Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
November 17, 2003
Number 5764-7 Shabbat III – Physical vs Spiritual Pursuits
While everyone wants to have the spiritual benefits of Shabbat, many do not realize the preparation that must go into Shabbat to experience these benefits. Author and Play write, Herman Woulk not only noticed that Shabbat took all the tension and stress out of his work week, but that the quiet of Shabbat also enabled him to do his best work once he returned after the holiday (Herman Woulk, “This is My God”, see: A Personal Digression)
To understand how Shabbat works we need to see that as our physical activities wane, our spiritual resources increase. Let us look at the four different parts of Shabbat and see how this change takes place. In chronological order, these four parts are: Friday Night; Sat. Morning/Lunch; Sat. Afternoon; and Sat. Night. These understandings are based on the work of Franz Rosenzweig, a Jewish Philosopher in the 1800’s
Friday Night – Friday night is rich in Physical stimulation. There is the Kabbalat Shabbat service which is sung traditionally in 3/4 time (Waltz Time) a very grand and stately kind of music. The Theme of the service is G-d as Creator, the physical actions of G-d. The Friday night service is a coronation/wedding of Shabbat as a royal bride, with all the pomp and ceremony of this event. The Shabbat Dinner is a full course dinner, usually the best dinner of the week. Jews would save their money to make Shabbat dinner the best it could possibly be. The Zemirot tend to speak to the food of the dinner as a way of celebrating Shabbat. The lighting of candles, the rich egg challah, the blessings of family and food all designed to stress the physical side of life. Even the mandate that Friday night is also a special time for sexual relations between a husband and wife highlight the physical nature of this part of Shabbat. Spiritually, though, things are very low. We often arrive at Friday night tired from a long hard work week, and tired from the frantic push to get Shabbat ready before candles must be lit. Spiritual concerns are far from our mind during this part of Shabbat
Saturday Morning/Lunch – We awaken Saturday morning refreshed and rejuvenated and ready for the main service of the day, Shacharit. During this service we will offer a special Amida for Shabbat and a Musaf Amida in honor of the day. We will pause to read from the Torah, to get some religious learning in as well as a reading from the Prophets in the Haphtara. Clearly our Spiritual side is rising. Without the distractions of job and responsibilities, we are free to let our spiritual side shine. There is still some significant physical aspects to Shabbat here. The time of the music is 4/4 (March Time) and the theme is G-d as King. Lunch is not the sumptuous feast of Friday Night, but, prepared in advance, the lunch menu is still satisfying and complete. Often guests will join us for the meal and for the singing. The Zemirot stress more spiritual themes, however, focusing on Shabbat Rest and learning. During this part of Shabbat, with spirituality rising and the physical declining, they are about even on the chart.
Saturday Afternoon – The physical almost disappears as the afternoon wears on. Shabbat Afternoon is often the time for a Shabbat nap, a Shabbat walk or time to read a Shabbat book. There are no schedules to keep, phones to answer or problems to solve. It is a time to talk to our children, perhaps play some unhurried games with them. The third meal of Shabbat is almost no meal at all. Perhaps a hard boiled egg, some cheese, perhaps some tuna salad and bread. It is a pretty spartan meal. The songs sung during the meal are often wordless niggunim, songs best hummed or filled with La-la-la’s and Bim bam bim. Spiritually we are very high, feeling a part of nature, not an opponent of nature. Our life has slowed down to the point where we even begin to lose track of time, noting only that the sun is slowly setting and that Shabbat will, eventually come to an end. The theme of the afternoon service is Redemption, a theme based in the future, and we contemplate a world where it is Shabbat all the time. We are feeling closer to G-d and have a better understanding of our place in G-d’s universe.
Saturday Night – Having reached a spiritual high in the afternoon, as soon as the sun sets and Shabbat ends, we are suddenly free to re-enter the chaos of the week. It is a spectacular crash as spiritual perfection meets reality once again. While the crash is unavoidable, the Havdala service is designed to cushion the fall. Havdala consists of four blessings. One for wine – reminding us that there are other reasons to celebrate beside Shabbat. The second blessing is over spices – reminding us that there are other sweet things in life beside Shabbat. The third blessing is over the Havdala candle, a multi-wick candle that resembles a torch, to light our way into the darkness of the new week, and a final blessing to G-d for creating a distinction between secular and holy days. The spirituality of Shabbat leaves us and we once again return to work and chores. Still, the spiritual time of Shabbat has changed us and we are able to look at the new week with new eyes and with a refreshed soul.
Next week: Thanksgiving