Embrace Shabbos Chapter 15: Coming Early and Staying Late

Rabbi David Sutton June 14, 2024

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Parashas Beha’aloscha features something very unusual, which we do not find anywhere else in the Torah. A pair of verses in the middle of the parashah (10:35-36) is surrounded on both sides by two symbols — upside-down nuns — that look like parentheses and thus serve to set these verses apart from the rest of the text. Rashi explains, based on the Gemara, that these two verses are set apart because this is not where they truly belong. Their natural location in the Torah is somewhere else, but they were placed here in order to make a separation between the Torah’s accounts of calamities. In order that we do not read an uninterrupted series of unfortunate events, the Torah made an “interruption” by inserting these two pesukim between the incidents.

As the Ramban notes, Rashi’s comments seem very difficult to understand. It is true that this pair of pesukim is followed by the accounts of two disastrous events, when Bnei Yisrael complained as they traveled, and then when they demanded meat. However, there does not seem to be any calamity related before these two verses. How can they serve to separate stories of misfortune, when nothing unfortunate is related before these two verses?

The Ramban explains that there is, in fact, a calamity told before these pesukim. The preceding verse (10:33) states that the people journeyed from Mount Sinai. The Midrash interprets these words to mean that Bnei Yisrael left Mount Sinai “like a child running away from school.” They left gleefully, relieved that they would not be receiving any more mitzvos, just like children running rowdily from the classroom and out of the building when the bell rings after a long day in school, overjoyed that they are now free from the responsibilities of school. This was indeed a tragedy, the Ramban explains, because if not for this sense of relief and “escape,” Bnei Yisrael would have entered the Land of Israel immediately, rather than wander through the Wilderness for forty years. The sins that followed, such as the sin of the spies, on account of which Bnei Yisrael were condemned to spend forty years in the Wilderness, would not have occurred if they had left Mount Sinai with the proper attitude and mindset.

It turns out that the very first sin Bnei Yisrael committed after embarking from Mount Sinai was a lack of appreciation for what Mount Sinai was all about, for the great privilege of receiving, studying and observing the Torah. They viewed it as a series of restrictions and obligations that made life difficult, and so they rejoiced when it was “over,” when they knew that no additional commands would be given.

Sadly, this was true on the opposite end, as well. We read (Shemos 15:22) that Moshe brought Bnei Yisrael away from the shores of the Yam Suf after the miracle of the sea to continue their journey to Sinai. Rashi explains that the Egyptian horsemen had adorned their chariots with extravagant gold and silver ornaments, and all these washed ashore after the Egyptian army drowned in the sea. Bnei Yisrael were preoccupied with the frantic search for riches, and showed no interest in advancing toward Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Here, too, they failed to properly appreciate the great privilege that Torah affords us, and to recognize the fact that Torah and mitzvos are far more precious than any quantity of even the most valuable jewels. As the Ma’asei Hashem comments, the child who runs away from school at the end of the day does not run to school in the morning. And so just as Bnei Yisrael ran from Mount Sinai, they needed to be pulled to Mount Sinai when it was time to go there.

The Chovos HaLevavos comments that whenever we have any sort of experience we should try to extract something from the experience that can enhance our service of Hashem.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, the famed Mashgiach of Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, gave an example that we can relate to our own life experience. We all know how we feel at the Maariv service that is recited immediately upon the conclusion of Yom Kippur. If a person runs through this Maariv, mumbling the words without concentration or feeling, then he acts like a child running from school, and demonstrates that he does not properly appreciate what Yom Kippur is all about. If he runs from Yom Kippur, then he must not recognize its inestimable value.

The same is true of Shabbos. We should not treat Shabbos as a burden we begrudgingly bear, a necessity of life that we have no choice but to put up with. Shabbos must be approached as our most precious commodity, as a source of unparalleled joy and of boundless blessings. If this is our perspective, then we will neither enter Shabbos begrudgingly nor run away from it joyfully. Rather, we will begin Shabbos as early as we can on Friday and end it as late as we can on Motza’ei Shabbos. The extra 10 minutes of Shabbos before or after are significant in expressing our feelings toward Shabbos, as they proclaim that we cherish every moment of this spiritual oasis in time, and we rush with eager anticipation to greet it.

Rav Leib Bakst zt”l, an esteemed Rosh Yeshivah in Yeshivah Beis Yehudah in Detroit, was once introduced to speak by being described as a person with great mesirus nefesh (devotion and sacrifice) for Torah. Rav Bakst objected. He said that if someone is brought to an ice cream store that offers ice cream in one hundred different flavors, and he is told he can help himself to as much ice cream as he wishes, it does not take any mesirus nefesh for him to eat ice cream. Similarly, Rav Bakst said, if someone truly appreciates the value and greatness of Torah, then it does not require any self-sacrifice whatsoever to devote himself to studying it.

Shabbos is a source of physical and spiritual enjoyment, and so we should be eagerly rushing to begin Shabbos and not so quick to end it. The way we begin and end Shabbos demonstrates whether we view Shabbos as our most valuable treasure, or if we prefer material assets, like Bnei Yisrael at the shores of the Yam Suf.

If we want to show what Shabbos means to us, how important we think it is and how much it offers us, then we come early and stay late. The extra 10 minutes before and after speak volumes about how we view the 25 hours in between. Let us, then, show our enthusiasm and love for Shabbos by rushing to greet it on Friday afternoon and extending it a bit later on Motza’ei Shabbos, thereby expressing just how much the Shabbos experience means to us.

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