What Shabbos is For
Rabbi Estreicher presented Shabbos as the key to experiencing life with joy, of rejoicing in one’s portion. He noted how rare it is to meet someone overflowing with joy. If we asked someone how he was, and he responded enthusiastically by enumerating at great length everything there is to be grateful for, we would likely suspect him of having a screw loose or partaking of illicit stimulants.
But that is precisely what Shabbos allows us to do. On Shabbos, we refrain from all melachah – which, as Rabbi Estreicher explained at length, refers not to the expenditure of energy, but to creative activity – and are therefore forced to view the world as complete, and not in need of any further improvement. We learn to appreciate what we have.
Rabbi Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos 5) emphasizes this point. He writes that in the verse, “And Elokim saw es kol (all) that He had made and behold it was very good,” kol does not refer to all the many things He had created, but is rather the language of completion, klila. Elokim saw how the entire creation fit together in one seamless whole, and that was the tov meod.
Thus in the blessing Yotzer Or during the week, we say, “ma rabu ma’asecha – how manifold are Your works,” but on Shabbos, we say “ma gadlu ma’asecha – how great are Your works.” “Manifold” refers to the multitude of infinite detail; “great” refers to the way in which all those details fit together in one perfect tapestry.
It is natural and proper that during the week, we should notice all that can be improved and needs to be done. That is part of what it means to be partners with Hashem in tikkun olam. But there also has to be a time when we cease thinking about all that is lacking and acting upon those thoughts, and instead contemplate the world as if were complete, without any further need of our creative input. Rav Hai Gaon instructs us to view ourselves on Shabbos like someone who has finished all the work of building a beautiful house, just as the world was complete in Hashem’s eyes, “Va’yechal Elokim b’yom ha’svi’i.
The ability to stop trying to fix things, and to instead step back and appreciate all that we have been given and how perfectly apportioned it is to our present task in life is the source of the most profound joy. Rabbi Hutner notes the difference between the description of our approach to Shabbos – “ve’karata l’Shabbos oneg (You shall call Shabbos oneg) – and that of Yom Tov – “ve’samachta b’chagecha (You shall rejoice on your festival). The latter is expressed in terms of concrete acts of simcha – e.g., eating meat and drinking wine. Krias shem, by contrast, is primarily expressed as contemplation of the essence of Shabbos, which is oneg. Through the appreciation of the perfection of one’s world, one experiences a harhavas da’as – an expansion of understanding – that can be expressed in even the smallest addition l’kavod Shabbos.
I thought of this recently while learning an upcoming daf from Yerushalmi Yomi.
Moed Qatan 3:5, 15b in the Vilna ed. near the bottom of the page:
רבי יוסי בי רבי חלפתא הוה משבח בי ר”מ קומי ציפוראיי, “אדם גדול”, “אדם קדוש”, “אדם צנוע”
חד זמן אבילייא בשובתא ושאל בון.אמרין ליה “ר’ אהגו דאת מתני שבחיה?” אמר לון “מה עבד?” אמרו ליה “חמא אבילייא בשובתא ושאל בון.” אמר לון “בעיי אתון מידע מהו חייליה? בא להודיענו שאין אבל בשבת. דכתיב (משלי י) ‘בִּרְכַּת ה’ הִיא תַעֲשִׁיר’ — זו ברכת שבת. ‘וְלֹא-יוֹסִף עֶצֶב עִמָּהּ ‘ — זו אבילות. כמה דאת אמר (שמואל ב יט) “נֶעֱצַב הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל-בְּנוֹ.”
Rabbi Yosi bei Rabbi Chalafta used to praise Rabbi Meir in front of the residents of Tzipori, [saying he was] “a great man”, “a holy man”, “a modest man.
One day there was a mourner on Sahbbos, and [Rabbi Meir] asked about his welfare. [It was not the custom to greet mourners even on Shabbos in Tziporrei, although in many other areas it was.]
They said to [R’ Yossi b”r Chalafta], “Rebbi is this the man you repeat the praises of?” He said to them, “What did he do?” They said to him, “He saw a mourner on Shabbos and asked about his welfare!” He said to them, “Do you know why he came here? He came to teach us that there is no mourning on Shabbos. As it says (Mishlei 10:22) ‘The blessing of Hashem, it makes you rich’ — that is the blessing of Shabbos. ‘And no toil (etzev) would add to it’ — that’s mourning. As it says (Shemuel II 19:3) “And the king [David] grieved (ne’etzav) for his son [Avshalom].”
The verse in Mishlei refers to a blessing that toil or grief — the root /עצב/ is being used in this derashah for both — could add to. And the gemara concludes this is the blessing of Shabbos. And what does the blessing of Shabbos provide? Wealth. But what is wealth? Of course:
… איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר “יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ.” (תהילים קכח,ב)
… Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)
When teaching for The Mussar Institute, Ben Zoma’s rhetorical Q&A comes up a lot. Which leads to the obvious question of how one can be both happy with their lot and yet not complacent? Always wanting the latest car might not be happiness or contentment, but the same is true of always wanting the next mitzvah opportunity, to understand the next page of gemara, etc? How does one find the balance? And if one needs balance, then how is someone who only has the contentment side richer than someone who has the balance between contentment and meaningful goals?
I therefore suggested that Ben Zoma’s notion of “chelqo” isn’t what I have now, but my entire cheileq in this world — from birth to death. Who is wealthy? One who is happy with the path Hashem laid out for him (and keeps on re-laying each time he steps off and needs a new one). If I were capable of that, I would be able to properly utilize what I have, and realize there is no need for what I don’t. And this is why Ben Zoma’s proof-text from Tehillim revolves around labor, and enjoying the fruit of one’s labor.
If I may suggest a variant on R’ Esteicher’s thought (as explained by RJR):
First, notice how well his language of Shabbos is a time when I step out of the path Hashem set me upon, my cheileq that I alone can accomplish, and look at it as a whole. Going beyond the striving of the moment, all the creative activity of the work week and looking at the kelilah, the complete whole, and “vehinei tov me’od — it is very good.”