Monday, September 24, 2007

The Spirit of the Law -- Shabbos part 1

Here's an offering from Micha to draw you deeper into the beauty and power of Shabbos. It's also online at, but it's really hidden deep in the archives over there. Micha will be posting with new pieces from time to time from his wonderful and dearly beloved project on the inspiration that he finds in the Shulchan Aruch.

We'll be posting soon on the main source for that project, the incomparable Likutei Halachos of Reb Nosson of Breslov, zt"l.

For now, here's the first installation of The Spirit of the Law -- Shabbos, part 1. (For the Ashkenazim among us who prefer their traditional havarah, take it easy. The kind person who did the editing for Micha chose havarah Sepharadit for the website where it was originally published. No time to change it need either. Eilu v'eilu.)


Shabbat and Breslov

By Rabbi Golshevsky

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch states (72:1), “Shabbat is the foundation of emunah. Whoever observes the laws of Shabbat, it is as if he observed the entire Torah. Whoever violates the Shabbat it is as if he transgressed the entire Torah.”

The Arizal writes that each Shabbat the innermost essence of our neshama –- our soul -- is elevated level by level until we reach the same level as Adam HaRishon (Adam, the first man) before he ate from the Tree of Knowledge.[1]

Shabbat parallels the Next World. Just as labor is prohibited on Shabbat, so too will work becomes superfluous in the World to Come. In this world, most people must work during the six days of the week. Why? Because this is a material, physical world, and that fact is the major challenge facing us in our quest to becoming truly connected to Hashem.

But why is it so difficult to correct our faults and focus on the spiritual? The Ramchal, zt”l, explains that that's the way it is supposed to be! Our purpose in this world is to change the negative into positive. That is what we are here for, and for that reason each of us was born with our own individual, tailor-made, challenges. This holds true for both our inner flaws as well as the many difficulties we face in day to day living.[2]

Most people, for example, need money to purchase the things they need, and therefore they need to work to earn that money. When we work to earn a living, we are presented with the difficult challenge of constantly remembering that we were created for a much higher purpose than simply earning a living. It is extremely difficult to overcome our natural tendency to think that we are running the show, that our accomplishments are a result of our talents and efforts. We tend to feel as if we don’t need Hashem; we just need an even break. But the truth is that everything we have –- our paychecks, our homes, our families and loved ones -- is solely a result of Hashem’s blessing!

Remembering and internalizing that knowledge – that although we need to put in our effort, everything we have is really a result of Hashem's blessing – is a major challenge to our avodat Hashem, our Divine Service. (On the other hand, a person who has no need to work to earn a living has a different challenge – to overcome the natural tendency to become idle or arrogant from an abundance of money.)

Reb Nosson, zt”l, explains that one reason why we must work during the week is to rectify our emunah, our faith.[3] One would think that if a person is very spiritual and is living with his emuna, he should not have work! After all, hasn't he already made his tikkun? Yet the reality is often the opposite: People who live their emuna tend to have financial difficulties.

Why is this so? Rebbe Nachman taught that this is an expression of a concept that appears in the writings of the Arizal. In Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, it is called the "Heichal Hatmuros," or the "Chamber of Exchange."[4] In Kohelet, Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) writes that he has seen princes walking and slaves riding. In other words, he has seen good guys suffering, while the bad guys seem to have it good.

When the Jews built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the Midbar (desert) they were repairing the damage caused by the sin of the Golden Calf. They were using mundane activities to create a House for Hashem! So too, when we go about our mundane activities with a true awareness of Hashem’s loving Presence, we are also building a House for Hashem!

On Shabbat, however, work is prohibited. On Shabbat we were commanded to refrain from building the Mishkan – from mundane activities which are done with a true awareness of Hashem's loving Presence. Throughout the entire week we struggle to bring Hashem’s Presence into our labors. On Shabbat, however, the inner dimension of our soul is elevated to astounding heights. All our accomplishments attain completion on Shabbat. How? Through emuna, and emuna is revealed on Shabbat.

On Shabbat we express our emuna through refraining from the 39 types of labor used build the Mishkan. As a result of tangibly demonstrating our emuna by refraining from work, we attain completion. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, zt”l, writes that it is only in the merit of refraining from labor on Shabbat that the following six new weekdays are created.[5]

For this reason, throughout history there was always at least one person keeping the holy Shabbat (On a simple level this refers to Adam, Mesushelach, Noach, Shem and Avraham. On a deeper level, Rav Tzadok HaKohain in Pri Tzadik explains this to mean that throughout history there has always been at least one person who truly connects to the deep emunah which can be accessed from within our innermost selves on Shabbat).[6]

Since Shabbat is the ultimate day of emunah, which represents the Next World, we cannot work on the Shabbat. When a person works on Shabbat, it's as if he's saying that there is no spiritual completion in the innermost depths of his soul. He's rejecting the gift of Shabbat and by doing so, he's denying his belief in the Torah.

To be continued…

[1] Note that the Arizal teaches that the outer aspects of our neshamot do not reach such lofty heights. From Siddur HaAri Rav Shabbtai (a student of the Baal Shem Tov) in the beginning of Shabbat, subsection entitled “Kavannat Shabbat B’chlalut.” (Regular edition, Part II, p. 50a. New edition on Shabbat, p. 15-16.) See also Pri Tzaddik, Parshat Matot #12.

[2] See Ramchal in Adir Bamarom p. 393, and in “Kalach” (138) Pitchei Chochmah, #49 (p. 180). This is a very broad topic in the Ramchal. For further study, see Daat Tevunot of Mechon HaRamchal, p. 168-180.

[3] This concept is based on Reb Nosson’s Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Shabbat #4.

[4] The story of the Exchanged Children (tale #10), Likutei Moharan I:24:8, Chayay Moharan 15d #2; Likutei Halachot Birchot Hashachar 3:2. This concept is explained at great length in Likutei Halachot. (See Rabbi Nachman’s Stories as published by Breslov Research Institute, edited and annotated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l, p. 232-235. (For a further allusion in the writings of the Arizal, see Shaar Hakavanot, Inyan Kavanot Ha’Amida, #6, “al hatsadikim.”)

[5] Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, Breishiit 2:3.

[6] Based on Pri Tzaddik, Parshat Shmini #1. But see Pri Tzaddik on Shmini Atzeret #44 where he disagrees with the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh for the same reason that he defends him in Shmini.


USA Freedom said...

Hi Yehudis and Micha. I really enjoy Micha's drash on the meaning of Shabbos and working. It feels very applicable to my life as I am now conducting a job search and experiencing that challenge from a positive frame of mind.

Chag Sameach.

USA Freedom said...

Hi Yehudis and Micha,

I forgot to tell you that it's Rebecca Witonsky from Florida. I saw you in your home in Yerushalayim last month. It was so amazing.

Chag Sameach.