Parashat Noach תשפ”ב

            Although this coming Shabbat we will read the portion of Noach, we will here focus on Shabbat, a topic from last week’s portion, Bereshit. 

            A Jewish wedding takes place under a chuppah חופה) , canopy). The canopy signifies the roof of the groom’s home, and the ceremony represents the groom welcoming his bride into his home (under the chuppah) as his wife. 

            The Ashkenazic custom has the groom walking down the aisle to the chuppah, where he awaits his bride’s joining him there. The Sephardic custom differs slightly: the groom walks to the chuppah, and the bride walks only three quarters of the way, whereupon she stops and waits for the groom to descend from the chuppah to escort her back with him.

            These two customs seemingly stem from the way that two sages from the Talmud welcomed a different bride – the Shabbat– to the chuppah. The Talmud (Bava Kamma 32b) teaches us: 

דאמר ר’ חנינא בואו ונצא לקראת כלה מלכתא; ואמרי לה לקראת שבת כלה מלכתא. רבי ינאי מתעטף וקאי ואמר “בואי כלה בואי כלה.”

[On Friday evenings,] Rabbi Chanina would gather his students and say to them, “Let us go out and welcome the bride, the queen!” Some say that he said, “Let us go out and welcome Shabbat, the bride, the queen.” Rabbi Yanai, on the other hand, would wrap himself in his Shabbat garments and stay at home and say, “Welcome my bride, welcome my bride.” 

            The Ashkenazic custom seems to follow Rav Yannai’s example, where he stayed in his home and welcomed the Shabbat, the bride, into his home.  Thus, the groom waits under the chuppah for his bride and welcomes her to his “home,” the chuppah. The Sephardic custom, where the groom leaves the chuppah to greet his bride and bring her into his home, seems to follow the example set by Rabbi Chanina who went out of his home to greet Shabbat the bride, and escorted her into his home. 

            The well know hymn לכה דודי  – Lecha Dodi, composed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz in the 16 century, the centerpiece of the Friday night קבלת שבת  Kabbalat Shabbat service, follows Rabbi Chanina’s practice. 

לְכָה דוֹדִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה. פְּנֵי שַׁבָּת נְקַבְּלָה

We call out, “Come, let us go out, my beloved, to greet the bride, let us welcome the Shabbat.” 

It is well known that at dusk Friday evening, the great Kabbalist, R. Isaac Luria (the Ari z”l) would go out to the field to welcome the Shabbat. The Ben Ish Chai (Book 2, Parshat Vayera #2) writes that it is a special mitzvah to do so. 

            Before the Shabbat begins, Shabbat is considered to be “betrothed” to Israel; Once Shabbat begins, Sabbat becomes married to Israel. 

            Where does this notion that Shabbat is the “bride” and “wife” of the Jewish nation come from? 

            Its source is in a Midrash in Bereshit (Bereshit Rabba 11:8). 

תני ר”ש בן יוחאי: אמרה שבת לפני הקב”ה, “רבש”ע לכולן יש בן זוג ולי אין בן זוג.” א”ל הקב”ה, “כנסת ישראל היא בן זוגך.” וכיון שעמדו ישראל לפני הר סיני אמר להם הקב”ה, “זכרו הדבר שאמרתי לשבת כנסת ישראל היא בן זוגך היינו דבור (שמות כ) זכור את יום השבת לקדשו.”:

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught: The Shabbat said to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, all the other days of the week have mates [Day 1 has day 2 as its mate, day 3 has day 4, and day 5 has day 6], but I have no  mate! Hashem responded, “The Jewish nation is your mate.” When the Jewish people stood at Mount Sinai, Hashem reminded them of what He told the Shabbat back in creation when he said, “Remember the Shabbat day. Remember that you are its mate, so keep it holy.”

It is clear from the Midrash that the Jewish nation is married to the Shabbat. But what exactly is the nature of this husband and wife relationship? How is that relationship manifest? Also, what is the idea behind the days having mates? 

Our Sages teach us that Hashem created the world to reveal Himself to man through it. The Midrash relates a conversation between Rabbi Akiva and an agnostic. 

