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Vayakhel - The Spice, Spirit and Aroma of Shabbos

02/21/2014 06:56:06 AM


The conclusion of Shabbos is highlighted by the Havdala service. The three items needed for Havdala are wine, a braided candle, and spices. The rabbis explain the function and reason for each one. The spices, known as 'bsamim', are used as a reviver for the extra soul, the Neshama Yeseira, which departs after Shabbos. It wakes us up, gives us a boost, and perhaps also serves as a reminder of what Shabbos was all about. Thinking along the same lines, I wondered if there was something that gave us an anticipation of Shabbos, providing us with the ability to smell Shabbos coming.

For the women in the household, there's no question. We all smell Shabbos as we walk into the kitchen on Friday. I believe there is even an earlier indication to the boost we receive in preparation of Shabbos, and that is our Thursday night Mishmar and cholent. What is the connection of Thursday night Mishmar to Shabbos and what is the source for even having a Mishmar learning on Thursday night?

I have heard that the concept started in the great Yeshiva of Volozhin, Etz Chaim. Reb Chaim of Volozhin, a student of the Vilna Gaon, wanted to ensure that the voice of Torah always be heard in the Beis Medrash day and night. This entailed having boys study throughout the night, perhaps on a rotation basis. Reb Chaim viewed the responsibility of the Beis Hamedrash to the Beis Hamikdash - the Holy Temple. The Beis Hamikdash had a continuous presence of Kohanim who were ready to work at any time of the day if necessary. The Mishna tells us there were twenty-four Mishmaros throughout the year, consisting of Kohanim families who worked for a week at a time twice a year. The Kohanim essentially 'watched over' the Beis Hamikdash, and this is the definition of the word 'Mishmar'.

Although the vast majority of Yeshivos would find it difficult to arrange all-night learning every night, as they supposedly had in Volozhin, a scaled down version does exist today. It is suggested that Thursday night was selected due to the fact that the learning schedule on Friday was modified because of Shabbos preparations. Since Friday was a shorter day for learning, the Thursday night learning was sometimes extended to continue throughout the night. An additional component to the calculation was that on Shabbos the boys caught up on their sleep. On a philosophical level one could come to appreciate the elevation of learning and its devotion to enhancing the upcoming day of Shabbos. Perhaps the serving of cholent on Thursday nights at Mishmar is the 'tasting' of Shabbos, already in preparation for Shabbos.

What Besamim is to the revival of the Neshama after the departure of Shabbos is what cholent is for awakening of the Neshama Shabbos which is approaching our doorsteps. Cholent represents the concept of rest for Shabbos that we refrain from all activity. It reminds us of "six days shall we work and on the seventh day we shall rest". The cholent reminds us that on Shabbos we don't have to perform any peula/work in order to eat on Shabbos.

In the beginning of this week's Parsha Vayakhel 35:1,2 we read, "Vayakheil Moshe Es Kal Adas Bnei Yisrael Vayomer Aleihem, Eileh Hadevarim Asher Tziva Hashem LaAsos Osam"; "And Moshe gathered the congregation of the children of Israel and said to them 'these are the things that God commanded you to do' six days shall you work and on the seventh day you shall rest". Shabbos, by definition, requires distinction from every area of life and from the rest of the week. It is a day of bonus spirituality and holiness which feels our neshamas and infuses us with purposeful focus throughout the rest of the week. Shabbos is not only the day of rest because we are tired and need to rejuvenate physically from the demands of the work week; it also more importantly recharges our spiritual batteries for the upcoming week.

With this we can understand the Alschich HaKadosh's question from Parshas Bereishis. He asks, "Why does rain fall on Shabbos but the Manna did not?" He answers that there is no action or thought required by a person in order to benefit from the water. In contrast, the Manna required calculations of how many piles of Manna were needed for each household. Did one acquire a slave or maidservant that week that needed an extra portion, or did one release or sell a slave or maidservant and would therefore need less Manna that week? Did anyone in the household give birth, now requiring the need to recalculate the amount of Manna to be collected? In addition to the amounts of Manna necessary to be ordered, one had to think of what it would taste like. A person had to choose from the 'menu' of tastes: fish or meat? Therefore the Alshcich says that the Manna did not fall on Shabbos in order to prevent taking away from ruchniyus/spirituality, turning it into gashmiyus/physicality, even by mere thought alone. The sifrei mussar, books of ethical development, explain that through a person's learning of Torah and observance of Shabbos God will send blessing and success through the handiwork that he does during the week because he doesn't think of business on Shabbos. The success of a person's business is directly related to the absence of talk of business and the appreciation and merit of Shabbos. This is the definition of Shabbos Shabbason. The double usage of Shabbos is six days a week do your work by itself, and with the help of Hashem and the merit of the seventh day it will be a holy Shabbos. Shabbos is for the body or the physical, but Shabbason is for the soul and spirit within the thoughts of Shabbos. Even though the verse says that a person is only subject to death by violating Shabbos, keep in mind that the will of Hashem is to have a Shabbos in a person's thoughts as well.

The smell and taste of a cholent bringing Shabbos in and smelling the besamim at the end of Shabbos reminds us of the spirit of Shabbos which should be created with keen anticipation. Perhaps I may suggest that the word 'mishmar' - to watch and observe - used within the context of Thursday night learning, is an important way to prepare for Shabbos Kodesh!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky
Sun, September 25 2022 29 Elul 5782