Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

The following is a chapter from the forthcoming book by Rabbi Dr. Twerski, "SIMCHAH-Not Just Happines", to be published by Mesorah Publications

Shabbos - the Holiness of Time

We exist in time and in space. Our space is expandable. We can acquire more space by purchasing it or by seizing it. Our time is not expandable. If we have genes of longevity, we may live to a ripe old age, but we cannot acquire more time, either by money or by force, the way we can acquire more space. Logic tells us that time should be the more valuable of the two, yet people protect their space while they often waste time.

Yiddishkeit values time above space. The first instance of kedushah (holiness) in the Torah is not of space. At creation, Hashem's presence was the same everywhere. It was not until the Israelites erred with the worship of the Golden Calf that Hashem commanded the construction of the mishkan (tabernacle), and the immanent presence of Hashem was restricted to a circumscribed space. But at the very end of creation, time was hallowed. "And Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" (Genesis 2:3).

The sanctity of time permeates Yiddishkeit. In addition to Shabbos, the festivals are holy: "He sanctifies Israel and the zemanim (festivals, lit. "times"). Our daily prayers are organized according to time: shacharis in the morning, minchah in the afternoon, maariv in the evening. Every four weeks we recite a prayer to inaugurate and bless the coming month. We celebrate the new month with hallel, singing the praises of Hashem in gratitude just as we do for His great wonders, to show our appreciation of time.

"They shall rejoice in Your kingship, those who observe Shabbos and call it a delight. The people that sanctify Shabbos-they will be satisfied and delighted from Your goodness (Shabbos prayers). Yiddishkeit values time and finds simchah in time. How different from the secular world that develops and uses time-saving devices, as if they valued time, and then squanders the saved time on inane pastimes. How paradoxical that people can seek happiness in "fun," by killing time! It is noteworthy that there is no word in Hebrew for fun, because the concept of fun-purposeless activity (e.g. Why? For the fun in it)-is alien to Yiddishkeit. One cannot attain happiness by destroying the most valuable commodity which a human being has: time.

"They shall rejoice in Your kingship, those who observe Shabbos and call it a delight." Shabbos is an appreciation of time and a key to simchah.

The secular world, too, has a day of rest. The Midrash states that when Moses was in the good graces of Pharaoh, he suggested that the Israelite slaves be given a day of rest so that they could work better for the next six days. This kind of rest day, to restore one's energies so that one can be more productive in the following days, makes the day of rest subordinate to the work week. This is not Shabbos. Hashem's "resting" on the seventh day was not because He was exhausted. It was because creation had come to a completion in six days, but was yet without a goal and purpose. The seventh day was "sanctified and blessed" by Hashem as being the goal of creation. The work week is subordinate to Shabbos.

The Torah states that man was the last of Hashem's creations, and as we have seen, man was created in an incomplete state and assigned the task of developing himself into the Divine concept of what man should be. He was given the charge to subdue and dominate the land. However, he was to do this as man, not like the wild beasts that dominate the jungle. Six days are to dominate the world, and the seventh day is for man to become master over himself. It is noteworthy that Adam was not given fire until after he had experienced Shabbos (which is why we recite the blessing for fire at havdalah on Shabbos night). Man could not be trusted with the potentially destructive power of fire until he was able to become spiritual and achieve control over himself.

That is the purpose of Shabbos, a blessed and holy day on which a person can elevate oneself spiritually and achieve self-fulfillment. Inasmuch as self-fulfillment is a requisite for simchah, Shabbos is a day of simchah.

Hashem said to Moses, "I have a unique gift in My treasury that I wish to give to the Children of Israel. Its name is Shabbos. Inform them of this". Shabbos is indeed a unique Divine gift.

It is of interest that the mitzvah of Shabbos was not given at Sinai, but a bit earlier at Marah. This is because Shabbos is a prerequisite to the acceptance of Torah.

The desire for comfort and pleasure is innate in humans. Yet we see that people overcome the desire to remain in the comfort of a warm bed and arise on a cold winter day, braving the elements to go to work or to school. They are motivated to do so by their goal to earn money or achieve an education, and it is the pursuit of a goal that causes them to defy the bodily desire for warmth and comfort. Without a goal in life, people would not undergo any discomfort.

