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Opinion & Comment
Preparing for Shabbos

by HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira

To attain the spiritual advantages of Shabbos, to realize and feel its sublime qualities, one must prepare in advance. It is impossible to jump right into Shabbos and hope to benefit from it fully without groundwork.

Actually, before a person gains any additional level in his avodas Hashem he must exert himself beforehand. The Shulchan Oruch writes that when a person is engaged in tefillah, his madreigah should be near ruach hakodesh. Doubtless, to reach such a sublime level a person must prepare himself. The mishnah in Brochos writes that once chassidim prepared themselves for a whole hour before the tefillah in an effort to humble themselves before Hashem. [Parenthetically, if during the tefillah it is necessary to be near the madreigah of ruach hakodesh, we understand how far we are from real tefillah.]

The same is true of Shabbos. To attain the segulos of Shabbos one must lay its foundations on erev Shabbos. To feel the neshomoh yeseiroh and the additional kedushah of Shabbos we must act as we do before Yom Kippur. Everyone feels the kedushah of Yom Kippur strongly because before this sacred day we prepare well. Just as there cannot be a Yom Kippur without an Aseres Yemei Teshuvoh and erev Yom Kippur, so we cannot have a Shabbos without an erev Shabbos. The level of Shabbos is so lofty that Chazal decreed that is has a special erev Shabbos, just as there is an erev Yom Kippur.

The Ramban (in his commentary on the Torah), when he discusses the Aseres Hadibros, writes that the mitzvah of, "You shall remember the day of Shabbos to sanctify it" has two parts: one is a mitzvah to remember Shabbos and the second is to sanctify it. The mitzvah of remembering Shabbos is fulfilled the whole week long, during which time we must remember that we are headed towards Shabbos (e.g., we say in our tefillos: "Today is the first day of Shabbos, the second day, etc.") A person must have in mind that Shabbos will come soon.

Shabbos should be given preparation similar to Yom Kippur. Everyone readies himself for Yom Kippur, either through tefillah or studying Torah, each person according to the preparations he deems necessary. He studies the vidui and thinks of how to fulfill the other mitzvos of the day so he can later do proper teshuvoh on Yom Kippur.

Likewise, each day a person must remember Shabbos, to study the halochos of Shabbos, to prepare for oneg Shabbos and the menuchah of Shabbos.

The second mitzvah, to sanctify Shabbos, is that a person should be aware that Shabbos is kodosh. We must tangibly feel the arrival of Shabbos. With such a laudable erev Shabbos surely one will enter Shabbos and feel the neshomoh yeseiroh (as the Chayei Odom writes in Hilchos Shabbos, that from the moment he toveiled in the mikveh on erev Shabbos he would sense the neshomoh yeseiroh) and the fear of Hashem that one receives through Shabbos.

Studying Torah on Erev Shabbos

Let us examine the value of studying Torah on erev Shabbos. "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of Hashem" (Tehillim 122:1).

Chazal write that people would pass the window of Dovid Hamelech and ask: "When will this old man die, so Shlomoh can build the Beis Hamikdosh and we can make aliyah leregel?" (Dovid Hamelech was not zocheh to build the Beis Hamikdosh because the Beis Hamikdosh is called menuchah, as the Targum Yonoson writes on the posuk "He saw that rest was good" (Bereishis 49:15). Since Dovid Hamelech waged many battles, he was not a person of menuchah. His son Shlomoh, however, was a person of menuchah and [they knew that he] could build the Beis Hamikdosh.)

Am Yisroel longs for the realization of the Divine promise of, "Let them make Me a Mikdash that I may dwell among them" (Shemos 25:8), which means that the Shechinoh will dwell among us and that we will make the aliya leregel to draw ruach hakodesh from the Beis Hamikdosh.

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah Eichah 5:21) write: "`The offering of Yehudah and Yerushalayim will then be pleasant to Hashem, as in the days of old and in former years' (Malachi 3:4). `And in former years' are the years of Shlomoh." The entire Jewish Nation aspires to worship Hashem as in the time of Shlomoh, for the Beis Hamikdosh to be rebuilt and the Shechinoh to descend from Shomayim. This is the cherished aim of Am Yisroel. This is why people asked when Dovid Hamelech would die so that Shlomoh could build the Beis Hamikdosh.

When Dovid heard people talking like this, the Midrash (Tehillim 122) writes, he remarked: "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of Hashem, when our feet stood within your gates, Yerushalayim" (Tehillim 122:1). They are right, he said, in claiming that I am the cause of the Beis Hamikdosh's not being built. Shlomoh Hamelech cannot reign as long as Dovid lives, since as long as Dovid lives the time for Shlomoh to be king has not yet arrived and he is forced to wait. HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to [Dovid]: ". . . `Better for Me one day in your courts than a thousand [elsewhere]' (Tehillim 84:11). Your being engaged in Torah is preferable to the thousand olos your son Shlomoh will sacrifice before Me on the mizbeiach." Torah is more important even than the resting of the Shechinoh on Yisroel.

What particular day is being referred to in "better for Me one day"? Certainly this implies a certain day. The Maharsha explains that this day is erev Shabbos, since HaKodosh Boruch Hu told Dovid that he would die on Shabbos. After he heard that he will not live until Sunday, since the time of Shlomoh to be king had arrived, Dovid requested his petiroh to be earlier and be on erev Shabbos. But then, if Dovid were to die on erev Shabbos there would be bitul Torah on that day, and about the Torah study of that erev Shabbos Hashem told him, "Better for Me one day in your courts than a thousand."

All of am Yisroel was waiting for the dwelling of the Shechinoh in the Beis Hamikdosh, which was dependent upon the petiroh of Dovid Hamelech. If Dovid were to die one day earlier, immediately on that day am Yisroel would be able to start building the Beis Hamikdosh. All of the Jewish Nation was waiting for the dwelling of the Shechinoh upon them. It was, however, impossible for Dovid to die one day earlier, because his studying Torah for one day was more important to HaKodosh Boruch Hu than the dwelling of the Shechinoh on am Yisroel, than a thousand olos and ruach hakodesh.

This is the importance of the erev Shabbos Torah study of Dovid Hamelech. HaKodosh Boruch Hu did not want to forfeit the Torah study of even one erev Shabbos to build the Beis Hamikdosh!

The Value of an Individual's Torah Study

Another point that should be emphasized is that when HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Dovid that He preferred his Torah study to the korbonos, we are not referring to the Torah study of a yeshiva with hundreds of talmidim, such as the yeshiva of Rav Huna. We are talking about the Torah study of one person. Even this study is more worthy to HaKodosh Boruch Hu than thousands of sacrifices.

Many people hold the incorrect idea that if someone has decided to devote himself to Torah study he should, at least, be involved in teaching Torah to the masses, being a marbitz Torah. He should become a famed rosh yeshiva or an eminent poseik. What is the worth of sitting in a kollel a whole life long and living off the public purse, they think? Many people have this posul outlook.

This hashkofoh is not far from apikorsus and kefirah. For HaKodosh Boruch Hu it is "better for Me one day in your courts than a thousand [days elsewhere]." Hashem wants the Torah of a person who is engaged in it even if he is not an important marbitz Torah. Surely the Torah study of an individual cannot be compared to one who teaches others, but it is still preferable to Hashem than thousands of korbonos. If a person lives in some remote corner of the world in abject poverty and studies Torah, that Torah is more precious to Hashem than the dwelling of the Shechinoh upon am Yisroel. It is impossible to evaluate the worth of kollel students who study Torah without holding any positions or public appointments.

This is how the mitzvah of Shabbos looks as it is given in our Torah. It is a Shabbos with all its segulos, Torah study with menuchah of the nefesh, and studying Torah on erev Shabbos.

