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Parshas Beraishis (5770)

Shabbos: You Get What You Put Into It

After the Torah teaches us what G-d created on each one of the Six Days of Creation, it concludes with the Seventh Day, the Shabbos. About this holy day the Torah tells us: “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from His work which G-d created to make” (Genesis 2:3)

Rashi, in his commentary to the Torah, explains the nature of the “blessing” with which G-d blessed the Shabbos. He quotes a Midrash which teaches that the blessing of the Shabbos alludes to the future manna which would fall down from the sky, sustaining the Jewish people in the wilderness for forty years, and which “honored” the Shabbos by falling down as a double portion on Friday and not on the Shabbos itself.

The Slonimer Rebbe ZT”L, in his commentary Nesivos Shalom on the Torah, asks a powerful question: We know that the Torah, which is the word of G-d, is eternal, and, as such, the blessing that G-d instilled in the Shabbos must also be eternal – whereas the manna and its associated Shabbos blessings only lasted for forty years in the desert over 3000 years ago!

He therefore explains the intent of the Midrash that G-d blessed the Shabbos with the manna in a novel way: We know that the manna that fell all those years in the desert had many miraculous properties to it. The Talmud in Yoma 75a teaches that one of the miracles with which the manna was blessed was that whenever a Jew would eat the manna, it would taste like whichever taste he wished to taste at the time.

It follows, therefore, that the amount of joy and pleasure each Jew would have when eating the manna greatly depended on his/her level of sophistication and connoisseurship – i.e. a wealthy person who was used to eating all types of delicacies and fine foods would be able to wish for and enjoy those same refined tastes while eating the manna, while a poor person who normally only ate coarse, low-quality food could only get the same out of the manna.

This same blessing, explains the Nesivos Shalom, did G-d instill in the Shabbos. As with the manna, you get what you put into the Shabbos. If you enter into Shabbos merely seeking a day of rest and relaxation from a stressful week, then that is exactly what you will get – a 24-hour rest and vacation (not a bad thing, eh?). If you are more sophisticated in your understanding of Shabbos and its purpose, and you see it as a time to spend with yourself and your family, enjoying the accomplishments of the past six days and giving them meaning and perspective in the greater context of your life, well then that is what you will take out of Shabbos as well. If you are an even greater spiritual “connoisseur”, and you understand the Shabbos as a powerful opportunity and time of week to strengthen your connection to G-d and His holy Torah and to gain new spiritual heights (and there are many more levels beyond this which holy Jews experience each Shabbos) – then you will gain from the Shabbos accordingly.

It is this amazing aspect of the Shabbos – i.e. its manna-like quality that one can experience it on many different levels depending on the level of sophistication of the person observing it - that the Midrash alludes to when it teaches that G-d blessed the Shabbos with manna.

The truth is that most mitzvah observances and rituals that a Jew experiences in life are like the manna – you get what you put into them. Many people who visit the Kosel HaMa’aravi, the “Western Wall” in Jerusalem, will have a profoundly spiritual, almost life-changing experience. Others, who are less spiritually prepared, will get absolutely nothing from the Wall and might just see it as a really lousy handball court. Some Jews view Passover as a chance to have a family reunion over a little matzah and a good brisket. Others, who have invested some time before the holiday in learning about the depth of Passover and its profound lessons for life, will have a totally different – and deeper – experience at their Seder. And this can be said for many other mitzvos we do as well.

I guess the lesson for all of us is that for us to “maximize” our Jewish ritual observances and experiences – to get the “biggest bang for our buck”, so to speak – we need to become “connoisseurs of spirituality” – i.e. the more we learn about and prepare ourselves spiritually for the ritual or observance we are about to perform - be it Shabbos or the Passover Seder or whatever - the more enhanced and enjoyable will that experience be.

One good (and relatively easy) way to accomplish this important goal is by studying the essays of the Slonimer Rebbe ZT”L which are archived online (see His deep and penetrating insights into the Jewish Holidays and the Weekly Torah portion are guaranteed to greatly enhance your understanding and experience of them – taking you to a whole new level. Happy reading!

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