MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice
and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on Rabbi
Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.
Havdala and Eliyahu HaNavi
A central theme of the motzaei Shabbat
hymns is Eliyahu the prophet. Kitzur Shulchan Arukh gives two reasons for
1. Our prophets foretold that Eliyahu, who never died but rather ascended
skyward in a fiery chariot (II Kings 2:11), will return to augur the coming
of the Moshiach (Malakhi 3:23). However, so great is the importance of
Shabbat that even heralding the arrival of Moshiach does not disturb our
Sabbath rest, nor even our Sabbath preparations! (Pesachim 13a). When we
refer to Shabbat as "like the world to come", it is not hyperbole. Shabbat
belongs so much to the future perfect world of the Redemption, that
heralding the Redemption itself is delayed in order to make way for Shabbat.
2. The Kitzur cites a Midrash (mentioned in many works but lost to us)
which relates that each Motzaei Shabbat Eliyahu "sits under the tree of life
and relates the praises of Israel, who keep the Shabbat".
This Midrash relates to Eliyahu as the witness of Israel's righteousness.
The Zohar relates how Eliyahu attained this status.
Even after Eliyahu performed the amazing miracle at Mount Carmel, where fire
descended from heaven and consumed his drenched offering, and all the Jews
were inspired to exclaim, "HaShem is the [only] G-d, HaShem is the [only]
G-d" (I Kings 18), he soon found himself again a lonely, pursued figure, and
fled to the desert. There, he bewailed his fate. He protested his
zealousness for HaShem's honor, and complained that the Jews "have abandoned
Your covenant" (I Kings 19:10).
The response to this moving complaint is very surprising. Instead of
congratulating Eliyahu for his zeal and devotion, HaShem seems to rebuke
him for his lack of confidence in God's people. Eliyahu is assigned to a
remarkable "probation", which is simultaneously punishment and reward: he
will person- ally witness each and every Brit Mila throughout Jewish
history! (Zohar Lekh Lekha I:93a.) The restless wandering needed to fulfill
this mandate is a kind of punishment for Eliyahu's hasty words regarding the
Jewish people, but his reward is to witness personally the most important
thing of all to Eliyahu, that the Jews should indeed be loyal to their
covenant with G-d, is in fact being fulfilled throughout the generations.
(This story is the basis of the custom for having a "chair of Eliyahu" at a
Brit, for the Zohar then explains that we should always be careful to
provide a chair for this distinguished guest.)
Havdala - a symbolic reenactment of Eliyahu's ascent to heaven
Perhaps we can discern a hint of a third connection between havdala and
Eliyahu: the havdala ceremony itself can be seen as a symbolic re-enactment
of Eliyahu's ascent to heaven.
Eliyahu had a rare prophetic spirit. He was able to inspire masses of Jews
more than any other prophet since Moshe. We could well liken him to the "neshama
yeteira", the "extra soul", of the Jewish people. Through Eliyahu, the
people experienced a unique spiritual elevation.
However, the time came for Eliyahu's mission to end. He was ordered to
appoint a successor, Elisha, and leave this world. This is like the end of
Shabbat, and the departure of the extra soul.
Elisha was not willing to let Eliyahu disappear so abruptly. He requested
that Eliyahu grant him "a double measure of your spirit" (II Kings 2:9).
Although Eliyahu himself would be gone, the Jewish people would be consoled
by the prophetic spirit of Elisha. This reminds us of the spices, which
"restore the soul" in consolation for the lost extra soul which dwelt within
us on Shabbat (Bach OC 297 based on Tosafot Beitza 33).
Finally, Eliyahu ascended skyward in a fiery chariot with horses of fire.
This is symbolized by the fires of the havdala candle, with its multiple
We close havdala with recognition of the fine distinctions between the holy
and the profane. This too reminds us of Eliyahu, because our Sages have a
tradition that in the future Eliyahu will come to resolve all of our doubts,
particularly unresolved uncertainties in the halakha which is the ultimate
arbiter of holy and profane (Shabbat 108a and elsewhere).
“Meaning in Mitzvot” is
undergoing intensive editing, and BE"H and the help of loyal supporters, we
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Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology - Machon Lev;
and Aish HaTorah. You can see the Jewish Ethicist, and submit your own Qs —
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