Friday, April 3, 2020

The Fast of the Firstborns & Siyum Meals on Erev Pesah

Listen to today's class, "The Fast of the Firstborns & Siyum Meals on Erev Pesah," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Virtual Tefilah & Berakhot

Listen to today's class, "Virtual Tefilah & Berakhot," here

Follow along with the sources here.

For further learning:

1) Listen to the class "Finding Your Place at a Minyan" here.

2) Listen to the class "Hearing the Megilah from a Deaf Person, with a Hearing Aide or a Microphone" here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Koshering Frying Pans

Listen to today's class, "Koshering Frying Pans," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Koshering Plastic Utensils

Listen to today's class, "Koshering Plastic Utensils," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Massah: Go and Stop!

Listen to tonight's class, "Massah: Go and Stop!" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Nefesh HaHayim 1.15 (2)

Listen to this morning's class on Nefesh HaHayim 1.15 (2) here.

Follow along with the sources that we used in addition to the text here.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Quality Time Alone

Quality Time Alone
Thoughts on the Coronavirus
Click here to view as PDF

As the people of Am Yisrael prepared for the fateful night of the fourteenth of Nisan, God instructed:
And you shall take a bundle of hyssop and you shall dip it in the blood that is in the basin and you shall touch the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts… (Shemot 12:22)
The great medieval commentator R. Avraham Ibn Ezra noticed the similarity between this command and the purifying process of the messora (leper), which God would later instruct:
The Cohen shall charge that there be taken for him who is cleansing himself two live pure birds and cedar wood and crimson stuff and hyssop…And dip them and the living bird in the blood of the slaughtered bird over fresh water. (VaYikra 14:4)
Ibn Ezra suggested that the similarity of dipping hyssop into blood in each of these cases hints at a shared essence.[1] How was the exalted night of “Pesah Missrayim” in any way similar to the lowly state of the exiled messora?

The 18th Century Hasidic leader R. Nahman of Bratzlav z”l spent much of his life preaching about the basic importance of seeking a “conversation with God.” He taught his followers to meditate in solitude – be-hitbodedut – as a way of connecting with the Almighty. R. Nahman advised finding a physical place apart from others and saying to yourself, “For the next twenty minutes, I will be alone with God.” He explained that even if there is in fact nothing to say, the very experience of spending time alone with God – aware of His presence – is still valid.[2]

Indeed, Jewish tradition has long stressed the importance of solitude to our approach of God. R. Avraham, the son of HaRambam, distinguished between an external and internal isolation. Whereas external isolation consists of physically distancing oneself from others, the fundamental state of internal isolation separates the mind from outward sensation and thought itself.[3] And the great codifier R. Yaakov b. Asher wrote, as well, how “Saints and people of deed…would meditate in solitude and concentrate in their prayers until they reached a level where they would be divested of the physical.”[4]

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l traced the significance of Har Sinai, God’s chosen place for giving the Torah, to Moshe’s earlier experience with God at the burning bush in that location.[5] “When God wanted to select a mountain for the public revelation,” R. Soloveitchik wrote, “He selected Mount Sinai, because the first confrontation, the first rendezvous between God and man, had already taken place there.”[6] R. Soloveitchik furthermore noticed that while we tend to focus on the spectacular heroism “on the battlefield,” there is another type of heroism, set out of the public. “Most mitzvot concern one’s private life,” he wrote, “No one watches; there are no onlookers. It is just a relationship between oneself and God.”[7] The “acts of heroism” performed in solitude enjoy the unique aspect of intimacy, absent from those in public.

Concluding His instructions for touching the blood to the lintel and doorposts of Am Yisrael, God said:
And as for you, none of you shall go out from the entrance of his house till morning. (Shemot 12:22)
In a similar vein to the leper’s isolation from nation in the wilderness – “outside the camp shall his dwelling place be” (VaYikra 13:46), God instructed every household to quarantine themselves. He commanded them to be mitboded – isolated and apart from others – for just one night.

It is a night of watch (shimurim) for God, for His taking them out of the land of Egypt, this night is God’s a watch (shimurim) for all Bnei Yisrael through their generations. (Shemot 12:42)
R. Avraham Ibn Ezra explained that Am Yisrael’s duty to “watch” on that night was similar to the way a guard stays awake and “watches out” to protect his city overnight.[8] But there was no city for the people to protect at that time. Am Yisrael was, instead, watching over and experiencing the night itself.