Now let us take a look how Shabbos is actually observed by us. Do we have something at all like what we described above? It seems we have, choliloh, turned Shabbos into the opposite of what it should be. We have no day that is more of a leisure day than the Shabbos: a day of eating and drinking, a day of taking walks, a day of sleeping, and for many a day of eating candy, cake, and reading newspapers and magazines.

What has happened is terrible! Not only Shabbos itself has become a day of leisure, erev Shabbos too has become a day of leisure. We have "fulfilled" the Shabbos so well, in the sense of its being a day of free time, that this has transformed even erev Shabbos into a day of "erev" leisure. We prepare beforehand all the different ways of entertaining ourselves. The "mehadrin" do not only buy a regular newspaper; they buy all the different sorts of newspapers available so they can read them all on Shabbos.

These two holy days become just the opposite of what they are intended to be. A third of a person's life is wasted. From a day of tremendous kedushah, on which even one profane word should not be spoken, and on which Chazal permitted greeting someone with sholom only with difficulty, has come a day of entertainment. We cannot find any other time to take walks and visit relatives and friends except on the holy day of Shabbos!

We must strengthen ourselves and make Shabbos again look as it should--"To welcome Shabbos, come let us go, since it is the source of blessing." We must concentrate on studying the Oral Torah on erev Shabbos and on Shabbos itself. Of course, we must review the Torah portion of the week shnayim mikro ve'echod Targum on Shabbos, but we can find enough time to do this on erev Shabbos in the afternoon if we utilize our time well. We should surely not devote the whole of Shabbos to this.

Shabbos should be the most intense day of Torah study that can be. Naturally there is a mitzvah of honoring Shabbos, oneg Shabbos, and also sleeping a little, but nonetheless, Shabbos is a segulah for Torah study. The Zohar writes that HaKodosh Boruch Hu especially asks the neshomoh yeseiroh on motzei Shabbos what chidush it made on Shabbos. Men darf mechadesh zein chidushei Torah! (We must innovate chidushei Torah on Shabbos.) We must study Torah be'iyun on Shabbos.

We do not need to devote much time on erev Shabbos to preparing for Shabbos. It is enough to rest a little to gather enough strength for Shabbos. We must remember not to attend to our affairs on erev Shabbos. It is well- known that Maran the Alter of Kelm zt'l used to say that if a person has something to take care of, he should do it on any other day in the week -- but not on erev Shabbos, which is a day of preparation for Shabbos.

Idle Talk

It is impossible not to discuss the grave sin of talking idle talk on Shabbos. Unfortunately this has become a part of our Shabbos. The Vilna Gaon, in his famous letter to his family, writes that for speaking properly and refraining from idle talk one can receive the greatest reward, and for speaking improperly and speaking idle talk one is severely punished. "The moshlim (they who speak in similes--according to the pshat) say, `Come to Cheshbon, let the ir (city) of Sichon be built and established.' For there is a fire gone out of Cheshbon, a flame from the kiryah of Sichon" (Bamidbar 21:27-28).

The gemora (Bovo Basra 78b) writes that moshlim means those who control their yetzer. "Come to Cheshbon" means to make a cheshbon, a reckoning, of our life. Only when a person makes a reckoning of his life and sees how profitable it is to do mitzvos and how damaging it is to commit aveiros can he build his life properly in Olam Hazeh. "Ir Sichon--if a person forces himself to be like an ayir (a wild donkey) that follows an attractive she-ass, the result will be that a flame will consume him." To lead an older donkey you need to hit it with a whip or a stick, but to lead a young one it is enough if it hears some sort of noise or laughter and it will start walking.

The same happens with people. Some people are attracted by every conversation, and they are punished by a fire going out of Cheshbon.

"A flame from the kiryah of Sichon"--from the talmidei chachomim who are always speaking in divrei Torah. Their fire and flame consumes this ayir who follows pretty talk.

