Embrace Shabbos Chapter 14: Tosefes Shabbos — Creating Sanctity

Rabbi David Sutton June 6, 2024

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The requirement of tosefes Shabbos mandates that we begin Shabbos sometime earlier than the moment when Shabbos would otherwise set in. One is allowed to begin Shabbos at the point of plag haMinchah (1 and 1/4 halachic hours before sundown), and halachah requires us to begin Shabbos at some point after the plag, before sundown.

 Several important concepts underlie this obligation of tosefes Shabbos.

The first is expressed by Rashi in his commentary (Bereishis 2:2). The Torah tells that G-d completed the process of creation on the seventh day. Of course, as Rashi notes, the work actually was completed at the end of the sixth day. The Torah describes Hashem completing the work on the seventh, Rashi explains, because this is how it would have appeared to the human being. Rashi writes:

A human being, who does not know his periods of time and moments, must add from the weekday onto the holiness [of Shabbos], but the Almighty, Who knows His periods of time and moments — enters it with the precision of a hairsbreadth, and it thus appeared as though He finished on that day.

Human beings are imperfect, and we are thus unable to determine the precise moment when one day ends and the new day begins. G-d could begin Shabbos at the precise moment when the sixth day ends, but we must add some time before the onset of Shabbos to ensure that we begin on time.

This is the first reason underlying tosefes Shabbos — to demonstrate our concern for Shabbos observance by beginning early just to be safe. When we are waiting for the train, we do not stand right at the edge of the platform; we move a few feet away from the edge as a safety precaution. And this should be our policy also when it comes to mitzvos, especially when it comes to a mitzvah as important and as precious as Shabbos.

Tosefes Shabbos thus serves as a precaution to ensure that we begin Shabbos on time. Indeed, many communities had the practice of beginning Shabbos well before sundown for this reason, to avoid transgressing.

The second reason for tosefes Shabbos is discussed by the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, in his commentary to the Torah. In Parashas Ki Sisa (Shemos 31:16), the Torah commands, V’shamru Bnei Yisrael es haShabbos. The word v’shamru is usually interpreted to mean “observe,” but the Ohr HaChaim explains it differently, as referring to eager anticipation. For example, the Torah (Bereishis 37:11) tells, v’aviv shamor es hadavar — Yaakov Avinu anticipated the time when Yosef’s dreams would be fulfilled. Likewise, the pasuk (Tehillim 130:6) speaks of how we long for G-d’s salvation: me’shomrim la’boker — more than the nighttime guards long for the morning, when their shift ends. A shomer is someone who eagerly waits for the end of his shift. Similarly, the Ohr HaChaim writes, the command V’shamru Bnei Yisrael es haShabbos means that we should eagerly anticipate the arrival of Shabbos. The way this is done, the Torah then continues, is la’asos es haShabbos — “to make Shabbos.” The Ohr HaChaim explains that we “make Shabbos” by beginning Shabbos early. Remarkably, G-d empowers us with the ability to create a period of sanctity, to transform time from the weekday into Shabbos, into holiness. Even though Shabbos is scheduled to begin only at sundown, we can create Shabbos by accepting it 10 minutes early. Just as a groom “sanctifies” and designates his bride by declaring the words harei at mekudeshes li, and a person can make an animal or other material object sacred by verbally consecrating it, similarly, we can make time sacred through the mechanism of tosefes Shabbos. Thus, the Ohr HaChaim explains, the Torah here commands us to show our excitement and eager anticipation for Shabbos by “creating” a period of Shabbos even before it is scheduled to begin. Just like schoolchildren relish every opportunity to begin recess early, we, too, should relish the opportunity to leave the mundane workweek early and rush into Shabbos.

This special power to “create” Shabbos is highlighted by two fascinating halachos in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 263). First, the Shulchan Aruch writes that if there is only a single Jewish community in a town, then once the majority of the community accepts the onset of Shabbos, even if this occurs well before sunset, the others are bound by their acceptance. When the majority of the community chooses to begin Shabbos at a certain time, then G-d determines that Shabbos has begun in that part of the world, and thus everyone is bound by that decision. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch rules that if a visitor arrives in a community on Friday afternoon and discovers that the community has begun Shabbos, he must drop his wallet and begin Shabbos. He is bound by the local community’s acceptance of Shabbos, because G-d follows the community’s decision to begin Shabbos early.

Tosefes Shabbos not only testifies to the special power that G-d has granted us, but also has a profound impact upon our children. After commanding us to show our anticipation for Shabbos by “creating” a period of tosefes Shabbos, the Torah writes, l’dorosam bris olam — Shabbos is an eternal covenant, enduring for all generations. When our children see our excitement for Shabbos, that we are so eager to begin Shabbos that we cannot even wait until the time it is meant to begin, they become inspired and recognize the great importance and value of Shabbos. This excitement is what ensures that Shabbos will be a bris olam, an everlasting covenant, as it will leave an indelible impact upon our children and motivate them to remain loyal and devoted to Shabbos.

A number of works mention that tosefes Shabbos is a segulah for childless couples to have children, and one of the sources is this pasuk in Parashas Ki Sisa. (For other sources of this segulah, see Noam Shabbos, p. 182.) By “creating” Shabbos through the mechanism of tosefes Shabbos, we ensure l’dorosam, that we will produce future generations that will continue to preserve and respect the sanctity of Shabbos.

Accepting Shabbos early is thus not simply a “nice thing to do.” It is an outright halachic requirement, as well as a powerful expression of our love for Shabbos, which will leave a profound impact upon our children that will endure l’dorosam, for all generations, inspiring our descendants to remain faithful to Shabbos and to our heritage.

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Reprinted from Embrace Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton with permission from Artscroll Mesorah.