Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spirit of the Law: Shabbos #14: Preparing for Shabbos

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 72:14) “It is a mitzvah to comb one’s hair, to cut one’s nails, and to take a haircut if needed [in preparation for Shabbos]… It is good to burn the nail clippings.”
The Ramak, zt”l, explains that Shabbos precipitates three major changes, and one of them is that our souls receive a powerful injection of holiness. We must prepare ourselves for this holiness spiritually and physically, since the body is like a chair on which the spirit rests. The more we prepare the body, the more holiness we can absorb. This can be compared to a flowing stream that can fill any vessel with which it comes in contact. The more prepared we are with vessels, the more water we can draw. Also, the nature of spiritual influx is that the light of holiness is always flowing. The amount of holiness is relative to the time and place in which we find ourselves, but the influx of our particular time and place is continuously flowing more than we could possibly take in. There can be no doubt that one who prepares for the holiness of Shabbos will be able to feel it to a much greater extent than one who is keeping Shabbos by rote.
This is why the Gemara records that the early chassidim would say things like, “Come and greet the Shabbos queen,” at the entrance of Shabbos. (Today, most recite Kabbalas Shabbos on autopilot, but it used to be the spontaneous expression of longing for Shabbos.) This preparation must be in thought, word, and deed; only by preparing in these three ways can one be completely ready to receive holiness. The truth is that Shabbos does wonderful things for us whether we are aware of it or not. However, when we prepare for it, we can feel the light of Shabbos much more powerfully.
This is alluded to in the verse: "וְשָׁמְרוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת לְדֹרֹתָם, בְּרִית עוֹלָם"—“And the children of Israel will guard the Shabbos, to observe the Shabbos throughout all there generations, an eternal covenant.” “Guarding” also implies waiting for something. By preparing for Shabbos, we express our longing for the holy Shabbos. “Observing (לַעֲשׂוֹת) the Shabbos” literally means to make the Shabbos. This means that through longing, through accepting the holiness of Shabbos, we “make it.” “Throughout all their generations” (לְדֹרֹתָם) also means a dwelling place (לדירתם). Through preparing and yearning for Shabbos we make ourselves fit to be a dwelling place for Hashem.
The holiness of Shabbos rests on a person to the degree that he did good things during the week. When the holiness of Shabbos comes, every good thing we did the whole week is elevated before the Creator. And the inverse is also true; if one did something bad, holiness cannot rest on him as it should. For this reason, the best preparation for Shabbos is to confess and truly repent. By sanctifying all of one’s limbs with true repentance, “beautiful utensils” are dedicated for Shabbos use. This can be compared to the sun which shines on everything equally. If it hits a gem, it gives forth a more brilliant light than it does when it hits some less brilliant object. Obviously, the cleaner the gem, the more light it reflects. If the gem is crusted over with dirt it will only sparkle after the dirt is removed. The more we polish our souls and remove the dirt with teshuvah, the more the holiness of Shabbos can shine in.
First we cuts our nails. The nails are the extremities of the hands. They are the point at which the outer forces of evil derive their life-force from a person who sins. Most of what we accomplish is done with our hands, and cutting the nails represents shearing away the bad that we have done in the course of the week. Each of the fingers of our hands represents a different sefirah, and trimming all ten nails parallels cleaning ourselves from every possible negative manifestation of each middah. Since the nail clippings represent evil, it is easy to understand why it is best to burn them. We must do our very best to eradicate the evil from within us.
The atmosphere of the six days of the week is impure compared to the air of Shabbos which is pure. This parallels the distinction between the environment of Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora. The outer forces of negativity have dominion outside of the Land, but not within it. Of course, one who sins in Eretz Yisrael draws these forces upon himself. This is why the halachah is that one may leave the Land if they can learn Torah better outside it. The most important thing is one’s Jewish identity which is his connection to Hashem and Torah. Similarly, the chitzonim have dominion during the six days of the week but not on Shabbos. For this reason, one must at least wash his hands, feet, and face in preparation for Shabbos. These are the body parts which are exposed to the impure atmosphere of the world. We must wash our hands and feet, just as the kohanim purified themselves by bathing their hands and feet before performing their service in the Beis Hamikdash.

No comments: