Sep 14, 2017

Togetherness

by Chief 1

Shabbat is a day that offers the time and space to nurture all of the important relationships in our lives. It is a day of togetherness and bonding, as well as a day to connect with G-d. This touches on one the central themes of the Torah. According to Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe one of the great Rabbinic thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century, the entire Torah ultimately promotes a single overarching principle: olam hayedidut – the world of loving friendship.

According to Rabbi Wolbe (Sefer Olam Hayedidus), this “world of loving friendship” covers every aspect of Jewish life, including our relationships with G-d, with other people and with ourselves. Although the Torah is full of G-d’s commandments for how we are meant to behave, G-d does not deliver them like a dictator to submissive and fearful subjects. Rather, He is like a loving parent who offers guidance out of love. Just as we do things for those we love − a husband for a wife and a wife for a husband, parents for children and children for parents − so too, says Rav Wolbe, we keep the mitzvot out of love for G-d.   

Shabbat, in particular, is a day of loving friendship. One of the zemirot, songs, sung on Shabbat begins,How beloved a friend is Your rest.” Shabbat is a day to step out of the pressures of the week and reconnect with ourselves, with family and with G-d. On most days we are so busy working and achieving that we have little chance to focus on those we love.

On most days we are so busy working and achieving that we have little chance to focus on those we love."

Shabbat is a day to step out of the pressures of the week and reconnect with ourselves, with family and with G-d. We take a break from the rough and tumble of life with the people who are most important to us. Families have the opportunity on Shabbat to spend real quality and quantity time together without the distractions and pressures of work.

On Shabbat we take a break from the rough and tumble of life with the people who are most important to us. Families have the opportunity on Shabbat to spend real quality and quantity time together without the distractions and pressures of work.

It is also a day for reconnecting with G-d. Many already establish this connection in daily prayers. The three services of Shacharit, Minchah and Ma’ariv are designed to fortify this bond throughout every day. Just as a husband and wife speak with each other in the middle of a busy day, so too do we connect with G-d when we pray. Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi (Sefer HaKuzari), an eleventh-century scholar and poet, compares prayer to a meal. Just as we eat breakfast, lunch and supper when we are hungry, so too do we regularly reconnect with G-d for spiritual sustenance. Prayer, however, is only a small part of a typical day. On Shabbat, however, we have a whole day to re-establish all of our most essential relationships, which might otherwise get neglected amid the demands of the week.

We have discussed our relationship with G-d and our relationship with others. But there is another part of yedidut, this world of loving friendship, and that our relationship with ourselves. A central commandment of the Torah is that we are not meant to worship idols or false gods: “There shall not be a strange god among you” (XX:XX). The Talmud interprets this verse to also mean that when we give in to our yetzer hara – our evil inclination - and lose our temper, it is like worshipping a strange god. As Rav Wolbe explains, when we give in to negative behavior, we are not only lured away from G-d and His mitzvot, but also we become alienated from ourselves. When we are on the wrong path, when we are disconnected from who we are meant to be, we feel alienated; we don’t feel good about ourselves. Our conscience alerts us with feelings of guilt and disconnectedness.  

This is why, concludes Rabbi Wolbe, the word for idolatry in the Talmud is avodah zarah − literally foreign worship − because it causes us to become alienated from ourselves. This sense of alienation is not uncommon today. Many feel their lives are rootless, isolated and fragmented. The bonds of family have come apart and people have drifted from G-d. A lack of connectedness − to G-d, to community, to family and to ourselves – feels pervasive. Many have lost sight of the values of olamhayedidut, the world of loving friendship.

Rabbi Wolbe sees a connection between the words zar (foreign or estranged) and achzar (cruel). We often grow cruel when we become estranged from others. When a person fails to repent for poor behavior, that is a form of cruelty to oneself. The Torah, however, offers a more nourishing world of connectedness. A central ingredient of this world of loving friendship is Shabbat.  

In addition to connecting us with G-d, with our community, with our families and with ourselves, Shabbat holds the whole Jewish people together. Its rhythm unites Jewish communities around the world, creating a warm, loving atmosphere at the center of our lives. We all light the Shabbat candles and say the welcoming prayers. We all read the same parshah of the Torah. The afternoon service describes Shabbat as “a rest of love and generosity.” It is a day that brings people together socially and spiritually, and fortifies the connections that define our very essence.

When G-d created the world, he saved Adam and Eve for last. Some might wonder why, if mankind is so important, G-d only left Adam and Eve for the sixth day. Why were they not created first?

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 37a) gives several answers to this question. One is that G-d created Adam and Eve on the sixth day so that they would begin their lives with the mitzvah of Shabbat. Imagine the very first Shabbat of history, just these two people alone with G-d. This image epitomizes the care that G-d gives every single one of us.

For an illustration of the profound power of G-d’s attention, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter [Elder] of Slabodka, recalls the story recorded by the Talmud of one of the most famous converts in Jewish history, a Roman by the name of Onkelos, who went on to become a renowned Torah scholar. Before he converted, Onkelos had a very high position within the Roman Empire. The Caesar, who was his uncle, was upset about his conversion and so, the Talmud relates, he sent a group of soldiers to bring Onkelos back to Rome. But Onkelos was very charismatic, and after he spoke to these soldiers for a while, they became so impressed that they, too, converted to Judaism. The Caesar then sent another group to fetch his nephew but had them demand that Onkelos stay quiet. Yet as they journeyed back to Rome, Onkelos broke the silence and said, 'Let me tell you something: it’s the way of the world that a lower officer in the army will hold a torch for his superior, who in turn will hold it for his superior, all the way up to the highest rank of the army, who then holds the torch for the king. We would never find a king holding the torch for a private at the bottom of the army ranks. Yet we find that G-d Himself held a torch for His people. This mighty King − the King of all Kings − held a Pillar of Fire and a Pillar of Cloud for the Jewish people, which guided and protected them on their journey through the desert. These pillars symbolized the presence of G-d, Who was looking after His people,' When the Roman officers heard this, they too converted.

Caesar then sent another group of soldiers to bring Onkelos back, and forbid them from talking to him at all. Yet on the way they passed a house with a mezuzah on the doorpost, and Onkelos asked them, “What’s that?” He then proceeded to answer his own question. He told them: “The way of the world is that the king dwells in his palace and his servants guard the palace on the outside. But here it is the reverse: the people are inside their homes and the King, G-d Himself − represented by the mezuzah − is guarding the house.” When the Roman officers heard this, they too converted.

What moved the Roman officers so much that they converted? The Alter of Slabodka explains that they were moved by the way that G-d treats us all like we are precious: He protects us collectively, as He did with the Pillars of Fire and Cloud, and also as individuals, as represented by the mezuzah outside each and every home. G-d regards every household as so important that He dwells right there at the doorway.

We talk about our faith in G-d and how awesome He is, but sometimes we forget about His faith in us and the fact that He gave us this beautiful world. This is what we should contemplate when we think about that very first Shabbat. The whole world was created just for Adam and Eve, just as it is for us. This is why, as our sages teach us, every person must know  “the world was created for me.” Shabbat is a potent reminder of this fact: on Shabbat we feel G-d’s love and faith in us.

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