Most of our daily activities are directed to intermediate goals. We drive the car to the gas station with the goal to obtain fuel, but this is obviously not an ultimate goal. If we had nowhere to go with the car, obtaining fuel would be meaningless. Our next goal is to drive to work or to school, but if work and school were not goal directed, they, too, would have little meaning. Intermediate goals have meaning only if the lead to an ultimate goal.

The secular world appears to operate on the premise that one's ultimate goal is attaining the maximum of pleasure available to man. If, however, experiencing pleasure is a legitimate ultimate goal, most of humanity is wasting a great deal of energy and subjecting itself to unnecessary distress, and society's dictates are misguided. This goal is more readily achieved by use of euphoriant chemicals, which indeed, is the goal of the drug addict. The universal disapproval of drug addiction indicates that society does not accept pleasure as a legitimate ultimate goal. Rather, society believes that accomplishing something worthwhile in the world is a legitimate ultimate goal.

Furthermore, if being content is the goal of human life, then the human brain is a gross mistake. Cows in the pasture are much more content than humans. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes (1:18) "As one increases intelligence, one increases pain." (The colloquialism for this is, "Ignorance is bliss.") The offices of psychotherapists are populated by people who suffer from anxiety and emotional disorders that are generated by their intellect. Clearly, the human mind was not intended for the pursuit of pleasure as an ultimate goal.

The Steipler Gaon says that if you see a child wearing a jacket whose sleeves extend far beyond his arms, trousers that drag behind him and a hat that comes down below his nose, you know that these are not his clothes. He has obviously put on his father's clothes. Similarly, when you see what the human mind is capable of, it is clearly not designed for the pursuit of pleasure or contentment. It is grossly oversized for that.

It is difficult to conceive of an ultimate goal and purpose to the life of an individual if the entire universe is purposeless. A universe that was created can have a purpose, having been brought into existence by a Creator. A universe that happened to accidentally come about as a result of a freak accident involving primordial energy and matter (whose origin was?) was not designed for any purpose is, therefore, purposeless.

There is a story of two vagrants who were arrested for loitering. The judge asked the first vagrant, "What were you doing when the officer arrested you?" "Nothing," the vagrant answered. The judge then turned to the second vagrant, "And what were you doing when you were arrested?" The man pointed toward his buddy. "I was helping him," he said. It is obvious that if one is helping someone who is doing nothing, one is doing nothing oneself.

Unless there is an ultimate purpose to the universe, all human activities, regardless of how praiseworthy they may be, are only a series of intermediate goals, reminiscent of "the bridge that goes nowhere." In a purposeless world, a Torah would be nothing more than a set of rules for social conduct, subject to change at the whim of society. There would be no absolute good and bad.

The giving of the Torah had to be preceded by Shabbos, which is a testimony to creation. "In six days, G-d created the heaven and the earth, and He rested on the seventh day." It is Shabbos that gives meaning to life.

Shabbos is referred to as me'ein olam haba, akin to the bliss of Paradise. Shabbos should be akin to the Shabbos on which Hashem rested from creation. The whole world was complete, and this is how our Shabbos should be

The mitzvah of Shabbos is bi-partite, consisting of a negative commandment, the prohibition of work, and a positive commandment, to sanctify the day. The Torah says that on the seventh day, shovas vayinafash. Shovas means that G-d abstained from creation, and vayinafash means that G-d instilled a nefesh into Shabbos. Just as a person has a body and a spirit, so does Shabbos have a "body"-the restriction of work, and a spirit-a nefesh and neshamah. Abstinence from work is only half of the mitzvah. The other half is making Shabbos into a day of neshamah.

Just as Shabbos cannot be sanctified if one works, neither can it be properly sanctified if one carries thoughts and concerns of the work week into Shabbos. While the latter is not considered a frank violation of the prohibition of work, it is an obstacle toward the sanctification of Shabbos. On the verse, "Six days shall you labor and do all your work" (Exodus 20:9), Rashi comments that at the end of the sixth day, one should consider all one's work as having been completed. There are to be no carryovers from the work week into Shabbos. With the advent of Shabbos, one does not owe any money nor is one owed any money. There are no delays in delivery of merchandise and no unfulfilled orders. One does not think about one's investments. All repairs on the house have been made. There is absolutely nothing which should distract a person from the spirituality of Shabbos. Everything pertaining to the work week has been completed, and the forgiveness of sins has removed another source of worry. With all the burdens of the past removed, one is free to contemplate spirituality and holiness.