The way to avoid engaging in idle talk is to speak only in Torah. The Targum Yonoson writes that against the ir Sichon that talks idly is the kiryah of Sichon where people always speak divrei Torah.

"How long, you pesi (fool), will you love being simple? and how long, leitzim (scoffers), will you delight in scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?" (Mishlei 1:22). The Vilna Gaon explains that someone who is attracted to the desires of Olam Hazeh is called a pesi since after all desires are a reality, although not a true reality, only an imaginary reality. He is a pesi who is mispateh, lured, to follow an imaginary reality.

The leitzim delight in scoffing, although this has no reality at all. A person does not benefit from it and the leitzim engage in it because they delight in doing so, they have a ta'avoh to do it. The Gaon explains that for this sin of leitzonus the posuk (v.23) tells us the remedy: "I will pour out My spirit to you, I will make known to you My words."

The entire desire to speak devorim beteilim stems from a spirit of tumah left from a previous time when he spoke idle talk. "One aveiroh drags another" (Ovos 4:2). With all aveiros the spirit of tumah of the aveiroh pushes a person to commit another. Later the spirit, which is the feeling of desire for the sin, becomes stronger. Concerning devorim beteilim the spirit of tumah is even stronger. Just as studying Torah is the greatest mitzvah, so is speaking devorim beteilim the greatest sin, and therefore the spirit of tumah enwrapping that person is stronger.

This is an explanation of why there is such a desire to speak leitzonus. The remedy is, as we have indicated, "I will pour out My spirit to you, I will make known to you My words." We must engage in divrei Torah and then the spirit of that great mitzvah, which is a true pleasure and not an imaginary one, will weaken the spirit of idle talk.

Talking devorim beteilim on Shabbos and erev Shabbos is causing a churban in the yeshivos. Yeshiva students have devorim beteilim in their head, and they discuss the news and other needless topics at length. Some boys even hear the radio. If one had any sense he would never turn on the radio even when he feels that hearing the news is of the utmost urgency. The truth is that the news is only nonsense. What does it matter to a yeshiva student who will win the elections, who will gain more votes than the other? Neither of them will bring the yeshu'oh to Am Yisroel, and both are estranged from the way of the Torah. This is altogether irrelevant to us.

We should not get excited about what these reshoim do. HaRav Michel Feinstein once told me that when he traveled with Maran the Brisker Rov zt'l from Vilna to Eretz Yisroel through Russia they happened to be in Moscow on May 1, the holiday of the Russians. The government showed off its weapons and armor in the Red Square. HaRav Feinstein later told the Brisker Rav what he had seen there. The Rov sighed: "Dovid Hamelech writes about these reshoim, `Do I not hate, Hashem, those who hate You? and do I not strive with those who rise up against you? I hate them with the utmost hatred' (Tehillim 139:21). They are our enemies! All of our natural capacity for hatred should be used to hate those who hate Hashem. A person must tangibly feel that they are his enemies, that they are his personal enemies, and he must truly hate them. Someone who feels they are his enemies will not be excited by what they do and will not enjoy what they do."

How can a yeshiva student turn on a radio in which people are speaking kefirah and obscenity and whatnot? This poison must be diluted with some news too, but there is an abundance of to'eivah. How can a person have such a tomei gadget in his home?

This is all a result of the "aveiroh that drags another aveiroh in its wake." The strong ruach of tumah created by devorim beteilim on erev Shabbos and Shabbos pulls so strongly that instead of kedushah a deluge of tumah comes. Bnei Torah lose their refined feeling that they must distance themselves from this tomei instrument.

This is our avodoh: to renew the way Shabbos should be observed, that it should have its proper kedushah, tohoroh, and Torah study. "To welcome Shabbos, come let us go, since it is the source of blessing."

HaRav Moshe Shmuel Shapira is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beer Yaakov and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah in Eretz Yisroel. Readers are asked to daven for R' Moshe Shmuel ben Mina Golda.


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