magine we celebrated Pesach every week. Thursday nights would find us frantically kashering the kitchen, scrubbing the oven, and lining the shelves, our frenzied pace punctuated by desperate reminders to “brush off all the crumbs before you come in!”
This scene would repeat itself. Every. Single. Week. Emotional breakdown notwithstanding, this scenario could actually be quite amusing.
But Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, decreed that Pesach arrive only once a year. Ostensibly, we celebrate so infrequently because Pesach commemorates Yetzias Mitzrayim, an event that presents but once annually. However, there’s a deeper, causative aspect to commemorating our redemption so sporadically: The insights of Pesach have abiding spiritual impact, their influence lasts even when dosed only once in 12 months.
Contrast this with our continuous exposure to Shabbos, a day that infuses our physical existence with a weekly shot of spiritual vitality. This is precisely dosed as well. If we’re obligated to keep Shabbos once a week, we must assume that its spiritual impact persists for only six days before it wanes.
But why is this weekly infusion at all necessary? What is it about our mundane lives that is so spiritually draining that we need a weekly refueling of the spirit? Are we not engaged in spiritually enriching pursuits all week long? Even on the most unremarkable weekday, we devote ourselves to tefillah, emunah, and ahavas Hashem; why do we nonetheless require a boost? And what is the message at the heart of Shabbos that’s capable of hydrating our spiritually withered selves?
Blocked by Self
The most basic axiom of a committed Jew is the belief that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We imbibe this principle with our mother’s milk, singing about it as preschoolers and encountering it again with our first tentative tastes of Chumash. We grow up believing that Hashem created the world and continues to run it, but paradoxically, we live in a world that belies this fact.
Man designs and originates, remedies and repairs. When my oven dies, I call the repairman. When my computer needs an update, I summon my local techie. And when the boiler quits, I appeal to the plumber.
Man is the vaunted savior in many of the endeavors that characterize my day. But when efficiency and effectiveness revolve around man, the awareness that Hashem is actually the One manipulating reality becomes fuzzy. After all, when my air conditioning conked out, I called the repairman, not Hashem.
In a curious twist, man’s greatest impediment to recognizing Hashem’s utter control over the world is none other than… man himself! In our technological, innovative glory, we have unwittingly morphed into the greatest barrier between Hashem and ourselves.
Moshe Rabbeinu declared, “Anochi omeid bein Hashem u’veineichem,” I stand between Hashem and you (Devarim 5:5). The Maggid M’Zolotchov explains this homiletically: The “anochi,” our inflated sense of control in Hashem’s world, is the obstructing factor standing between Him and us.
Many years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to chauffeur a prominent rav home. Shortly after picking him up, we got caught in a rainstorm that quickly flooded the highway and brought traffic to a standstill. Some vehicles attempted to exit the highway via the grassy shoulder but, while climbing the steep incline, found themselves immobilized in the drenched embankment.
We foolishly decided to try our luck as well. Within moments, with the car wheels spinning in the mud, we regretted our rash decision. For several minutes my husband tried valiantly to maneuver the car, shifting to reverse, jerking the wheel to the extreme left, then to the right, but his attempts were for naught. We were quite literally stuck in the mud.
Suddenly I noticed the rav, who had dozed off several minutes before, moving his lips. Concerned that something was wrong, I took a closer look and discovered that he was saying a perek of Tehillim. Wait a minute! We had tried to manipulate the car in every possible way that humankind and machinery allowed, but had neglected the most fundamental maneuver: appealing to Hashem.
For six days of the week, we persuade ourselves that our human influence and intervention impels the world forward. True, we offer a hat tip to Hashem with daily tefillos and Tehillim, but when we find ourselves in the heat of a tech glitch or stranded in an overheated car, we prevail on a competent person for salvation, not Hashem.
Enter Shabbos, and as its name implies, we are shoveit, we desist from all creative activity. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explains that in abstaining from melachah, we nullify our influence over Hashem’s world. In a forced state of inactivity, we dislodge from the unyielding grasp we’ve maintained all week long on His world, and likewise, banish the belief that we are the proprietors of His domain. Precluded from the most elementary of creative acts, like flicking on a switch or scribbling a couple of letters, the world naturally reverts to its authentic, organic state: Hashem is the baal, the world is His alone.
The Mishnah Berurah cites an interesting halachah in regards to medical procedures. The Mechaber instructs that a person who subjects himself to bloodletting (once considered an effective method of refuah) should precede it with a short yehi ratzon appealing to Hashem for a successful, healthy outcome. He should then conclude treatment with the words “baruch rofei cholim” (Orach Chayim 230:4).
The Mishnah Berurah extrapolates that this tefillah should be said before all medical procedures (even taking a simple painkiller!) and explains: “One should not assume that there be any means to healing except through the Borei Yisbarach Shemo, therefore through uttering this tefillah he will place his trust in Him, and request from Him to be healed.”
We can rationalize uttering a special tefillah before a major medical event, such as surgery or dialysis. But a tefillah before popping a pill? Before taking a flu shot? Thanks to Advil and Novartis, we have that covered!
One should not assume that there be any means to healing except through the Borei Yisbarach Shemo….
So far removed are we from this reality, that we require a special tefillah to reestablish this fundamental truth for ourselves: It is Hashem’s world, not ours. He is the one who ensures that Advil eases a headache, that penicillin eliminates an infection. And this is the lesson of Shabbos.
Hearing the Message
In Shabbos Malkesah, Rav Shimshon Pincus cites the well-known midrash in Shemos Rabbah describing the scene at Matan Torah: “When Hashem bestowed the Torah, birds did not squawk, fowl suspended their flight, oxen did not low, the ofanim ceased to fly, the seraphim did not say ‘Kadosh’, the sea stood still, and people did not speak. Rather, the creation was deafeningly silent, and the voice of ‘Anochi Hashem Elokecha’ issued forth.”
Rav Pincus explains that this silence was not a deliberate, anticipatory prelude to the proclamation of Hashem. Rather, in the moment that creation was still and thus all obstacles withdrawn, de facto, the world echoed with the voice of Hashem, declaring Truth for all to hear.
On Shabbos, when we cease melachah, we effectively lower the volume of our own meddling voice, rendering audible the Divine message that has been quietly humming all week long. This is Hashem’s world, not mine. He is the baal. If not for His will, none of my efforts would succeed. The computer will remain unresponsive, the air conditioning will still be broken, and the oven will never be fixed.
This message, so elementary, is challenging to maintain. Everything about our week screams “Man!” It’s nearly impossible to discern Hashem as the cause behind the smokescreen of our efforts. This is the reason we need Shabbos every single week. Because even after the most spiritually immersive Shabbos experience, a mere 25 hours later we’re propelled back into the man-centered week.
How long will our clarity last when pitted against thousands of man-attributed events? Exactly six days. And then, on the seventh day, we remove the anochi, restore the world to its true Master, and listen for the Voice that has been there all along.
Originally featured in Family First, Issue 596. Mrs. Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.