A case in point.

At 45, Nathan had developed a very successful insurance firm, in which he had worked 12 to 14 hours a day. He then suffered a massive heart attack, and after two months, was told by his doctor to limit his presence at the office tow two hours a day. After several weeks, Nathan was very dissatisfied with this restriction, but his wife, Leah, made him follow the doctors orders.

Nathan then received a handsome offer to buy out his firm. He jumped at the opportunity, sold the business, and convinced Leah that they should sell their spacious home and move to a condominium in Florida.

The dream of blissful retirement was short lived. Nathan was a type-A personality, accustomed to operating under pressure. He had never developed any way of using leisure time except as a brief respite from work, to recharge his batteries for the next work day. Most of the people in the condominium complex were older retirees, and Nathan did not feel he had much in common with them. Leah made herself a flower garden which she carefully cultivated, and joined the local congregation sisterhood. Nathan had no patience for the men's club. Leisure time weighed heavily on his hands and he became depressed.

Proper observance of Shabbos might have prevented Nathan's depression. He would have learned how to put leisure time to constructive use.

At the Friday night meal, my mother would serve ferfel, which is related to the Yiddish word ferfallen, bygone, over and done with. As she brought the ferfel to the table, she would say, "Whatever was until now is ferfallen." Shabbos eliminates the accumulated concerns of the past. 

The proper observance of Shabbos requires that one's conduct should be different than that of the weekdays. We should walk leisurely, not with the haste and frenzy of the work week. And our speech on Shabbos should not be like that of the weekday.

Speech, even during the week, must follow halachah. Lashon hara (defamatory speech) must be scrupulously avoided. Rechilus (carrying tales) is forbidden. One may not use nivul peh (indecent language). Not only is frank lying forbidden (lo teshakru, Leviticus 19:11 ), but one must also avoid anything that could lead to an untruth (midevar shekker tirchak - Exodus 23:7). Devarim beteilim (idle talk) is also forbidden (Yoma 19b).

Given these guidelines, which are halachically mandatory and not merely optional piety, our speech during the weekdays should be spiritual in nature. The requirement that our speech on Shabbos be different than that of the week elevates it even further, essentially restricting speech on Shabbos to words of Torah teachings and praises of Hashem. Indeed, there are people who do not converse at all on Shabbos, verbalizing only Torah study and prayer. According to the halachos of speech as described by the Chafetz Chaim, our speech during the weekdays must be kodesh (sanctified). It follows that on Shabbos, our speech must be kodesh kadashim, of the highest sanctity and spiritual level.

Many people usher in Shabbos with the reading of Song of Songs, Solomon's parable depicting the passionate longing of Israel and Hashem to be in an intimate bond. In the services, Shabbos is welcomed as a Queen in the Lecha Dodi hymn, where Israel says to Hashem, "Come, my beloved, toward the bride. Let us greet the Shabbos."

On Friday night, the challah is covered during kiddush, the prayer testifying to the six days of creation and that Hashem rested on the seventh day. The reason for covering the challah is that according to halachah, the berachah (blessing) for bread takes precedence to the berachah for wine. Inasmuch as the kiddush is recited over wine, the challah is covered to prevent its being humiliated when the berachah for wine is recited first. Obviously, the inanimate challah cannot experience humiliation. The practice of covering the challah is symbolic, to impress upon us how exquisitely sensitive we must be to other people's feelings. This sensitivity should characterize our interpersonal relationships, especially on Shabbos.

Of all the activities that are forbidden on Shabbos that are derived by Talmudic exegesis, the Torah singles out one: "You shall not kindle a flame in all your dwellings" (Exodus 35:3). Rabbi Chaim of Czernovitz (Siduro shel Shabbos) explains that in addition to being a forbidden type of work, making a fire also refers to the flame of rage. Inasmuch as rage is forbidden at any time, the special precaution means that we must make extra effort to avoid anger on Shabbos.

