Shabbat - The Spiritual Within the Physical
A person who reflects upon the mitzvah of Shabbat from a true perspective will discover that besides for its spiritual greatness, the mitzvah of Shabbat also possesses a physical component that provides great pleasure in this world as well
One of the most prized commandments in the Torah that seems to have a restrictive connotation attached to it is the mitzvah of Shabbat. However, a person who reflects upon this mitzvah from a true perspective will discover that besides for its spiritual greatness, which we will soon discuss, the mitzvah of Shabbat also possesses a physical component that provides great pleasure in this world as well. And anyone who observes Shabbat according to Jewish law will derive much benefit from it in his life.
Here are five benefits that Shabbat offers:
1. A therapeutic peacefulness and regeneration of daily life
2. Pleasure and enjoyment from Shabbat-oriented activities
3. Family unification
4. A significant increase in quality time with the children
5. On a mystical level: Blessing for a good livelihood
The fifth benefit listed corresponds to the spiritual root of Shabbat while the first four correspond to the pleasure derived from the Shabbat activities themselves, as explained below.
Shabbat is a wonderful example of how restrictions can engender happiness.
Meaning, limiting the performance of certain actions despite the strong urge to perform them, will create a powerful concentration of pleasure. This idea provides an explanation to many of those who ask in wonderment: How is it that when a Shabbat observer talks about Shabbat his face radiantly glows with joy and longing? How can this be? After all, most things that are permitted on weekdays are forbidden on Shabbat! In that case, what is the purpose of Shabbat – is it meant to restrict or gratify?
However, in order to gain a better understanding of what a true Shabbat experience looks and feels like, let us pose as invisible guests and enter the home of an authentic Jewish family.
Friday is finally here. Shabbat preparations are in full force and everyone’s favorite dishes are ready for the festive meals.u
You Shall Proclaim the Shabbat ‘A Delight’…
We must honor Shabbat by wearing our finest clothing and adorning our table with the choicest foods, as if we were hosting a very important queen. A person who does this will merit spiritual and material greatness. As it says:
If you refrain from performing your weekly activities on My holy day, and you proclaim the Shabbat a delight, and the holy day of Hashem is honored, and you honor it by not engaging in your affairs, from seeking your own needs or discussing the forbidden – then you will delight in Hashem and I will mount you astride the heights of the world; I will provide you the heritage of your forefather Yakov, for the mouth of Hashem has spoken.
The sweet and comforting blend of aromas is warmly sensed as the final preparations create an especially unique atmosphere. A beautiful white tablecloth is seen covering the table upon which the warm Shabbat Challahs are placed atop an elegant tray covered by an ornate cloth.
The members of the household are now dressed in their finest attire as the candles are ready to be kindled…even the hot plate is standing in position as it maintains the warmth of the pots resting on its surface. The lights of the house and other electrical devices are also ready for Shabbat, as they were precisely programmed to give human intervention its weekly break.
Candle lighting time is fast approaching. Final preparations and arrangements are underway. The anticipation of Shabbat and the challenge of completing all the tasks in time is exhilarating. A Shabbat siren (commonly sounded in ultra-orthodox communities) is heard and it’s time to light the candles.
All that tension is released in one shot.
After the mother completes her heartfelt prayer for the wellbeing of her husband and children, she opens her eyes and glances at her young children with a warm and peaceful smile as they look up at her with curiosity. ‘Shabbat Shalom’, she says in a melodic tone as she gives each one of them a warm and loving kiss.
An overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquility ensues. The father and the boys are in the synagogue while the mother is home with the little ones. Since all media is silenced and the phone is fast asleep, she finally has a chance to relax and pay attention to her children’s amusing stories and playful anecdotes.
A feeling of love and warmth encompasses the entire house.
Suddenly, a knock is heard and the door opens. ‘Shabbat Shalom!’ exclaims the father with a radiant smile. Could it be that this is the same man who works so hard during the week just to make a living? The man who had just entered has the presence of a king!
That’s the unspoken feeling that creeps into the heart.
Everyone quickly gathers for the Kiddush as the Shalom Aleichem verses are sung in unison:
Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He…
Boachem L’Shalom…May your coming be in peace…
Barchuni L’Shalom…Bless me with peace…
B’Shivtechem L’Shalom…May you rest here with peace…
B’Tzetchem L’Shalom…May your departure be in peace…
And now everyone, young and old, moves on to the ultimate song of praise for the wonderful wife and mother who sacrifices to build her home with wisdom and with love:
An accomplished woman, who can find far beyond pearls is her value.
