Shabbos can be gifted — but when we earn it, it will bring redemption
This week, over one million Jews in 101 countries will keep Shabbos — some for the first time ever — thanks to the Shabbos Project. This movement encourages Jews from diverse backgrounds to unite in keeping one full Shabbos.
At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I’d like to make a shamelessly conceited disclosure: I thought of it first. When I was only nine years old.
That was the year my fourth-grade morah shared the astonishing news that Mashiach could come by next Shabbos, if only the entire Klal Yisrael would commit to keeping one full Shabbos. “If all the Jews keep two complete Shabbosim,” she explained, “the Geulah will come. We already kept one after we left Mitzrayim, now all that’s left is just one Shabbos.” (In my memory, she concluded with “and we’ll all be free,” but that part was likely contributed by MBD’s classic hit, “Just One Shabbos.”)
Well, I wasn’t going to take this newsflash sitting down, and with the overconfidence and naivete of a nine-year-old, I hatched a plan. In those pre-Internet days, I imagined dozens of people scouring phone books for Jewish last names, calling on the forgotten Jews of the world to keep “just one Shabbos.”
The media would be drafted to broadcast the date of “just one Shabbos” and advise the participants to refrain from turning on lights, cooking, driving, and just to play it safe, do anything other than sit on the couch with a good book.
Over three decades later, I humbly accede that the Shabbos Project may yet achieve what my juvenile fantasy did not. But then what? Will my fourth-grade morah’s lesson prove prophetic? Will Mashiach indeed materialize one Motzaei Shabbos to herald the end of our exile?
The Chofetz Chaim urged all G-d-fearing Jews to establish hilchos Shabbos study groups, stressing that proper Shabbos observance hastens the Geulah; “As our Sages teach: If Yisrael were to keep two Shabbosim, they would immediately be redeemed.” (Introduction to Mishnah Berurah)
An almost identical sentiment is expressed in Yalkut Shimoni (Sefer Yeshayahu): “Rabi Yochanan said in the name of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, if Yisrael would guard two Shabbosim according to halachah they would immediately be redeemed.” This idea is repeated in the Gemara (Shabbos 118b). The Sheiltos (Bereishis) differentiates between keeping one Shabbos, which would safeguard Yisrael against all foreign incursions, and keeping two Shabbosim, which would prompt the Geulah.
Why does the Torah specify two Shabbosim, as opposed to three or six or ten? Do they have to be consecutive? And have we already discharged our obligation for one of those Shabbosim as an infant nation in the desert?
Rav Tzadok M’Lublin demystifies the double Shabbos directive. “The first Shabbos [is meant to] bestow kedushah on the approaching week… then the second Shabbos arrives, which is [spiritually] superior to the Shabbos that preceded it. We then merit this Shabbos [observed] with halachic exactitude so we may be redeemed completely.” (Pri Tzaddik, parshas Maasei).
Frequently we approach Shabbos as a respite from the previous six days, a 25-hour curative for a week that’s wrung us dry. But we’re mistaken in attributing the benefits of Shabbos only retroactively, for the previous week. Shabbos is spiritual proactivity; when observed properly, it projects its spiritual healing on the next week too.
When we observe the first Shabbos of the requisite two, our intention is for the spiritual effect it will have on the ensuing week. Because a Shabbos observed close to perfectly imbues the coming week with immeasurable kedushah, it infuses the successive Shabbos with the power to affect the Geulah.
According to this understanding of “Just One Shabbos,” we actually need two consecutive Shabbosim to catalyze the Geulah: One Shabbos for its impact on the next six days, and the following Shabbos for the Geulah itself. Unfortunately, this disqualifies the first Shabbos that Klal Yisrael observed in the Midbar — it’s definitely not contiguous with any Shabbos we’ll observe in this millennium.
A Temporary High
For thousands of years, we’ve pined for redemption from enslaving nations, waiting as months bled into years and generations were birthed and buried. And though all the galuyos share a common refrain, our current galus — specifically the promise that two Shabbosim will bring the Geulah — shares an uncanny likeness to the galus and geulah from Mitzrayim. In both cases, Hashem wants us to merit the gift of redemption on our own.
Whenever I commit to strengthening a specific aspect of halachah, I witness the same cycle. Whether I’m trying to improve an aspect of my speech, tefillah, or thoughts, the first couple of times I breeze through the challenge practically unchecked. On the third try, the same challenge seems almost insurmountable. What changed? Did I lose my momentum? Was I a victim of brash overconfidence?
The Sfas Emes (Beshalach, 5631) explains that sometimes Hashem temporarily conveys us to echelons in avodas Hashem that aren’t organically ours and aren’t sustainable at our current spiritual state. Then we revert to our natural spiritual plane, and we’re challenged to work toward the spiritual strata that He briefly gifted us, and make it our own.
The miracles Klal Yisrael experienced at Yetzias Mitzrayim were inconsistent with their spiritual level at the time. A nation hovering at the lowest level of impurity was incapable of sustaining the spiritual momentum that Yetzias Mitzrayim engendered. This was something Hashem had temporarily gifted them and it was not yet truly their own. But the transient experience of spiritual greatness was intended as an instructive: Now that you’ve had the taste of spiritual success, recreate that existence yourself. Make it your own.
When Klal Yisrael reached the Yam Suf, they encountered a blockade of roiling waves ahead and a brutal Egyptian army closing in on them from behind. Their response was “Vayitzaku,” a collective cry of utter despair.
But wait a minute… this same nation had just witnessed nearly a year’s worth of astonishing miracles and been led peacefully out of the lion’s den with the most spectacularly climactic miracle of all! Did they really fear Hashem would forsake them now, when they were finally tasting the first dewdrops of freedom?
Take It and Live It
The Sfas Emes explains that their cries had nothing to do with their expectations of Hashem, and everything to do with His expectations of them. Now, at Kri’as Yam Suf, they had to prove whether the gift of Yetzias Mitzrayim had readied them to achieve spiritual heights in their own merit. Yam Suf was their endgame: Could they muster the spiritual strength for salvation on their own, and not as a benevolent handout to a spiritually beleaguered nation?
“If Yisrael were to keep two Shabbosim, they would immediately be redeemed.”
Much like the first stage in spiritual improvement, or the first stage in Yetzias Mitzrayim, the first Shabbos is a gift. Hashem bestows upon us a Shabbos brimming with kedushah, replete with spiritual prospects. Now it is our turn to prove our mettle. What do we do with this spiritually saturated encounter? Do we channel the waves of clarity to overflow the borders of Shabbos and inundate our week? Do we sustain the glow of Shabbos and use it to illuminate the dim corridors of the next six days?
If we use the gift of Shabbos to elevate the coming week, then our subsequent Shabbos will commence from an entirely different plane as well. And this second Shabbos, following on the heels of our week’s input, is earned and not gifted, grown to spiritual magnitude by merit. This is the Shabbos that will usher in Mashiach.
The focus of the Shabbos Project is primarily on outreach, with tens of thousands of Jews opening their homes, sharing with others the splendor of Shabbos. But such a phenomenal undertaking should not solely have implications for the “other”; our own Shabbos should be influenced by the Shabbos Project as well.
Perhaps we should consider how many of our myriad Shabbosim have been “first stage” Shabbosim, gifted by Hashem, without the requisite spiritual input to secure our own gain. Maybe we can relate to Shabbos as a spiritual gift that obligates us to spiritually invigorate our week with it. And in doing so, on the following Shabbos, we’ll have rightfully earned our elevated spiritual status. And maybe, just maybe, that Shabbos will indeed be the “just one Shabbos” that heralds Mashiach.
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 667)
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