Hagaon Harav Pam cites the Midrash that Adam sinned late on Friday, and that the day of Shabbos pleaded that he not be punished then. "You said that You blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. Is it a blessing and sanctity that man should be punished on my day?" (Yalkut Shimoni). Although it is forbidden to cause another person any anguish during the week, it is an even greater sin to do so on Shabbos. The day of Shabbos may complain, "Is this my sanctity and blessing?"

Shabbos, as a day blessed by Hashem, is propitious for blessings. It is customary that before kiddush on Friday night, the father blesses the children. How wonderful it would be if children would realize that their blessing comes from their parents, and for parents to realize that they should relate to the children in a way that they would be the conduit for Hashem's blessing to the children.

The attractiveness and sweetness of Shabbos is in the fulfillment of the halachos and customs that elevate Shabbos to the zenith of spirituality. This is indeed a state of ecstasy that is me'ein olam haba, akin to the bliss of Paradise. For some tzaddikim, Shabbos surpassed olam haba. Rabbi Boruch of Medziboz said, "I would exchange ten olam habas for one Shabbos." We may not be able to achieve a Shabbos experience like Rabbi Boruch, but we must learn to observe Shabbos in a manner that it is at least me'ein olam haba, just a taste of Paradise.

Celebrating Shabbos with three meals is of such great merit that the Talmud says, "Whoever observes the three meals of Shabbos is spared from three forms of punishment: from the anguish prior to the coming of Moshiach, from the judgment of Gehinnom, and from the battle of Gog-Magog. Furthermore, his prayers are answered" (Shabbos 118a). Of course, this refers to observing the three meals with the appropriate kavannah (intent), kedushah, and divrei Torah.

Shabbos afternoon, usually after minchah, there is the third meal, usually a token meal, consisting of challah and fish. (Of course, one may serve a full meal if one wishes).

Among chassidim, this third meal, seudah shelishis, is eaten in the dark. According to kabbalah, this time is the zenith of Shabbos, and is a specially propitious time. Sitting in the dark, there are no distractions, and it is conducive to meditation.

This meal is often referred to as shalosh seudos, which means "three meals." Divrei Emes explains that the first two meals of Shabbos, Friday night and Shabbos noon, are full meals that one eats when hungry. There is no indication that one is eating primarily to fulfill the mitzvah. However, the third meal, a token meal eaten when one is not hungry, is obviously to fulfill the mitzvah of three meals on Shabbos. This indicates that the first two meals were also in honor of Shabbos. Therefore, it is shalosh seudos, because it encompasses all three meals. Chassidic rebbes usually give a discourse on chassidus at shalosh seudos.

Tradition has transmitted to us many tasty foods for Shabbos and the Festivals. We indeed partake of them, but we should not lose sight of their purpose. Having appeased the body with these delicious foods, we should dedicate ourselves to the spiritual aspects of Shabbos and the Festivals.

When Shabbos comes to a close, the prospect of leaving this spiritual experience and returning to the work week with all its stresses and drudgery can be depressing. This transition is mitigated by the Shabbos night meal, the Melaveh Malkah.

In contrast to the delicacies of the Shabbos meals, the menu of the Melaveh Malkah meal Shabbos night is generally rather sparse. Melaveh Malkah means "escorting the queen," referring to parting with "Queen Shabbos." The regular menu may be herring, borscht and potatoes. The potatoes are cooked especially for the Melaveh Malkah to demonstrate that we refrained from cooking on Shabbos because the Torah forbade it, and that when Shabbos was over, we are permitted to cook again. Yet, this simple meal was actually the most enjoyable one for me, because it was customary to relate stories about our tzaddikim, stories that fascinated me, some of which I recorded in Not Just Stories.

Stories are a powerful method of communication. The chassidic master, R' Yisroel of Rhizin said, "When the Baal Shem Tov sought Divine intervention to save the Jews from misfortune, he would seclude himself in the forest, light a fire, and say a special prayer.

"When his successor, my great-grandfather, the Maggid of Mezeritch, wished to intercede for his people, he would go to the same place in the forest and say, 'Master of the Universe! I do not know how to light the fire, but I can still say the prayer,' and with that he evoked Divine mercy.

"Later, R' Moshe Leib of Sasov would go to the place in the forest and say, 'I do not know how to light the fire and I do not know the prayer. Master of the Universe! Have compassion upon us by the merits of the tzaddikim who prayed to You here' ".

