How to Take Shabbos into the Week
It is not my intent to address the issue of Orthodox teens at risk, yet if this article can aid their parents or mentors, so much the better. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was wont to say that America has many Sabbath-observant Jews, but no erev-Sabbath-observant Jews.
Shabbos is more than one day long, and more than Shabbos-plus-erev Shabbos too. After Sarah died, Isaac brought Rebeccah into the tent of his mother and he married Rebeccah, and thus was consoled. Rashi observes that when Sarah was living, her Shabbos candles burned from one erev Shabbos to the next, but when she died, the light died with her. When Isaac brought Rebeccah into the tent, the light returned.
Is this a mere metaphor?
I think not. Shabbos may be seen as a one-day-a-week respite—and a glorious one at that—or Shabbos may be seen as the day that both colors the rest of the week and constitutes the week’s yearning and anticipation. If the latter, then we become not merely Sabbath observant, but erev Sabbath observant. We begin to touch, if only a bit, the stature of Sarah and Rebeccah.
To be sure, to be erev Sabbath observant also means something concrete. It means that one will not save Sabbath preparations for the last minute and fall prey to the outbursts of anger, frustration or tension that punctuate many homes in the hours or minutes before candle lighting.
It means, for example, that one will set the Shabbos table on Thursday night, or will take off work on Friday afternoon an hour earlier than is strictly necessary, or will go shopping for nonperishable Shabbos foods on Sunday, almost as soon as Shabbos is over. I shall return to some of these practical ways in which Shabbos can be made to descend on erev Shabbos, but to be erev Sabbath observant means more—it is an entire change in mindset.
It means feeling the week divided in half, such that with the recitation of the first two verses of Lechu Neranenah after the completion of the Psalm of the Day on Wednesday morning, one feels that the week has turned; it is now moving toward Shabbos.
It means internalizing that Shabbos is not just an escape from, but a flight to; not just an end to the difficulties of the week, but a window to the Divine.
Over the years, I have revamped my approach to Shabbos. This began eleven years ago when I read that Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler’s father arose at 2 AM each Shabbos morning and studied Torah with his son for seven hours straight. At 9 AM, Rebbetzin Dessler would bring them light refreshments, whereupon they went off to daven. For them, Shabbos was an opportunity to soar into spiritual realms.
Inspired by the Desslers, I have not slept through the night on a single Shabbos since. I am not capable of studying Torah for seven hours straight beginning at 2 AM, but I now arise in the middle of the night to study Torah for a few hours. The Shechinah is palpable; the insight is acute. My Torah study the rest of the week fills in the interstices between the building blocks I acquire in the middle of the night on Shabbos. Not to mention, whatever else occurs the rest of Shabbos by way of hosting or being hosted, I am guaranteed that no Shabbos passes without serious Torah study.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was wont to say that America has many Sabbath-observant Jews, but no erev-Sabbath-observant Jews.
Even that is the least of it. If Shabbos is so powerful, it should permeate the week. Upon returning from shul on Saturday night, the first thing that my wife and I now do is prepare the Shabbos candles for next week. All week long, while they are not lit, as they were in Sarah and Rebeccah’s tent, they stand there, beckoning.
On Wednesday morning, the week turns. As Thursday rolls around, the anticipation of Shabbos builds, and we finish as many Shabbos preparations as possible. Erev Shabbos is no longer the proverbial madhouse, but this is hardly the main reason to have much of the cooking done and the table set by Thursday night. Simply put, we want to pull Shabbos into the week as much as possible.
I have adopted another strategy to enhance both erev Shabbos and Shabbos. If I have any contentious or aggravating matter to deal with, from a major problem at work to an annoyance with a repairman, I simply put it off until after Shabbos (unless it truly requires immediate attention). When I move into Shabbos, I want to be able to say “Shabbat shalom” fully feeling the shalom.
I am not suggesting that others do the same; maybe some of what I do will work for others, maybe not. The larger point is that everyone can exercise a bit of spiritual creativity to find ways to realize Shabbos more fully. As with all mitzvos, one can grow, over time, in the mitzvah of Shabbos. One’s Shabbos at age eighteen should not be the same as one’s Shabbos years or decades later.
With much done in advance, I find myself able to go to shul on Friday evening early. I remember Rabbi Soloveitchik saying in one of his Saturday night lectures at Maimonides School in Boston more than forty years ago, words to this effect:
“A person works on Friday until the last moment. He speeds home, arriving fifteen minutes before candle lighting time, then jumps into the shower, then back into the car, then speeds to shul just in time for the beginning of Minchah. This is not Shabbos. Holiness requires preparation.”
Just as we are commanded to put Shabbos at the center of our lives, we are also commanded to work for six days. This is both a religious and a logical prerequisite for experiencing Shabbos as it is meant to be. Unemployment, laziness or a lack of satisfaction at work is not the preferred way to come into Shabbos.
Even so, something more than six days of work are available in advance of Shabbos. This emerges from a Talmudic debate between Shammai and Hillel (Beitzah 16a).
If Shammai the Elder came across a delicacy early in the week, he would set it aside for Shabbos. If, later in the week, he would come across an even nicer delicacy, he would set it aside and eat the first item. Thus, he considered his weekday meals to be in honor of Shabbos. Hillel the Elder would eat whatever came into his hands, confident that he would find a fitting delicacy for Shabbos at the end of the week.
Shammai was thinking of Shabbos all week long, while Hillel was “laid back.” Ostensibly, Shammai and Hillel differed. Not really, I would argue. Both Shammai and Hillel lived without modern techniques of farming or food distribution, without grocery stores brimming with every imaginable delicacy, spice, treat and dessert, and without liquor stores. It was necessary to set aside a delicacy for Shabbos as soon as possible (per Shammai), or it was advisable to trust in Hashem that He would provide it just before Shabbos (per Hillel).
Neither condition applies today. Any imaginable treat for Shabbos is available any time, virtually anywhere in the Western world, at a price affordable to practically everyone. We cannot say with certainty how Shammai or Hillel would respond to our conditions of plenty. We can say that these conditions complicate the effort to make Shabbos special, and also enable us to see the common ground between Shammai and Hillel. Both were saying: Focus on Shabbos. Whether one needs to exploit the earliest opportunity to make certain that Shabbos will be special, or whether one can trustingly wait until the end of the week—either way, focus on Shabbos. It should color one’s thoughts all week long.
The more the mental anticipation and actual preparations for Shabbos, the more one will taste Shabbos.
The more one will treasure it, will center one’s life around it.
The more one will be at ease on Shabbos.
The less tempted one will be to speak about weekday matters on Shabbos.
The less likely one will find Shabbos stale (the teen-at-risk’s complaint).
The easier it will be to turn off the week completely.
The more grateful for Shabbos one will become.
The closer to the Shechinah one will become.
The holier one will become.
And the holiness can be extended. The melaveh malkah, the (not-necessarily-large) meal after Shabbos on Saturday evening, eaten by the light of two candles, breaks what would otherwise be a black-and-white, abrupt departure of the Shabbos Shechinah with Havdalah.
Candles not only at the onset but at the closure of Shabbos, fine food not only on but after Shabbos, constitute a mediated experience of Shabbos, extending into the week.
Shabbos is more than one day a week. It is a circle. One can extend a bit of Shabbos into the week via the melaveh malkah, and then one can taste a bit of the coming Shabbos by focusing on it and preparing for it during the week.
And so, may I wish you a good Shabbos . . . and, a gut vach, a good week. They can go together.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, PhD, executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, is a contributing editor of Jewish Action.