during the idyll of Shabbos; motza’ei Shabbos acts as the ladder linking worlds, the bridge between holy and mundane that conveys this understanding to the rest of the week.
Chazal sometimes see shomayim as representing the neshamah, the loftiest part of Man, and aretz as a symbol for his physical self. This leads to another way of looking at the allusions in these verses. Shabbos is called yoma de-nishmasa, the day of the neshamah. It follows that the other days of the week can be seen as days of aretz. Yaakov’s vision point to the interconnectedness of the days of the week with Shabbos. As remote as chol seems from kodesh, they are functionally interdependent. Shabbos, as we said earlier, provides the days of the week with their spiritual backbone. The days of the week, in turn, all lead to Shabbos. They may be mired in earthliness, but through them a Jew climbs towards the elevation of Shabbos, to the day of the neshamah. Yaakov saw angels ascending and descending upon the ladder. Even tzadikim must plot their continued spiritual journey in terms of rungs on the ladder. Within the darkness of the mundane world, unending opportunities await each Jew. Through them, he either ascends – or descends. Standing above him at all times is Hashem, whose closeness can be acquired in the midst of all the obstacles and distractions of the pedestrian world.
Upon awakening, Yaakov summed up what he realized now more deeply: “Indeed Hashem is in this place!” Opportunity waits within the world of darkness to climb higher and higher. There is no limit – the ladder reaches to Heaven itself. This, too, is part of the avodah of motza’ei Shabbos – to reflect upon this truth, and to firmly understand that the week ahead is not only linked to Shabbos, but a ladder upon which to climb to an even more elevated one than that which just passed.
1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, vol. 2 pgs. 103-104
2. Bereishis 28:10
3. Bereishis 26:33
4. Bereishis 26:18
5. Bereishis Rabbah 68:10
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org