R' Yisroel would put his head in his hands and say, "Master of the Universe! I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, and I do not even find the place in the forest. All I know is the story about how these tzaddikim interceded for their people, and this must be sufficient."

Stories are the vehicle that can move metaphor and images into experience. Stories can communicate what is generally invisible and inexpressible. Of all the devices available to us, stories are the surest way of touching the human spirit. And Melaveh Malkah was rich in stories. My personal opinion is that the sages instituted Melaveh Malkah to dispel the post-Shabbos blues.

The Gaon of Vilna was extremely diligent in observing Melaveh Malkah. It is related that the Gaon's wife fasted frequently, and that the Gaon said to her, "All your fasts do not add up to the merit of a single Melaveh Malkah.  One Shabbos night the Gaon was ill and could not eat anything. He slept for a few hours and when awoke and saw that it was before dawn, he quickly ate a small piece of challah for Melaveh Malkah.

The Melaveh Malkah is referred to as the "feast of King David. The reason for this is based on the Midrash that David asked G-d to reveal to him when he would die. G-d said that this is never revealed to a person, but told him that he would die on Shabbos. Therefore, when Shabbos passed and David was alive, he made a feast to celebrate his reprieve for at least one more week of life"

In the zemiros (songs) of the Melaveh Malkah, we say "David, King of Israel, lives and exists," thereby expressing our belief in the return of the royal lineage of David with the Ultimate Redemption. We also say, Siman tov umazal tov, good omens and good fortune shall come to us and to all of Israel.

The zemiros also feature the prophet Elijah. The Talmud says that Elijah, who will herald the Ultimate Redemption, will not do so on Erev Shabbos or on Erev Yom Tov, so that the celebration of Shabbos and Yom Tov should not be disturbed. Therefore, when Shabbos passes, we sing about Elijah, inviting him to bring us the good tidings of the Redemption.

As we noted, David's life was one of uninterrupted suffering, yet, even in his moments of anguish, David could say, "Return to me the joy of Your salvation" (Psalms 51:14), never abandoning hope for happiness. We begin the new week with the inspiration of David, that simchah is always within reach. Elijah is not only the personification of immortality, but is also the harbinger of the Ultimate Redemption. Countless times in Jewish history, Elijah has appeared in human form to comfort the suffering.

King David, the prophet Elijah and stories of tzaddikim. Melaveh Malkah is indeed a potent antidepressant. The entire Shabbos is thus a lesson in achieving simchah.

I experienced the power of the simchah of Shabbos on my first visit to Israel. In keeping with halachah, I cried and tore my garment at the Western Wall just as one does on the loss of a loved one. On Friday night, I joined in a joyous dance at the Western Wall as we sang Lecha Dodi, A conflict? No, I wept in space and rejoiced in time.

* * * *

It is customary, when praying for a sick person on Shabbos, to say "Shabbos he melizok, urefuah kerovah lavo" (though Shabbos prohibits us from crying out, may a recover come speedily).

The tzaddik, R' Hillel of Paritsch, once visited a town where a number of Jews kept their shops open on Shabbos. R' Hillel called them together and impressed upon them the overriding importance of observing Shabbos. The shop-keepers agreed, on the condition that the rich man who owned the largest store would close his store on Shabbos, because otherwise they could not compete with him. R' Hillel sent for this wealthy man, but he refused to come. A second messenger was sent, but was also turned away.

Shabbos morning, the wealthy man began having severe abdominal pain, which grew worse from hour to hour. His wife concluded that this occurred because he had offended the tzaddik, and pleaded with R' Hillel that he should forgive her husband and pray for him, but R' Hillel remained silent. The Chassidim who were with him said, "Rebbe, can't you just say 'Shabbos he melizok, urefuah kerovah lavo'?" but R' Hillel remained silent.

Shabbos night, at melaveh malkah, the wife again came, pleading tearfully that R' Hillel pray for her husband. R' Hillel said, "Shabbos he melizok, urefuah kerovah lavo". This can be translated as 'If Shabbos will refrain from crying out, recovery will come speedily.' Shabbos has been crying our that this person is desecrating it. If he gives his solemn promise that he will close his store on Shabbos, he will recover."

The Chassidim hurried to the man's bedside and told him what the tzaddik said. The man promptly promised to observe Shabbos, and soon recovered.

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