בתי מדרשות חלק ב – מדרש תמורה השלם – פרק ה

 מעשה שבא מין אחד ואמר לרבי עקיבא העולם הזה מי בראו אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא אמר לו הראני דבר ברור אמר לו למחר תבא למחר בא אצלו אמר לו מה אתה לובש אמר לו בגד אמר לו מי עשאו אמר לו האורג אמר לו איני מאמינך הראני דבר ברור אמר לו ומה אראה לך ואין אתה יודע שהאורג עשהו אמר לו ואתה אינך יודע שהקדוש ברוך הוא ברא עולמו נפטר אותו המין אמרו לו תלמידיו מהו הדבר ברור אמר להם בניי כשם שהבית מודיע על הבנאי והבגד מודיע על האורג והדלת מודיע על הנגר כך העולם מודיע על הקדוש ברוך הוא שהוא בראו אשרי האיש אשר לבו מלאו להתבונן במעשיו להכיר את בוראו כי מוצאו מצא חיים ויפק רצון מה’ (משלי ח לה):

There is a story of an agnostic who asked Rabbi Akiva. “Who created the world?” Rabbi Akiva responded, “Hashem!” “Prove it!” he said. Rabbi Akiva told him, “Come back tomorrow and I will prove it to you.” He came back the next day and Rabbi Akiva said to him, “What are you wearing?” He answered, “A garment.” “Who made it?” asked Rabbi Akiva. “The weaver!” answered the agnostic. Rabbi Akiva said, “I don’t believe you. Prove it!” The agnostic said, “What can I do to prove it? Don’t you know that a weaver had to have made it?” Rabbi Akiva responded “And don’t you know that Hashem had to create the world, for the same reason?”. Rabbi Akiva then turned to his students and told them. “My children, just as a house proclaims a builder, a garment – a weaver, and a door – a carpenter, so, too, the world proclaims Hashem as its creator. Praiseworthy is the person who delves into the workings of the world to see its creator!”

Every insect, every animal, large or small, every fish, every bird, every creature on the planet is an ingenious marvel of design and engineering. How they procure their food, how they reproduce, and how they protect themselves from predators are all built into them from the moment they are born. The skill and prowess they demonstrate is astounding. 

And what about the flowers? Don’t they just make your heart melt? The list goes on and on. Every creation on the planet proclaims, “Hashem created me!” 

The poet John Ciardi once said, “Who could believe an ant in theory? A giraffe in blueprint? Ten thousand doctors-of-what’s-possible could reason half the jungle out of being.”

It is perplexing how this simple truth escapes some of the world’s most intelligent people. This truth applies even to the simplest invention, something as primitive as a stone arrow head. One immediately detects intelligent design and expert craftsmanship in the finished product created to soar through the air on the end of a stick to penetrate the body of the prey, killing it. How much more so does an elaborate system of millions of integrated parts, all working together to accomplish a single goal, declare the workmanship of the master craftsman who had that intelligent goal in mind. 

            In our sophisticated electronic computer driven world, would anyone believe that anything other than years of research and development brought us to where we are? Every step in the process, from the very first Commodore computers in 1982 with their floppy discs, until today’s super computers, was predicated on millions of dollars of R&D. Think about the manufacturing process that uses robotics to perform tasks that the human eye can’t even see! Could such precision be random? And with all that, a small mishap can render the whole thing utterly worthless. 

            Yet all of this pales in comparison to the intricacies of the human body. A study of any system in the human body reveals brilliance and complexity that challenges human comprehension. 

In The Hidden Face of God, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, writes (p. 49): 

The human body acts as a finely tuned machine, a magnificent metropolis in which, as its inhabitants, each of the 75 trillion cells, composed of 10 to the 27 power atoms, moves in symbiotic precision. Seldom are two cells simultaneously performing the same act, yet their individual contributions combine smoothly to form life. Gridlock is rarely a problem in the human body. 

Then comes the greatest miracle of all. Man was given the intelligence and the tools to appreciate the creation. Man is also the only creature on the planet that is capable of marveling at the magnificent creation that Hashem has made for him. Every human being on the planet is capable of arriving at this simple truth that Rabbi Akiva taught his students: “Just as a house proclaims a builder, a garment – a weaver, and a door – a carpenter, so too the world proclaims Hashem as its creator.”

In this way, the days of creation, through what was created on them, sing Hashem’s praises and announce to the world that Hashem is a reality and that He created the world. As we follow the narrative of creation in Bereshit, we follow how the universe progressed from chaos and nothingness to an ordered, integrated whole. Each day added another layer of substrate upon which the next layer would build.