“It is a night of watch for God.” As God stood guard to protect and “watch” through the night, the people of Am Yisrael distanced themselves from one another. They spent the night standing guard and “watching” on their own –together with the Almighty.

Two weeks of social isolation have passed. Many more lie ahead. Instead of dreaming about our ultimate return to “normalcy,” perhaps we should seize this time as an opportunity to deepen our relationships with God. The solitude so suddenly placed upon us need not be an obstacle. It may, instead, be a potential.

[1] Commentary of R. Avraham Ibn Ezra to VaYikra 14:4, s.v. ve-ess.
[2] See R. Aryeh Kaplan, Jewish Meditation (New York, NY, 1985), pg. 95. Cf. Arthur Green, Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav (Woodstock, VT, 1992), pg. 145-148.
[3] R. Avraham b. HaRambam, Hamaspik LeOvdei HaShem, Perek Hitbodedut. Cf. Jewish Mediation, pg. 52.
[4] R. Yaakov b. Asher, Arba’ah Turim, Orah Hayim: 98.
[5] See Commentary of Rashi to Shemot 3:1, s.v. el har.
[6] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph and Moses (Jersey City, NJ, 2013), pg. 77.
[7] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch (Jersey City, NJ, 2008), pg. 65.
[8] Commentary of R. Avraham Ibn Ezra to Shemot 12:42, s.v. leil. See, as well, Commentary of R. Shimon b. Semah to the Hagadah, s.v. ma’aseh.

Hallel on the First Nights of Pesah

Listen to today's class, "Hallel on the First Nights of Pesah," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

For further learning:

Listen to our class on "Women & Hallel on the First Nights" here.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Do Countertops & Tables Need to be Koshered for Pesah?

Listen to today's class, "Do Countertops & Tables Need to be Koshered for Pesah?" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Do Glass & Pyrex Utensils Need to be Koshered?

Listen to today's class, "Do Glass & Pyrex Utensils Need to be Koshered?" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Lonely Man of Faith

Listen to our classes on R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's The Lonely Man of Faith:

Part I          Part II

Follow along with the source sheets:  Part I,    Part II

Monday, March 23, 2020

Kiddush on Friday Night

Listen to tonight's class, "Kiddush on Friday Night," here.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Nefesh HaHayim 1.15 (1)

Listen to this morning's class on Nefesh HaHayim 1.15 (1) here.

Follow along with the sources that we used in addition to the text here.


Thoughts on the Coronavirus
Click here to view as PDF

Dear Friends,

I am sharing with you a thought that has shaped my perspective during these past few days.

Realizing the fast approach of Pesah has been hard for me. Zeman herutenu, the holiday which celebrates our national freedom, seems blatantly out of sync with our current situation of helplessness. By paying closer attention to the halakhah’s fundamental interplay between hamess and massah, however, we might discover an inspiring vantage point for the days ahead.

While the concepts of hamess and massah might appear as so distantly apart from one another, the Torah dictates otherwise:
You shall not eat hamess with it. Seven days you shall eat with it massot, poverty’s bread (Devarim 16:3).
Noticing to the dual-mention of not eating hamess and eating massah in a single pasuk, the Hakhamim taught that the massah must be baked from grains that could lead to hamess. They thus excluded, for example, the use of rice massot.[1] Some authorities maintained, as well, that the rabbinic prohibition of eating massah on the eve Pesah only begins at the time that consumption of hamess ends.[2] The Rabbis likewise understood from this verse that women are obligated in the obligation to eat massah on the first night of Pesah. Although generally exempt from positive time-bound missvot, this pasuk hinted at women’s inclusion, since “anyone who is a part of not eating hamess is a part of eating massah.”[3]

It appears, then, that hamess and massah are closely related to one another. How strange! If hamess traditionally represents the yesser ha-ra, our inclination to do wrong,[4] it would make sense that the opposite – massah – should be kept at a distance from it. Why does the halakhah draw such a close relation between two concepts which should have seemingly been better situated afar from one another?

Following the final day of Creation, the Torah stated: “And God saw all that He had done, and, look, it was very good” (Bereshit 1:31). The Hakhamim had a novel, yet counterintuitive interpretation to the “very good” of Creation: “R. Shemuel b. Nahman said…this is the yesser ha-ra.” The Rabbis were incredulous! How could “very good” refer to the very basis of “bad” in this world – the evil inclination? But the Midrash explained that if the world was bereft of all yesser ha-ra, existing instead in a state of absolute piety and sainthood, it would quickly fall into a state of disuse and deterioration. Ironically, it is only by means of the evil inclination – when positively manipulated – that human beings are productive by building homes, having children and making money.[5]

Erasing the stark division between “good” and “bad,” the Hakhamim forced us to realize the delicate interplay between the two. They explained that the light of goodness is actually dimmed when isolated from bad. It is, instead, the seemingly “evil” challenges of life that bring forth its glow. Our potentials are manifested best when forced to emerge from the straits of difficulty.

Estelle Frankel noticed that the natural world, as well, tends to blur the distinct boundaries between “good” and “bad.” Cholesterol, for example, comes in two forms – one that is primarily good (HDL) and another that is primarily bad (LDL). Yet even the so-called “bad” cholesterol is necessary for cell growth and without it you would die. Frankel remarked: “In human physiology and in the natural world, cutting-edge thought defines optimal health as the dynamic balance of good and bad elements, not the eradication of something that is wholly ‘bad’.”[6]

Pointing to the Torah’s paired-mention of hamess and massah, the Hakhamim highlighted their codependence. They taught that “goodness” cannot exist in a vacuous realm, apart from bad. A dough that avoids the challenge of rising to hamess is not a kosher massah. Genuine goodness must instead emerge from within a world of challenges. Massat missvah must conquer the test of rising, coming into being through a courageous defeat of difficulty.

Our world is currently submerged in a sea of viral threats. It feels at this time as if we can only see the evil side of Creation’s “very good.” We constantly behold the rampant “risen dough” of hamess in our midst. Our mission, however, is to begin searching for the positive which is latent in this challenge. The difficulties will awaken a strength that lies dormant in each of us. It will actualize our yesser ha-tov – our massah, and help us come out stronger than we went in.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Avi Harari

[1] Pesahim 35a.
[2] See Ba’al HaMaor to Pesahim 43a and Perush HaRan ad loc.
[3] Pesahim 43b.
[4] Berakhot 17a and Commentary of Rashi ad loc, s.v. se’or.
[5] Bereshit Rabah 9:7.
[6] Estelle Frankel, Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness (Boston, MA, 2003), pg. 234.

Friday, March 20, 2020

HaRambam: The Rational Traditionalist

Listen to "HaRambam: The Rational Traditionalist" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Kiddush & Havdalah: Standing or Sitting?

Listen to today's class, "Kiddush & Havdalah: Standing or Sitting?" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

HaRambam: The Traditional Rationalist

Listen to "HaRambam: The Traditional Rationalist" here.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Four Cups: A History

Listen to "The Four Cups: A History" here.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Grape Juice for Kiddush & the 4 Cups at the Seder

Listen to today's class, "Grape Juice for Kiddush & the 4 Cups at the Seder," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Pasteurized Wine for Kiddush & the 4 Cups at the Seder

Listen to today's class, "Pasteurized Wine for Kiddush & the 4 Cups at the Seder," here.

Follow along with the sources here.


Thoughts on the Coronavirus
Click here to view as PDF

Dear Friends,

I have experienced the past few days with the constant discomfort of thoughts and feelings of vulnerability. Unknowingly thrust into this situation of uncertainty has brought forth in me the difficult emotions of doubt and confusion.

I have, as a result, more than once reflected upon the difference between vulnerability and weakness. Bren√© Brown explained that according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word vulnerability is derived from the Latin word vulnerare, meaning “to wound.” The definition includes “capable of being wounded,” and “open to attack or damage.” Weakness, however, is “the inability to withstand attack or wounding.” Brown noted that weakness often stems from a lack of vulnerability, because when we don’t acknowledge how and where we’re tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.[1]

Ironically, I began to think about this topic in the days leading up to Purim. At a time that now feels like “the distant past,” I pondered a concept that I did not imagine would soon become real. Hearing from Mordekhai about the dangers awaiting the Jews of Ahashverosh's kingdom, Esther sent back to him: 