Her husband's heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune.
She repays his good, but not his harm, all the days of her life…
Her children arise and praise her, her husband, and he lauds her.
Many daughters have amassed achievement, but you surpassed them all.
False is grace and vain is beauty, a God-fearing woman - she should be praised.
Give her the fruits of her hand and let her be praised in the gates by her very own deeds.
The sacred Kiddush moment has come. As the wine glistens inside the Kiddush cup, the father stands up to recite the blessing - an air of inspiration embraces everyone who is present.
Blessed are You Hashem…Who creates the fruit of vine.
Blessed are You Hashem…Who favored us and gave us His holy Shabbat, in love and favor, to be our heritage…Blessed are You Hashem, Who sanctifies Shabbat.
Even the sounds of the crying baby cannot disturb the magical aura of this holy moment. All hearts are intertwined.
Next comes the Shabbat feast with its array of dishes, Shabbat songs, and lofty conversations that do not drift into mundane matters regarding money, work, and everyday troubles. After all, it is Shabbat today, as the verse says: “You will honor it by not seeking your own needs or discussing the forbidden”, as discussions revolving around money and business are prohibited on Shabbat and should be replaced by meaningful stories or inspirational ideas from the weekly Torah portion.
Amid the backdrop of songs, games, and questions and answers from the weekly Torah portion, the three and a half year old is given an opportunity to present the letters that he had learned in school that week, while the five year old is proud that he already knows how to read. A fight between the two little siblings puts the father in the peacemaking position, because today there’s no stress – everyone has time.
It’s finally time to recite the Birkat Hamazon, (the Grace after Meals) in a calm and peaceful manner, as no one is rushing to leave. There are no distractions.
Once the Friday night meal is over, everyone finds a pleasant activity to partake in. Stimulating conversations, visits by foot to friends or relatives, a pleasant stroll around the neighborhood, learning with the children, attending a Torah lecture, or any other pleasant pastime is peacefully enjoyed.
In the morning, prayer services are attended which include the reading of the Torah portion. One portion every week adds up to a large yearly sum of Torah portions that culminates in the annual celebration of the completion of the Five Books of the Torah.
The morning Kiddush is then recited as the Shabbat feast commences. Songs, discussions, and insights are once again enjoyed…then the Grace after Meals blessing is recited…followed by…the sweet Shabbat nap – as Shabbat is an acronym for Sleep on Shabbat is a delight.
Following the nap, many activities may be seen in or around the house. Parents playing with their kids or having a pleasant conversation between themselves, taking a calm and pleasant walk, reading, attending an interesting Torah lesson, making a Shabbat party for the kids and so on. Before you know it, it’s time for the afternoon prayers, a light third meal, the evening prayers, and Havdallah.
During Havdallah, we recite a blessing over wine, a candle, and aromatic herbs. After all, it is difficult to transition from the elated spiritual state of Shabbat to the mundane weekly routine. We therefore smell sweet scented herbs to soothe our spirit.
Anyone who lives this way, or in a similar way, even if he does not live in a Shabbat observant community, will not understand the question: “Don’t you feel restricted on Shabbat?” Even though it’s true that there are things I do during the week that I cannot do on Shabbat, the restrictions are well worth my while, as they create the uniquely magical environment of Shabbat in much the same way that the rules, restrictions and etiquette of Buckingham Palace contribute to its royal ambiance.
So when friends of the Shabbat observer ask him: “Don’t you miss driving to the beach on Shabbat?” We can now understand why he smiles at them with sympathy for asking such a question, thinking that it’s like asking him if he would exchange his royal crown for a bowl of lentil soup. As delicious as lentil soup may be, he would give it up without hesitation knowing that there’s something much more precious and valuable awaiting him.
We must remember that the restrictions of Shabbat are not consistently forbidden. Anything that’s forbidden on Shabbat is permissible during the week. A person who wants to start observing Shabbat can most certainly change his plans and affairs to Friday or another weekday if he so desires, because as a testament of faith in the Creator of the world, we are required to refrain from work on this special day.
Notes and Sources