Friday, April 24, 2009

The Erev Shabbos Jew

During the course of a lengthy thread on an e-mail list to which I belong - someone quoted from Rav Soloveithik’s Al HaTeshuva located here. It is a lament about the loss of what he calls the ‘Erev Shabbos Jew’. Here is the quote:

"Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the 'sanctity of Shabbat.' True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat... But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten 'erev Shabbat' (eve of the Sabbath). There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no 'erev Shabbat' Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths - but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!" (On Repentance, pp. 97-98)

That got me to reflect on whether I am guilty of this lack. I can understand why Rav Soloveitchik felt that way.

The vast majority of us are busy with our lives doing the things we need to do to survive and make better lives for our families. That means earning a living which - in this society - often entails working until the very last minute before Shabbos for many of us.

Women who do not work may feel it a little more of that 'Erev Shabbos' feeling since they mostly do the cooking and cleaning and are otherwise preparing the Shabbos home. But even they are busy taking care of their families. And the fact is that a great many women do work in the very same workplace as men.

But as one gets older and more mature one can truly appreciate the spiritual elevation that Shabbos brings. The more one experiences that, the more one becomes an 'Erev Shabbos Jew'. I truly do appreciate this wonderful day. I look forward to it every week and am a bit saddened as it ends.

Shabbos is a day of rest not only from the physical Melachos, it is a rest from the mental Melachos - of worrying about the details of one's daily life. When Shabbos comes we automatically switch from living in a ‘rat race’ where we worry about the necessities of life and focus on the spiritual elevation that God granted us in the from of Shabbos.

In an instant - gone are all the daily distractions of the week. No TV; No car; No computer - nothing electronic. Just enjoyment of the day in all its fullness. We focus on the family and on God. It is Shabbos that enables that. Everything we do on this day takes on an elevated aura, from the showering secifically for the day and dressing in our Shabbos clothing - to the Kiddush; to the Nitilas Yadayim; to the multi-course meal on fine tablecloths and china; to the Zemiros; to the bentching.

In my house - lights are on all over the house which makes this day a much physically brighter one than the other days of the week. We eat as a family and sometimes with invited guests together all at the same time with no one in a hurry because they have to be somewhere. There is relaxed conversation and often Divrei Torah and the mood is uplifting. After the meal many of us pick up Seforim to learn - whether on the Parsha or Halacha - things we do not find enough time for during a busy week. Thoughts of Parnassa are practically off the radar screen (under normal conditions).

Even a Shabbos nap is holy and a gift of Shabbos. I cannot take a nap during the week no matter how tired I am. But on Shabbos afternoon after reading or learning awhile - I will saunter into the bedroom for a hour or two nap.

The Shabbos Minyanim are more relaxed and we see friends and interact in ways not possible during the week. Not during Davening or Kriyas HaTorah of course - but during Kiddush. (another exclusivity of Shabbos)

Bearing all that in mind my Erev Shabbos takes on a totally different aura then any other day of the week. My entire focus is on Shabbos. It is always in the back of my mind as I anticipate its coming warmth and glow. I was also very fortunate in having my own business that I ran out of my house. I always made it one of my goals never to work a full day on Friday. Often I could avoid working on that day at all. I helped in the cleaning and shopping on that day and even made the Cholent. I still do all of those things. Even when I write my blog on Friday - Shabbos is never that far from my mind.

So although I understand the Rav's lament, I disagree that it's entirely gone. At least not for me. I may not be on the level that the Rav lament’s is gone, but I think – at least I hope - that I approach it at some level.

Good Shabbos.