Embrace Shabbos Chapter 8 (Shabbos Preparations — The More We Put In, The More We Take Out)

Rabbi David Sutton April 18, 2024

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The more we prepare for any mitzvah, the more long-term benefit it gives us. And Shabbos is no different. The more time, work, and effort we invest in preparing for Shabbos, the greater the benefits that we will reap from the Shabbos experience.

This concept can be easily seen in the structure of the week. The three days leading up to Shabbos — Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday — are intended as the period of preparation for Shabbos; and the three days after Shabbos — Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday — carry the sanctity of the prior Shabbos that extends into the workweek. Revealingly, the impact of Shabbos lasts for the same number of days as the number of days spent preparing. The calculation is simple: the more we put into Shabbos, the more we get out of Shabbos.

Similarly, the Talmud teaches that the righteous men of the earlier generations would spend an entire hour preparing for prayer, and then devoted another hour to reflection after praying. The amount they invested in their prayers was the same amount of inspiration they received from the prayer experience.

The Gemara (Shabbos 119a) relates that Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, one of the great Talmudic sages, was seen rushing about on Friday afternoon, making purchases and bringing them into the house. When asked to explain the frenzy, he replied that if R’ Ami and R’ Assi, the two leading sages of the time, would come to visit him in his home, he would work frantically to get the house ready for his illustrious guests. Shabbos, Rav Nachman said, deserves no less respect than R’ Ami and R’ Assi.

Accordingly, Rabbeinu Bachya writes in his Torah commentary (Bereishis 18:6) that one should prepare for Shabbos the way he would prepare for the arrival of the greatest sage of the generation.

Rav Ephraim Wachsman related that once the Skulener Rebbe fell ill and sought a blessing from the Satmar Rebbe. However, as he lived a distance from the Satmar Rebbe’s home, his students felt that it would be unwise for him to pay a visit in his frail condition. As it turned out, through the workings of Hashgachah (Providence), the Skulener Rebbe had to schedule an appointment with a doctor whose office was near the Satmar Rebbe’s home. When his car arrived at the doctor’s building, the driver realized that there was still an hour until the appointment, and so there was plenty of time to bring the Skulener Rebbe to the Satmar Rebbe’s home for a blessing. The Skulener Rebbe had fallen asleep in the car, and woke up when they arrived at the Satmar Rebbe’s home. His driver informed him that they were at the Satmar Rebbe’s home and he could now receive the blessing he wanted before his doctor’s appointment.

Much to the driver’s surprise, the Skulener Rebbe refused. He said he could not meet with such a great tzaddik without proper preparation. He would have to prepare himself before experiencing the sanctity of such a person, and he refused to go see the Satmar Rebbe on a minute’s notice.

Beholding kedushah requires preparation. Shabbos, the holiest day of the week, thus requires a great deal of preparation in order for it to be experienced the right way.

Similarly, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz would not go to the Kosel unless he first spent a half-hour studying mussar. In order to receive the full impact of this encounter with holiness, he needed to spend time preparing. And the same is true of Shabbos. Whether it’s preparing the food, the house, or the divrei Torah for the meals, the amount of preparation invested before Shabbos affects the amount of inspiration we will receive from the experience of Shabbos.

The A Time Shas-a-thon, in January 2016, is where approximately 300 people assembled to study the entire Talmud in a single day. Rabbi Mendel Tessler, a Holocaust survivor, had come to study Gemara together with his son and grandson. This man, who on countless occasions during World War II thought he would not live another day, was helping an organization that works to bring more Jewish children into the world — which was the greatest possible revenge against Hitler y”sh.

After the event Rabbi Tessler shared his remarkable story with me. He was taken from his family at the age of 14 and brought to Auschwitz. He waited on line for the infamous Dr. Mengele to decide which way he would be sent — to the labor camp or to the gas chambers. As he waited, someone told him that if he would say he was 14, he would certainly be killed, and so he should stand up tall and claim to be 16. This is what he did, and he was sent to the labor camp. He went into the barracks with 900 boys, of whom only 20 survived. He was then sent on a transport with 180 people, and only 40 survived the trip. Rabbi Tessler also survived a death march.

A year and a half later, his camp was liberated. The Nazis y”sh had put the inmates in a barn with haystacks on which to sleep, and locked the door. In the morning, American tanks rolled into the camp. When the inmates realized they were liberated, they broke the door down. Rabbi Tessler walked out of the barn to see what was happening, and just then a U.S. soldier shot at an SS guard. A stray bullet hit Rabbi Tessler in the leg, and he ended up being sent to a hospital in Germany, where he underwent ten surgeries. He recalled thinking at that time that there were only four Jews left in the world.

When he was finally able to walk out of the hospital on crutches, it was Shabbos, and he walked out with several other patients whom he had befriended. They heard that a few miles away, the Americans and Russians were playing a football game, and the boys planned to take a train to watch. This was the first time since the ordeal began that the group felt their spirits lifted and they were interested in having some fun and enjoying themselves. Rabbi Tessler knew that going to watch a football game was not in the spirit of Shabbos, but he very much wanted to go and to finally experience some enjoyment. As he stood at the train station, he recalled, he suddenly smelled the smoke of the train, and, miraculously, it smelled like his mother’s Shabbos food. Recalling the experience of Shabbos in his home, he could not bring himself to go on the train. All his friends boarded the train, and he was left alone, standing on crutches. He returned to his hospital bed and cried.

If not for that moment, he said, if he had not remembered the special fragrance of his mother’s Shabbos food, he would have likely joined his friends and the many other survivors who left the path of Torah observance (and whom, of course, we cannot possibly judge, considering all the suffering they had endured). He remained loyal to Torah because of his mother’s Shabbos cooking. Just as Yosef was saved from sin by the image of his saintly father, Rabbi Mendel Tessler was saved by the aroma of his mother’s food. At 87 years old, now a great-grandfather, Rabbi Tessler told this story with tears rolling down his cheeks.

This is what happens when parents invest great effort into preparing for Shabbos. This effort leaves a profound impact that lasts for years. The outcome of Mrs. Tessler’s Shabbos preparations was that her son remained observant and now learns Gemara with his children and grandchildren.

Shabbos is especially powerful and can produce miracles. The more we invest in it, the more we will receive from it.


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