25 Feb 2016 The Transformative Light of Holiness
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Sisa, we are commanded regarding the keeping, and sanctity, of Shabos kodesh. וְאַתָּה דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר, אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי, תִּשְׁמֹרוּ: כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם–לָדַעַת, כִּי אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם – And you shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: Just observe my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who sanctifies you; וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם, אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת, כִּי קֹדֶשׁ הִוא, לָכֶם…And you shall guard the Sabbath, for it is holy to you….(Ex.31:13-14).
The holy Shabos day is a sign of the covenant between the Almighty and the Bnei Yisrael. While on the chagim, we go to Hashem’s house (may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days!), on Shabos, keviyachol, the Shechina comes to our house. When we honor the day – both in action and in spirit – and when we remember the day to keep it holy, by acting in a way that is befitting of the kedushas ha’yom, the holiness of the day, its inherent kedusha ennobles, enlightens and elevates us.
At the end of the parsha, we are told that when Moshe descended from Har Sinai, with the two complete luchos ha’aydus, the Tablets of Testimony, in his hands, he did not know that his face shone from when Hashem had spoken with him, as the verse says: וּמֹשֶׁה לֹא-יָדַע, כִּי קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו–בְּדַבְּרוֹ אִתּוֹ (Ex.34:29).
Such is the effect of immersing oneself in Torah: his face was radiant from the light of Torah, from the kedusha of Torah, from the simchas ha’chaim that comes along with a life of Torah.
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l relates, “Once again, I return to my childhood memories. In Warsaw, we lived three houses away from a Modzhitzer shteibel. Generally, I would go to this Modzhitzer shteibel for seuda shlishis on Shabos. They would sing all the zemiros for the third meal. Poor Jews would be seated around the table in the shteibel. The Modzhitzer shteibel was located in a poor district in Warsaw; my father could not afford to live in a more affluent area. This was a neighborhood where many of the Jews worked as porters…I always say that in Warsaw I saw sights that I never saw since. You would see a large closet or a buffet that seemed to be walking on its own. The Jewish porter who was carrying the furniture was totally bent over in a ninety degree angle. It seemed as if the furniture was walking along with feet coming out of the closet.
“I knew these Jews well and I constantly spoke with them… I once spoke with one of them who was frail and short. He constantly carried heavy metal pieces and I wondered where he got the physical strength to support this weight. His load (during the week) was always tied around him with a thick cord. On Shabos, I saw this very Jew and I did not recognize him. He came over to me in his tattered kapote. It was covered with endless patches, and even the patches had patches. Yet his face shone with the joy of Shabos. I recognized in a tangible fashion that a person’s Shabos countenance is totally different than his weekday appearance.
“So I asked him, ‘When will we daven Maariv?’ He answered, ‘What is with you? Are you already longing for the weekday to begin? What do you mean when will we daven Maariv, are we lacking for anything now?’”
וְשָׁמְרוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-הַשַּׁבָּת לְדֹרֹתָם, בְּרִית עוֹלָם – And the Children of Israel shall guard the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations (Ex.31:16).
In the labor camp where he was imprisoned during the terrible Holocaust years, R’ Yehuda Amital zt’l did his utmost to keep whatever mitzvos he could. He tried to mark the beginning of Shabos in various ways, depending on his situation that day. One Friday morning, he put a clean shirt in his pocket. When Shabos began, he quickly, while working, took off his sweaty shirt and put on the fresh one in honor of Shabos. When he finished changing shirts, he quietly declared, “Shabbes!” and was filled with satisfaction knowing he was able to mark the transition from profane to holy, even under such cruel and horrid conditions.
May we be zocheh to always usher in the Shabos with peace, and welcome her to our homes, and lives, with kavod that is befitting of the holy day.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,