Friday, February 7, 2020

Parashat BeShalah: Appreciating the Process

Appreciating the Process
Thoughts on Parashat BeShalah 2020
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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.