On days one and two, Hashem formed the heavens, the land, and the sea where all the other creations would exist. On days three and four, Hashem created the vegetation and the solar system that would control their growth and health. On days five and six, Hashem created all of the earth’s other living creatures. The fish, birds, insects, and animals, and, finally, the crown jewel of creation, Man. In this way, each day had a mate in proclaiming Hashem’s greatness. Hence, with each passing day, the world proclaimed ever more eloquently Hashem’s amazing prowess.

When Shabbat came, Hashem ceased creating; He rested from creating anything new. From now on, nothing new will ever be created. The Midrash is relating that the Shabbat cried out to Hashem, “How will I proclaim Your greatness, Hashem? You haven’t created anything on me, and I have no way of proclaiming You as Creator of this magnificent universe!” 

Hashem answered the Shabbat, “No worries, I have made the Jewish nation your mate, and through keeping you– the Shabbat, they will proclaim even more emphatically that I created the world.” 

How so? Since a person can choose not to observe the Shabbat, when he chooses to do so, he is making the most powerful statement possible that Hashem created the world. He is saying, “I acknowledge that I live in Hashem’s world, since He created it. He has given me permission to use this world as I please for six days of the week. I am permitted to mine the ores, cut the trees, eat the animals, and so on, and do with them as I see fit. But, on the Shabbat day, He has taken His world back and asked me not to exercise my mastery over it. It’s His world and I am His creation, so I am bound to obey His request. By choosing to refrain from doing any creative work on the Shabbat day, I am proclaiming to the world, as an intelligent thinking human being, that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.” The Shabbat was comforted with Hashem’s answer. 

A marriage is a two-way street. Each partner in the relationship has certain responsibilities to the other. We now understand what we do for the Shabbat; but what is the Shabbat’s contribution to the marriage? What does the Shabbat do for us?

The verse (Genesis 2:3) says:

(ג) וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ

3) And Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it… 

What is the nature of this blessing that the Shabbat received from Hashem? 

Once again, I quote from the hymn composed by Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz- לכה דודי.

לִקְרַאת שַׁבָּת לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה. כִּי הִיא מְקוֹר הַבְּרָכָה

Let’s go out and greet the Shabbat, for she is the source of blessing

Hashem blessed the Shabbat that it should be the greatest source of blessing to those who keep it. 

What is that blessing? שבת שלום! – Shabbat Shalom! Shabbat brings Peace and tranquility in all areas of life. Peace and tranquility from work, from the pressures of the world, in your home, your community, and within yourself. 

  • Peace and tranquility from work. 

The Shabbat gives a person a 24-hour respite from the tumult and chaos of whatever is going on at work, for when the Shabbat comes, there is nothing more to do. The feeling that pervades the Shabbat is that all my work is done; I can go home and forget about work. 

Albert and Isaac Farhi, brothers who owned a large jewelry store received a call on Friday night after the onset of Shabbat from ADT their alarm company. The message was, “Zone 3 of the store has been broken into.” Zone 3 was the safe room. When they did not respond, the call came again and again. Although they had almost a million dollars of inventory in that safe, the brothers said, “We won’t let anything disturb our Shabbat. It will be what it will be, and we’ll deal with it after Shabbat.” After Shabbat, they went to their store to assess the damage. From the outside, everything looked normal, but when they entered, the showcases were broken and the jewelry was taken. This was small potatoes compared to what was in the safe. They proceeded to back of the store to the safe room, but the safe was intact and not open. With trembling hands they opened the safe to find everything in the safe, as they had left it on Friday, before Shabbat. Nothing was missing. A police car passing by saw the store open late at night and stopped to see what was going on. They found the Farhi brothers inside who told them that they are the store owners. The policemen told them to wait outside while they checked everything out. After inspecting the scene, the policemen  told them that they had seen this pattern before. The thieves knew they wouldn’t be able to crack the safe. Their plan was to trip the alarm, and wait for the owner to arrive on the scene. When the owner opened the safe to check on the merchandise, the thieves who were waiting for them in hiding, would  kill them, and steal all the contents. 

“Your alarm company called you last night, why didn’t you respond and come to check on your store?”  Asked the policeman. “It was our holy Sabbath, and we would let nothing disturb our Sabbath. We are prepared to give up all our money for the Shabbat.” came the response. “Well, your Sabbath saved your lives,” responded the officer. (See a video of this story at Rabbi Yoel Gold-Shabbat is Shabbat) 

  • Peace and tranquility from the outside world. 