All the king's servants and the people of the king's province know that every man and woman who comes into the inner court without having been called, the single rule is to put to death, unless the king reach out to him the golden scepter. And as for me, I have not been called to come to the king thirty days now. (Esther 4:11-12)
Her message was clear: Stepping foot into the king's inner court spelled a dangerous loss of control. Esther would not accept such a circumstance. Mordekhai's response to her was legendary:
Do not imagine to escape of all the Jews in the house of the king. For if you indeed remain silent, relief and rescue will come to the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether for just a time like this you have attained royalty? (4:14-15)
He taught Esther that although her position as queen may have had the outward appearance and trappings of stability, her actual standing was no different than anyone else’s. Mordekhai told her that we are always vulnerable. While we may deceive ourselves into the belief that we do control our fate, it is the times of crisis that force us to realize that we do not. Reminding Esther of this fundamental truth, Mordekhai offered her the decision of succumbing to the pressure and exposing her weakness in a continued state of self-denial, or admitting to the vulnerability and bravely rising above.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote: "When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable."[2] At a time like the present, when uncertainty is pervasive, it is easy to despair. Being true to ourselves, however, we must soberly realize that life was never predictable. Admitting this will inspire us to look at the days and weeks ahead with a refreshing sense of courage and strength. 

We do not know what the future holds in store. But we never did. We are vulnerable. But we are not weak.

Wishing you safety and strength,

Rabbi Avi Harari

[1] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (New York, NY, 2012), pg. 39.
[2] Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (New York, NY, 2016), pg. 182.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Reading Ketoret Written on Parchment

Listen to tonight's class, "Reading Ketoret Written on Parchment," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Nefesh HaHayim 1.14

Listen to this morning's class on Nefesh HaHayim 1.14 here.

Follow along with the sources that we used in addition to the text here.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Reading Secular Books or Newspapers on Shabbat

Listen to tonight's class, "Reading Secular Books or Newspapers on Shabbat," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Parashat Terumah: The Purpose of the Mishkan

Listen to tonight's class on Parashot Terumah, "The Purpose of the Mishkan," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Nefesh HaHayim 1.13 (pt. 2)

Listen to this morning's class on Nefesh HaHayim 1.13 (pt. 2) here.

Follow along with the sources that we used in addition to the text here.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Reading Along With the Ba'al Koreh

Listen to tonight's class, "Reading Along with the Ba'al Koreh," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Parashat Mishpatim: Discovery

Thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim 2020
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Ma’amad Har Sinai was a once-in-existence experience of absolute revelation. Parashat Yitro’s detailed description of the sounds and lights of Sinai portrays the profound exposure to Am Yisrael at that time. Parashat Mishpatim’s account of Moshe’s ascension to receive the luhot, in contrast, depicts a scene of vagueness and obscurity. The people’s vision at the time that he departed was blurred by a “consuming fire” engulfed by an effacing cloud (Shemot 23:15-18).

The Hakhamim hinted at the opposite natures which underlay these two events, as well, in their retelling of the stories. Describing the people’s supernatural retention of every detail and particularity of the Torah at the time of its reception at Sinai,[1] the Rabbis contrarily described Moshe’s repeated “forgetting” of the Torah over the course of his forty-day rendezvous atop the mountain en route to receiving the luhot.[2]

While the importance of God’s revelation to an entire nation at Har Sinai is easily understood, His reason for presenting the luhot in the hidden atmosphere of clouds and forgetfulness requires an explanation.

Several years ago, one of my sons returned home from school with an assignment. He needed to interview a parent and record their memories of September 11th, 2001. I volunteered to be interviewed. Midway through my retelling of what happened on that day in my life, my wife passed by the room. She overheard my recollection and just couldn’t hold back. “I was together with Abba on that day,” she told my son, “and I need to correct a few details in his story.” I, in turn, dismissed her “corrections,” causing my son to look up at the two of us and confusedly ask, “So, which one of you is right?” Laughing at the absurdity of this all-too-typical situation, I explained to him the difference between “history” and “memory.” History must record the absolute and objective facts of an earlier time. Memory, however, is the reflective state of reliving that time as it was then experienced and subsequently understood. “Your assignment is not to research the history of 9/11,” I explained to my son, “but rather to record the memory of one of your parents.” And for that both my wife and I were “right.”

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi relatedly noticed that the Rabbis of the Talmud were uninterested in recording history. Neglecting an account of post-biblical history, they showed no effort to preserve even that which had taken place in the ages immediately prior to their own. He furthermore noted that the Hakahamim’s retelling of biblical events demonstrates a certain indifference to history, as well, as they “seem to play with Time as though with an accordion, expanding and collapsing it at will.” In the Rabbis’ eyes, Adam instructed his son Shet in the Torah, Shem and Ever established a bet midrash, and the forefathers institute the three daily tefilot. “Classical rabbinic literature was never intended as historiography,” Yerushalmi explained, “Instead they were engrossed in an ongoing exploration of the meaning of the history bequeathed to them, striving to interpret it in living terms for their own and later generations.”[3] The Hakhamim thus turned their focus from retelling the facts of history to articulating its meaning in memory.

