I love Shabbat. When it finally arrives I can often feel the tension fall off from my shoulders, especially during the singing of Lecha Dodi in shul. I have written about being in shul in Israel, sitting by the tall windows and watching darkness, and Shabbat, literally descend on the city. I loved walking to shul on Shabbat morning, especially in the spring in summer. It wasn’t just that the streets were quiet in the morning, but rather there was a quality of calmness, of peace (Shabbat peace) that was palpable only the streets of Jerusalem.
This week we read Parshat Emor. In the parsha there is a list of all the holidays of the year. However, the Torah basically gives the date of each holiday and the offerings brought on those days. Not much else is related about the meaning of each holiday itself. This part of the parsha is the Torah for reading for the Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
If we look closer there is something significant in these descriptions on the holidays; two common elements. First, is the number seven. For example, Pesach is a seven day holiday in the Torah. On the 14th of Nisan the Pesach offering must be brought. 14 is a multiple of seven. Sukkot is also a seven day holiday. Beginning with the second day of Pesach we count seven weeks and 49 days, the Omer period, 49 again being a multiple of seven. At the end of this time is another holiday, Shavuot. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are in the month of Tishrei, the seventh month.
The second common element is that the Torah describes these holidays, or the first and last days as in the case of Pesach and Sukkot as a “Shabbat Shabbaton,” days that have an element of Shabbat embedded in them. Shabbat is the seventh day. Shabbat becomes the paradigm. Just as Shabbat is part of the week, there are moments when Shabbat is woven into the very fabric of the year.
Shabbat is first introduced to us in Bereshit at the end of the six days of Creation. The Hebrew root of the word Shabbat means to stop. HaShem stopped the act of creating and let things be as they were. Jewish tradition encourages us to emulate HaShem. Just as HaShem is compassionate, so we should be compassionate. For six days we wrestle with the world, we work at our own creative process, for one of the traits HaShem instilled in humanity is to create, to be productive. The seventh day allows us to take a step back from the creating, to let things be, to appreciate what we have done. The myriad of laws of Shabbat are restrictive in nature, but that restriction is meant to ultimately free us from the bonds of the creative impulse and allow to fully appreciate what it means to be human, created in the image of the Divine; to appreciate the world around us and the people we hold most dear.
Each week after my family makes Havdalah the first thing I do is prepare the next week’s Shabbat candles. Shabbat doesn’t just disappear. With this act I begin to prepare for the next Shabbat, to look forward to that moment when the Shabbat Queen will come.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger