Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Prepare for Shabbat like a Talmudic Sage

Rabbi Avahu would sit on an ivory chair and fan the fire.  Rabbi Anan wore black on erev Shabbat to show that he was ready to work.
Rav Safra would roast meat; Rava would salt fish; Rav Huna would light the lamp.

Rav Papa would twine the wicks; Rav Chisda would cut beets; Rabah and Rav Yosef would chop wood.  Rabi Zeira would kindle the fire with twigs.

Rav Nachman would carry in the best crockery and foods, saying, “If Rav Ami and Rav Asi were coming, I’d do all this; so of course I should do it for Shabbat.”
Shabbat 119a

Unique among the mitzvot, Shabbat is personified, compared to a queen and a bride, and we her partner.  In Exodus (31:16) G-d commands us :Thus shall the children of Israel guard (veshamru) the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant.”  Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar translates the word veshamru as to anticipate with excitement.  Thus, we are commanded no only to observe Shabbat, but to anticipate with excitement, its arrival.
While the holiness of Shabbat arrives whether we are ready or not, feeling excited requires effort on our part.  Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik laments the “forgotten erev Shabbat,” when Jews would “greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls.”  How can we create this excitement? 
Perhaps a good place to start is the image of the Shabbat Queen or the Sabbath as a bride.  The world was recently treated to the spectacle of a royal wedding with all its attendant pomp and splendor.  Knowing what attention is spent on most weddings, it’s overwhelming to imagine the energy and time it took to ensure that every detail of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s ceremony and ensuing celebration was as it should be.  The planning, the staff, the guest list and seating arrangements, the polishing of silver and cleaning of glass, the lists, the shopping, cooking, and baking; and of course the attire and grooming of the wedding couple.  But imagine, too, how much the flurry of preparations enhanced and built-up the anticipation, as the countdown began to “W-Day.”
All this is mirrored in our own homes as we count down to “W-Day,” the day we mark our official union with G-d:  Shabbat.  We make our menus, shopping lists, we cook and bake and clean.  We wash ourselves and dress in special clothes set aside for Shabbat.  We set the table for our royal guest with our best china and silverware, fresh bread and wine.  All this is not Shabbat, but is of Shabbat.  Erev comes from the word me’urav, mixed.  Erev Shabbat is mixed with a bit of Shabbat’s holiness and pleasures.  The anticipation and preparations are part of the mitzvah.

All this week we’ll be exploring Preparing for Shabbat.  Check back tomorrow for more.

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