Stretching beyond the realm of history and memory, however, blotting out certain objective realities and past precedents from our thoughts may aide our own perception and creativity. Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahaneman and Amos Tversky realized that what people remember about the past is likely to warp their judgment of the future. “We often decide that an outcome is extremely unlikely or impossible because we are unable to imagine any chain of events that would cause it to occur,” they wrote. Kahaneman likewise remarked, regarding the study of memory, “You don’t study memory. You study forgetting.”[4]

The late neurologist Oliver Sacks recalled once rummaging through his old notebooks and finding that many of the thoughts he had recorded in them were forgotten for years, later revived by him and reworked as new. He realized a positive aspect to those “forgettings,” suggesting that “creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one’s memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new contexts and perspectives.” [5] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l would likewise instruct his students to ignore their notes from past classes on the material they were then learning. He was forcing them to creatively engage with the text from an unbiased vantage point, free of any preconceived perspective or thought.[6]

“R. Yohanan said: Initially, Moshe would study Torah and forget it, until it was given to him as a gift” (Nedarim 38a). R. Yehezkel Landau z”l, the great 18th Century rabbi of Prague, explained the nature of that “gift” of Torah which Moshe received by referencing another statement of the Hakhamim: “Rava says: Initially the Torah is called by the name of the Holy One Blessed be He, but ultimately it is called by the name [of the one who studies it]” (Avodah Zarah 19a). R. Landau thus suggested that the “gift” of Torah bestowed upon Moshe was his ability to claim it “as his own.”[7] In light of our above analysis we might further suggest that Moshe could only acquire the Torah “as his own” by means of approaching it with the wide eyes and open mind of an individual whose previous knowledge and perspective were wiped clean through “forgetting.” It was his fresh and unprejudiced engagement with the Torah that allowed for his heart’s creative capacity to emerge from its dormancy, finding expression in the words of God.

By contrasting Moshe’s mysterious reception of the luhot to the clarity of Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Torah shined light on the ideal engagement with its texts. It taught that its letters and words encompass a potential far greater than any static book of stories and law. The cloudy scene of Matan HaLuhot presented the Torah as an unimagined reality awaiting the creative discovery of all future seekers. It beckoned us to move beyond a mere reading of the Torah, encouraging us instead to dig deep and discover its depth.

[1] See Commentary of Rashi to Vayikra 25:1, s.v. be-har Sinai, and HaRambam’s Introduction to Commentary on Mishnah.
[2] Nedarim 38a.
[3] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle, WA, 1996), pg. 16-20.
[4] Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds (New York, NY, 2017), pg. 194-195 and 129.
[5] Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness (New York, NY, 2017), pg. 108.
[6] See, e.g., R. Herschel Reichman’s recollection in Mentor of Generations: Reflections on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Jersey City, NJ, 2008), pg. 206-207.
[7] R. Yehezkel Landau, Siyun LeNefesh Hayah: Berakhot 64a. Note that R. Landau’s particular elaboration differs from our above extension.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Is Keriat HaTorah a Community or individual Obligation?

Listen to tonight's class, "Is Keriat HaTorah a Community or Individual Obligation?" here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Parashat Yitro: Tests & Challenges

Listen to tonight's class on Parashot Yitro, "Tests & Challenges," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Nefesh HaHayim 1.13 (pt. 1)

Listen to this morning's class on Nefesh HaHayim 1.13 (pt. 1) here.

Follow along with the sources that we used in addition to the text here.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Talking in Between Netilah and Hamossee

Listen to tonight's class, Talking in Between Netilah and Hamossee," here.

