I hope this note finds you well during this special and auspicious time.
Many years ago, I led a group trip to Israel with members of our shul. After a beautiful Shabbos in a community in central Israel, we had some time between havdala and our midnight flight back to America so we grabbed the opportunity to visit the kosel one more time. And just as we were arriving in Jerusalem, I succeeded in adding an additional treat to our itinerary, a brief visit with the Rav of the Old City, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl.
While this was all a bit rushed without time for lengthy introductions and explanations, we did get it all in. On the way back to the airport, one of the members of the group told me the following: “Rabbi Hauer, to tell you the truth, when we walked into the rabbi’s apartment, I had no where we were and why. I was tired from the whole week, excited by all we had experienced, and somewhat confused by this last rush of activity. But when we passed by the Rav standing in the kitchen and greeting us with his deep smile and I saw his glowing face, I understood immediately that we were with someone great and holy.”
Hadur na’eh ziv haolam nafshi cholat ahavatecha.
Glorious, beautiful, radiance of the world, my soul is sick with love for You.
These beautiful words are traditionally sung by many at the beginning or the end of Shabbos as part of the sixteenth century song of Yedid Nefesh. They effectively frame the Shabbos experience as much more than a day of rest, but as a day of meaningful connection and as the fulfillment of a profound longing for G-d, to Whom we refer as ziv haolam, the radiance of the world, a term that has particular resonance this Shabbos.
The song of Haazinu is divided into six subsections which were sung to accompany the Mussaf offering each Shabbos (TB Rosh Hashana 31a). Those six subsections are identified by the acronym Haziv Lach, “the radiance is yours.” But whose radiance is it? Is it – as the author of yedid nefesh appears to imply – G-d’s radiance, or is it man’s? The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 11a) speaks of human radiance, describing our forefathers as zivsanei olam, the radiant ones of the world, while Maharsha sees Haziv Lach as a reference to the light that emanated from the face of Moshe, the scribe of Haazinu. My friend was perceptive enough to see this glow on the face of Rav Nebenzahl.
Considering the relationship of this song to Shabbos brings up a magnificent image drawn by the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 11:2), which explains vayevarech vayekadesh, the blessing and the sanctity with which G-d endowed the Shabbos, as a reference to the Shabbos-inspired glow of the human face. “The radiance of a person’s face during the weekdays is incomparable to its radiance on Shabbos.” This reference to human radiance is not a romantic abstraction but a halachic reality. Typically, during the week following a wedding we limit the full recitation of Sheva Brachos to celebrations that are graced by panim chadashos, literally “new faces”, participants who had not yet been part of the week’s events. On Shabbos this requirement is waived, as panim chadashos ba’u l’kan, even those who had previously participated during the week appear on Shabbos as “new faces” (see Tosfos Kesubos 7b).
That human glow, however, is not entirely human as it derives from G-d, from the divine soul within us. As Ramchal wrote (Daas Tevunos 86), the radiance of a person’s face derives from the connection between the soul and the body. The face is the window into that connection, the panim (surface) that reflects the pnim (inside). When the divine soul is empowered as it is by the neshama yeseira, the extra measure of soulfulness that Shabbos inspires in us on Shabbos, it is written all over our faces. While during the week our souls are mired in the sterility of the natural world, on Shabbos the soul emerges as we pause to see G-d in that world. Our radiance is therefore a reflection of our level of integration and reflection of G-d’s radiance. Haziv Lach – the radiance is both G-d’s and man’s. It is G-d’s and it is seen in man to the extent that G-d’s presence is seen in that man.
This idea lies at the core of the message of Haazinu. Absorbing the song of Haazinu makes it impossible to experience the world on its surface using the terms of natural and political cause and effect. This powerful song is addressed to the body of the physical world, the heavens and the earth, and demonstrates that they have no life of their own, that they are defined and driven by the soul of that world, by the G-d of history. Haazinu is the song of Shabbos, the song of going beyond the surface, of uncovering and strengthening the spirit until it becomes visible. “The radiance of a person’s face during the weekdays is incomparable to its radiance on Shabbos.” The presence of G-d in our minds and our world during the weekdays is incomparable to its presence on Shabbos.
On this Shabbos Shuva, we can all aim to experience that, to experience Shabbos as it was meant to be experienced, to see G-d differently and to be visibly different ourselves as a result, carrying forward that difference within us as we proceed to Yom Kippur:
How truly glorious was the Kohein Gadol as he left the Holy of Holies, peacefully, unharmed.
As the canopy of the heavens stretched out on high, was the appearance of the Kohein Gadol (mareh kohein).
As the bright star shining in the east, was the appearance of the Kohein Gadol (mareh kohein).
As the sight of the rising sun on the earth, was the appearance of the Kohein Gadol (mareh kohein).
Have a wonderful and uplifting Shabbos and a Gmar Chasima Tova.