"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"There are so many restrictions, how can you enjoy Shabbat?"


The answer is possible to understand only from the inside. We don't enjoy Shabbat despite the prohibitions; we are able to fully enjoy it only because of the restrictions. When you become "addicted" to Shabbat after a few consecutive times, that is, when your metabolism incorporates the six day-one day rhythm, every Friday afternoon you find yourself eagerly stripping away all connections-physical, mental, and emotional-to the weekday world. The prohibitions teach us how to do it and help us to accomplish it. They are a springboard to the liberation of our minds and souls. A simple example: before candlelighting, we make sure our pockets are empty.

Masters of Kabbalah tell us that every mitzvah has an outer and inner dimension [in English, there is a clear discussion of this on the very last page of Tanya]. In our case, the inner dimensional requirement of "Remember" is that when you say the words of kiddush, the prayers and Torah, mean them! Or, at least, to be as aware as possible of the words you are saying while you are saying them.

The inner dimensional aspect of "Guard" is not only to refrain from forbidden activities, but to not talk about them either. Shabbat is a world and a pattern of time all to itself. When you are totally in it, you derive full benefits. When you are only partly there because you also are partly attached to your weekday patterns-whether in deed or head space-there may be conflict, and certainly less enjoyment.

"Does that mean we are not allowed to think about weekday things either?"

Such mind control would be unreasonable to expect. Who is capable of denying entry to the thoughts that flitter involuntarily into one's mind? But the words you choose to speak are different. As a sage once said: G-d gave you lips and teeth-to clamp down when necessary!

The concept of Shabbat derives from the Biblical account of Creation. What is it that G-d refrained from on the seventh day? Creative speech! No more "Let there be..." True, when we speak, nothing tangible pops into existence as a result, but the association established between creative deed and speech is still real enough so that to refrain from speech about creative activity is a logical extension. Strictures on thinking, however, can only be voluntary (based on Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 5:3).

Of course, if you choose to go all out, you can work on not getting caught up in weekday thoughts. But even if you do not, you may find that when you integrate the no-doing and no-talking into your Shabbat persona, the no-thinking about weekday affairs will often follow automatically. At that point you can experience the true Shabbat bliss you have heard about, which is so difficult to explain in words.


Yrachmiel Tilles

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