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Preparing for Shabbat Can Be Sublime

20 143 9

This Shabbat is known as the Sabbath of Song (Shabbat Shira). The name is derived from the report in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach[i], describing how Moses and the Jewish people broke out in song[ii] and Miriam led the women in dance[iii], in celebration of the extraordinary miracle of the parting of the Red Sea[iv] that saved them.

It was a glorious moment and, yet, it did not last. Unfortunately, the exhilaration and joy was short-lived, as the people confronted the more prosaic aspects of life, such as securing potable water and food in the wilderness. To meet their needs, G-d performed more miracles, including providing manna from heaven[v] and Miriam’s well[vi]. Amazingly, though, enjoying the good life in this miraculous setting, did not assure happiness. People continued to complain[vii] and err, including in the Sin of the Golden Calf[viii]. Moreover, the wilderness life-style was not a sustainable model. Ultimately the people would come to live in the Promised Land of Israel and have to cope with the rigors of ordinary life, without the benefit of extraordinary miracles. Something more was needed and it is suggested the curative solution lies in a verse[ix] appearing in the next section of the Biblical text, when the people complain about a lack of water in the incident of the Bitter Waters[x]. It states that it was there that G-d appointed to them certain Commandments, including observing Shabbat[xi].

Observance of Shabbat was also an intrinsic part of the instructions of how to collect the Manna. Thus, the Jewish people were adjured to prepare for Shabbat, by collecting two portions of Manna on Friday, and enjoined not to go out on Shabbat to gather the Manna[xii]. There were some missteps, as some violated this precept, by going out to collect the Manna on Shabbat, but they were disappointed to find none and were remonstrated by Moses for their malfeasance[xiii]. However, eventually, the people[xiv] appear to have gotten into the proper habit and refrained from doing so[xv].

As the Manna rules depict, the concept of Shabbat was not just about resting on Shabbat it was also about preparing for Shabbat. It is interesting to note that that the Midrash[xvi] reports, when Moses was a young prince in Egypt, he secured the right for the Jewish slaves to have a day of rest on Shabbat. But, it appears the proper observance of Shabbat did not take hold until later, as noted above. It is suggested that this is because the passive act of just resting on Shabbat is insufficient to alter old habits in a meaningful way. It takes doing something active, tangible and satisfying to excite the brain’s chemistry to create new neural pathways, which alter habitual behavior[xvii]. The feeling of accomplishment in doing something good and meaningful is transformative. Rewarding and reinforcing it with joyful experiences, in the real spirit of Shabbat, makes it even more habit forming. As Avot[xviii] so pithily states, L’Pum Tzara Agra (according to the effort is the reward). Maimonides also notes[xix] that doing it all with joy not only enhances the experience, it amplifies the reward.

The Sfas Emes[xx] analyzes the nature of the process of preparation for the performance of a Mitzva[xxi] in contrast to the moment of doing of a Mitzva[xxii]. He notes the effort of preparing for the performance of........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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