This week’s music https://youtu.be/f7isHVUlgxI
The Gemara (Talmud) in Tractate “Berachot” (5A) asks an important question for us to ponder. What is the difference between God and a man, a being of mere flesh and blood? When a person sells something (of value) to someone else, that seller is sad and the buyer is happy. He is sad, the Talmud later explains, because he had to sacrifice something that he cared about and now he no longer has it in his possession. Hashem, on the other hand gave us the Torah and that action made Him happy, as it says, “ki lekach tov natati lachem Torati al ta’azovu,” because I gave you a great gift, so do not leave my Torah behind (“Mishlei” Proverbs 4.2).
There are a number of things that man can give to others and still be happy knowing that he/she has now brought more of that item into the world. Love, “simchah,” Torah teaching, faith, awe of God and fire (as we saw during Chanukah when lighting one candle from another there is now more fire in the world). Those however are all cases where the original owner still has his/her possession in kind.
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev shows another way in which the behavior of people and God greatly differ. In his opening comments on this week’s Torah portion of “Vayechi,” a portion filled with blessings, Rebbe sites Tractate Megilah which teaches, “come and see that the traits of God and man differ. A person places an empty pot on the stove first and then fills it with water. God gives the water and then places the pot on the fire. As he teaches on the verse, “all of the illness which I placed on Mitzraim I will not place on you (Israel), because I am God your healer (Shmot 15.26). This means that even when we are faced with great difficulties and challenges, Hashem already has the healing waiting for us. When we God forbid are suffering we can take solace in knowing that the healing has already been set up in place and is on the way, it’s just that sometimes in order to receive a high spiritual gift we need a little breaking of our vessels. This causes us to rebuild and fix, with now a larger vessel which allows me to be spiritually prepared for the healing to come. We have experienced this time and time again in our national history and individual lives as children of Israel.
This causes us to take a different look at the present as a means for a brighter and higher future. It also causes us to make the most of our present and appreciate it as it is given to us. It enlightens us to let go of the past and invest in who we are now so that we can be worthy to receive the high spiritual gifts of the future.
No day is more indicative of this than Shabbat. How do I relate to this holy day which I am gifted with each week? How do I invest in this day where I can cut off from my weekday grind and simply strive to be relating to my Creator in a higher way?
I often wondered what the Baal Shem Tov meant when he said that, “someone who dies on Erev Shabbat (Friday) we attribute to him a beautiful sign.” Who has control of when he/she dies? We leave this world when God decrees that it is our time to go. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the analogy is related to the way that we must enter into Shabbat. On Friday afternoon, if I can be conscious that this is the time to leave everything else behind and be prepared for a new life, the life of Shabbat, then I am considered like a new person, not the one I was all week long. What a beautiful sign for the one who is able to do that work!
Last week I realized for the first time that perhaps the source of this tremendous thought and challenge is none other than the behavior of God Himself. When Hashem finished the work of the 6 days of creation, all of his accomplishments describe Him as Elohim, the God of judgement. “Vay’chal Elohim bayom hashvi’i mikol melchato asher asah. Vayevarech Elohim et yom hashvi’I vay’kadesh oto, ki vo shavat mikol melahcto asher bara Elohim la’asot.” And on the seventh day, God completed all of the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day He rested from all of His work of creation which he had done (Bereshit 2.2-3). When do we as a family formally enter into Shabbat? When the head of the family recites the “Kiddush.” At that moment “kedushah,” the holiness of Shabbat, is brought into our home. That whole first paragraph is in the past. It is what was done and completed. This is behind us. All judgment is behind us. Only then do we introduce a new aspect of Godliness into our home. In the statement following the blessing on the cup of wine we begin to speak of God not as Elohim, but rather as Hashem, the God of love and mercy. “….and His holy Shabbat we have inherited as a memorial to His acts of creation, because it is the day which stems from the original events of holiness, as in the exodus from Mitzraim, because he chose us and made us holy from all nations; and your holy Shabbat willingly with love you gave us to inherit, blessed are you Hashem who sanctified the Shabbat.”
Shabbat is a day to experience and uplift, not to simply guard, but to invest spiritually in our relationship with Hashem, “Bayni uven B’nai Yisrael ot he l’olam,” it is signifying that which there exists (says Hashem) between myself and the children of Israel as an everlasting covenant. It has the potential to be as strong today as it was when it was first given to us. It is a new gift to us each week to cherish, love and renew its holiness in our lives.
So I had a tough week with amazing ongoing challenges, trials and tribulations. Put it all behind the knowing that the healing is waiting for me. It is mamash on the way on the way and all I need to do is to humble myself a bit and receive it as the beautiful gift that it is.