We linger over Shabbos, so Shabbos will linger within us
e sit in a wide circle outside our building, careful to accommodate the requisite six feet, and watch our children frolic in the grass. Inevitably, our conversation veers toward corona weight gain and the various diets we’ve attempted so far.
I grab at the opportunity for a little informal polling: “So, what do you do about Melaveh Malkah?” I ask. “Do you wash? Just have a snack? Skip it altogether?”
My neighbors’ responses vary, but most say they don’t wash, and many admit to not partaking at all. It seems that for most of them, Melaveh Malkah is strictly a husband’s affair.
I nod in understanding; Melaveh Malkah has always been the weak link in my efforts for kavod Shabbos. After 25 hours of prepare-serve-clear-repeat, I’m loathe to deal with yet another meal and its aftermath. Though in a vague sense I know I’m wrong, and that Melaveh Malkah should be formally reinstated in my home, I’m still unclear as to exactly why.
Bonding through Departing
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 300) teaches, “A person should always set his table on Motzaei Shabbos, in order to usher out Shabbos. He needs only [to consume] a k’zayis.”
Mishnah Berurah (ibid) explains: The same way we honor Shabbos upon its arrival, we must honor it when it departs. This is likened to a king who is escorted when he takes leave of a city.
Shaarei Teshuvah, invoking the students of the Arizal, says the neshamah yeseirah remains until one partakes of Melaveh Malkah; therefore, a person should refrain from unnecessary melachah until after he eats this meal.
Melaveh Malkah gives expression to our desire to have Shabbos stay with us a little longer. We can all relate to the feeling of “I never want this to end.” Whether it’s a vacation alone with our spouse, a cherished family get-together, or some long-awaited “me time,” when it’s time to pack up, load the car, and reenter our demanding life, we dawdle a bit, in the vain hope that we’ll somehow circumvent the inevitable.
My daughter’s close friend is moving back to the States. They’ve been together for the better part of 16 years, and this sudden move is a heavy blow. The goodbye is a multistaged, protracted affair. There’s the last Shabbos together, the goodbye party, a memory book, and a drawn-out weepy farewell the night of her departure.
Melaveh Malkah is our response when we are forced to end an exhilarating retreat and say goodbye to a cherished friend. The word “melaveh” issues from the word “livui,” to escort or accompany. We linger after Shabbos, clutching at the serenity for a few more precious minutes, and we escort our esteemed guest as she departs for another week.
At first glance, the act of accompanying a person appears to be a reactive behavior, a response to parting from someone beloved or esteemed. However, livui also has an active, positive component; it’s an invaluable means of fostering connection.
“The reward for livui is boundless… because the act of escorting someone is the (agent of) connection” (Maharal on Maseches Sotah 56b). When we accompany someone beginning a journey and don’t suffice with a simple farewell at the door, we cultivate a connection with them.
When Leah was blessed with her third child, she named him Levi — “hapa’am yelaveh ishi elai,” now my husband will accompany me. Sheim MiShmuel explains that with the birth of her third son, Leah anticipated her bond to Yaakov intensifying. She expressed her hope through Levi, whose very name, derived from the word livui, signifies connection.
When we take the time and effort to eat Melaveh Malkah, we show that Shabbos is our esteemed guest, worthy of a royal escort. However, livui also binds us intimately to Shabbos; when we take leave of Shabbos honorably, we knit a weeklong connective bond.
Sustaining Our Eternity
Melaveh Malkah, which bridges Shabbos and the weekdays, is also connected to our transition from This World to the Next.
A desire for infinity is one of mankind’s foremost existential yearnings. We recognize death is inevitable, and anxiously seek ways of achieving permanence even after we are gone.
Some of us opt for a prominently displayed plaque memorializing a contribution; others bequeath their name to initiatives or institutions. Those of us with more modest financial means rely on our offspring to sustain our memory. The specter of reverting to anonymity after death is a universally galvanizing force.
However, we’re mistaken in assuming that our physical self vanishes entirely; there’s one bone in the body that’s imperishable. Mishnah Berurah (ibid) explains: “This bone endures in the grave until techiyas hameisim, even after all the other bones have disintegrated. And it is not nourished from [standard] repasts…”
Vayikra Rabbah (18) calls this eternal bone the “luz” bone, and recounts a fascinating encounter.
Hadrian, the Roman Caesar, asked Rabi Yehoshua ben Chananya, “From where does Hashem resurrect man at the time of techiyas hameisim?”
Rabi Yehoshua responded: “From the luz bone.”
Hadrian, deeply skeptical, sought to prove the luz was indeed destructible. He soaked the luz bone in water, it did not dissolve. He put it to a grinding stone, it did not crumble. He torched it, but it did not burn. Finally, he took a hammer to the luz bone; the hammer split but the luz would not yield. It was truly immortal.
“And it is not nourished from standard repasts…”
What is the nutrient that nurtures this enduring part of ourselves, the bone that initiates the miracle of resurrection?
It is seudas Melaveh Malkah.
The resurrective powers of the luz bone have been witnessed in This World as well. The Romans conquered Beitar, the last Jewish stronghold of Bayis Sheini, in a bloody massacre. The evil Hadrian prohibited the Jews from burying their dead, and the casualties languished unburied for many years. Ultimately, when Antoninus authorized their burial, an astonishing miracle surfaced: The bodies had not deteriorated!
Miracles notwithstanding, how did these bodies resist deterioration? Noda B’Yehudah attributes it to the “havla d’garmi,” the vapors of the luz bone. Lodged between the back of the head and the spine, the luz rests under the knot of the tefillin shel rosh, on the periphery of guf and seichel. The luz, a physical entity, is also our body’s only remnant of unadulterated spirituality. Balanced on the cusp of both this world and the next, it is a spiritual reservoir capable of preserving the dead.
Gift of Revival
When Shabbos ends and the new week beckons, we are tempted to close the door on the last 25 hours of ruchniyus. But a vestige of the Shabbos glow lingers, just enough to resurrect us from the spiritual torpor of the ensuing week. Melaveh Malkah celebrates those spiritual remnants, and as we linger over the departed Shabbos, we trust that Shabbos will linger within us.
Not unlike the luz bone, which represents the spiritual remnant buried within every Jew, we rely on Melaveh Malkah to be mechayeh meisim as we face another spiritually weary week. And precisely the livui performed with this meal bonds us to the coming Shabbos, in an ever-intensifying spiritual cycle.
Yet the greatest gift of Melaveh Malkah is in its eternal livui: When we nourish the luz bone every Motzaei Shabbos, then as our journey in This World reaches a timely end, we are spiritually poised for our next journey as well.
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz has been teaching in seminaries for nearly 20 years.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 701)
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