            On Shabbat we turn off the outside world and exclude it from entering our holy Shabbat space. We take a hiatus from the phone calls, the emails, and the texts that harass us the whole week long. We pay them no mind on Shabbat, as we are completely focused on the special opportunity we have to connect with Hashem, our community and our family. 

  • Peace and tranquility within your community. 

            Shabbat provides an opportunity to connect with other members of the community. Whether it is at a Shabbat dinner at someone’s home, or in the Shul, where you see your friends and have an opportunity pray with them or to join with them in song during the prayers. Since Shabbat is “off time,” people are relaxed and have the time to “catch up” with each other.  

  • Peace and tranquility within your family. 

The captain of a shipwreck washed up on the beach of a religious family’s home. He was alive but very ill, and they brought him into their home to nurse him back to health. He lied on the living room couch unconscious for many days. He finally woke up on a Friday night, finding himself in a room with a family dressed in fine clothing sitting around a table lit by candle light enjoying a festive meal. They spoke about different interesting topics, sang songs together, and enjoyed course after course of delicious food. The captain watched in amazement trying to figure out where exactly he was. Who has the time to spend around a dinner table without a care in the world? Who gets dressed up like that to go to dinner with their own family? He concluded he must be in a royal palace, with a king and his family. 

Shabbat is when husbands and wives, and parents and children, spend quality, unpressured time with each other. Parents find out what their children are learning in school, and children have the chance to impress their parents with what they have learned. All cooking and preparation for Shabbat must be complete before Shabbat sets in, so there are no distractions or interruptions. Families play games together, read stories together, and have friends over to play. By the end of Shabbat, the family connection is rejuvenated and ready for another busy week, but no matter. Shabbat will be here soon and give everybody the opportunity to share their experiences and successes with each other once again.  

  • Peace and tranquility within yourself. 

A Jew is the combination of a physical body and a spiritual soul. During the week, when one is immersed in making a living, he is for the most part living a physical existence. When and what will give him the feeling that he is really a spiritual being in a material shell? The Shabbat addresses that issue directly. Shabbat is a holy day, a day we spend with Hashem, doing holy things. (Family his holy) Making the break with work, and the material world, gives a person the freedom to experience his soul in a real way. He can spend time in shul. He has the time to study Torah. Whether it is the portion of the week, or a class from the rabbi of his shul, his connection to the Torah will nourish his soul and restore its vitality. Shabbat will restore the balance of spirituality and the physical to his life, giving him inner peace.

There is another piece to this. When a person is prepared to stop work on the dime to observe the Shabbat, he is declaring, loud and clear, that he understands that his livelihood comes from Hashem and not from his efforts. He is stating that he understands that he will receive the same amount of money that Hashem allocated to him even if he doesn’t work on Shabbat. Hashem will not punish him for keeping the Shabbat. It actually works the exact opposite way around. The Zohar says that a person’s income for the coming week is granted on the Shabbat, since he is not working. 

It’s like a business that sends a messenger every Saturday to the main office in the town nearby to pick up the checks for the next week. On Saturday no check is given out because he is on the road. If for some reason he should be in town on Saturday, everybody realizes there will be no checks next week.  

The same is true of Shabbat. It is the day that the allocation for the next week is being decided, so there is no work on that day. 

This marriage to the Shabbat became a reality when we became a nation on Mount Sinai and received the commandment to remember and keep the Shabbat. Our Sages point out that the marriage is between the Jewish nation and the Shabbat. It is when Shabbat is kept by all members of the Jewish nation that our declaration that Hashem is the Creator is most pronounced and we are fulfilling our responsibility to our mate, the Shabbat. It is when the entire Jewish nation is keeping the Shabbat that we receive the greatest blessing from the Shabbat. It goes without saying that the greater the number of Shabbat observant people, the greater the blessing. 

For someone who has never kept the Shabbat, keeping the Shabbat may seem daunting. The good news is that Shabbat is not an all or nothing prospect. It is possible to begin by keeping one law throughout the Shabbat, and in that one law, one is Shabbat observant. I am sure that if one wishes to, he can find one thing that he feels he can do without for the entire Shabbat, and keep that one thing. Perhaps not opening and closing lights is an easy one. All it takes is setting the lights before Shabbat and leaving them set for the entire Shabbat. Perhaps it is not using your phone, or computer. With every effort we make to keep the Shabbat, we are fulfilling more of our obligation to our mate, and bringing infinite blessing to ourselves and the entire Jewish nation.

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