Follow along with the sources here.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Parashat BeShalah: Appreciating the Process

Appreciating the Process
Thoughts on Parashat BeShalah 2020
Click here to view as PDF
Shortly after Am Yisrael began their trek through the wilderness, God informed them of a miraculous source of sustenance – the man – which would accompany them along the journey. “Look I am about to rain down bread for you from the heavens,” He told Moshe, “And the people shall go out and gather each day’s share on that day” (Shemot 16:4). God continued:
And it will happen, on the sixth day, that they will prepare what they bring in, and it will be double what they gather each day. (16:5)
By raining down a double portion of man on Friday morning, God forced the people to prepare for Shabbat. The Hakhamim interpreted this as a lasting instruction: “A person should always arise early to attend to the expenditures of Shabbat.”[1] Shulhan Arukh underscored its importance by codifying it as law.[2] And the medieval French commentator Hizkuni furthermore suggested that the very missvah of “shemirat Shabbat – guarding Shabbat” (Devarim 5:11) refers to an anticipatory preparation for its arrival.[3] While it is clear that an appropriate preparation is necessary for all significant endeavors, God seemed intent on teaching a particular lesson in the context of Shabbat at this juncture. What is it?

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik z”l once digressed from a public lecture to share a “private confession” with his listeners. “True, there are Jews in America who observe the Shabbat,” he remarked, “But it is not for the Shabbat that my heart aches, it is for the forgotten eve of the Shabbat.” While thankful for the many shomrei Shabbat Jews in America, R. Soloveitchik bemoaned the dearth of those “who go out to greet the Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls.” He explained that the vanishing “Erev Shabbat Jews” spells the loss of the inner spirit and meaning of Shabbat – its “service of the heart.”[4]

We extend the essence of Shabbat in our lives by looking forward to and preparing for its arrival. We thereby appreciate it as a day imbued with sanctity and meaning that stretch beyond the confines of mere words spoken and actions performed. It is by thinking about Shabbat during the “profane week” that we accept its potential to affect each and every moment of our lives.

Ramban suggested that Judaism’s traditional reference to the days of the week as “the first of the Shabbat,” “the second of the Shabbat,” etc. is an expression of a commandment which obligates us to “remember it always, every day.” Indeed, the Talmud relates: “They said of Shamai the Elder: All his days he would eat in honor of Shabbat. If he found a fine bit of meat, he would say: ‘This is for Shabbat.’ If he found another that was still better, he would set aside the second [for Shabbat] and eat the first.”[5] Ramban explained that constant thought of Shabbat causes its essential message to pervade our lives: “By always remembering it we will remember Creation at all times and acknowledge at all times that the universe has a Creator.”[6]

The preparation for Shabbat, then, touches on the fundamental concept of appreciating the process. Rather than viewing the first six days of the week as disjointed and separate from Shabbat, we are cautioned to “live Shabbat” on those days as well.[7] Shabbat exists as more than just a “destination day” to perform ritual acts of sanctity. It represents the essence of a connectedness to God. And by living the life of an “Erev Shabbat Jew,” its essence pervades all that we do during the week.

Appreciating the significance of the process naturally leads to enjoying it, as well. Rav Kook wrote: “All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it.”[8] And best-selling author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi similarly found that all creative people love what they do. “It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them,” he wrote, “rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing.”[9]

Addressing the nation as they began a journey through the desert to the Land of Israel, God taught them the invaluable lesson of appreciating the process en route the destination. By instructing Am Yisrael to prepare for Shabbat before its arrival He furthermore expanded their general perspective. God corrected their vision of a destination detached from the process to one that informs it. And He perhaps hinted to them, as well, that just as the sanctity of “destination Shabbat” might now pervade their lives, so too might the waters of “destination Israel” moisten their seemingly dry travels through the midbar.  

[1] Masekhet Shabbat 117b.
[2] R. Yosef Karo, Shulhan Arukh: Orah Hayim 250:1.
[3] Commentary of Hizkuni to Devarim 5:11, s.v. shamor (“davar aher”).
[4] R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, On Repentance (New Milford, CT, 2017), pg. 32.
[5] Masekhet Beissah 16a.See, as well, Commentary of Rashi to Shemot 20:8, s.v. zakhor.
[6] Commentary of Ramban to Shemot 20:8. See, as well, R. Jacob J. Schacter’s “To Be an Erev Shabbat Jew,” From Within the Tent: The Shabbat Prayers (New Milford, CT, 2015), pg. 4-5.
[7] See, e.g., R. Moshe Shapiro, Afikei Mayim: Sukkot (Monsey, NY, 2012), pg. 103.
[8] R. Avraham Yisshak HaCohen Kook, Orot HaTeshuvah 6:7. Translated by Ben Zion Bokser in Abraham Isaac Kook (Mahwah, NJ, 1978), pg. 59-60.
[9] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (New York, NY, 1997), pg. 107.