Embrace Shabbos Chapter 9: The Power of Preparation

Rabbi David Sutton May 2, 2024

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The festival of “Shavuos, weeks,” is named not after the event it commemorates — Matan Torah — but rather after the period that preceded it, the seven weeks of the omer period during which we prepare for this experience. The reason, as many commentators explain, is because the quality and impact of our kabbalas haTorah, our acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos, depends on the level of preparation beforehand.

A famous story is told (Bava Metzia 85b) of Rabbi Chiya, who described how he worked to ensure that Torah would not be forgotten from Bnei Yisrael. He brought flax seeds, planted them, harvested the flax and processed it into nets. He then used the nets to trap deer. He shechted the deer, fed the meat to the poor, and used the hides to prepare parchment scrolls, upon which he wrote the Torah and Mishnah. He brought these scrolls to places where there were no teachers, and he taught children, thereby ensuring the continuity of Torah knowledge.

The commentators raised the question of why Rabbi Chiya went through this lengthy process to prepare the scrolls. If Torah was on the verge of being forgotten, then, seemingly, it would have made more sense to expedite the process as much as possible, and to try to obtain scrolls that had already been prepared. The answer is that preparation has an impact. Rabbi Chiya’s pure, sacred intentions during the preliminary stages of planting the flax, trapping the deer, and preparing the parchment directly affected the quality of the Torah learning this process facilitated. If he had just obtained ready-made parchment, the learning would not have had the same impact. He injected sanctity into the scrolls through his intentions over the course of the process of preparing them.

The Vilna Gaon remarked (as cited by his brother) that if, when a synagogue is built, each and every nail is banged into place with the proper intentions, then one will not be able to pray in that synagogue without concentrating. The kedushah generated by the intentions with which it is built will have such an impact that people who pray in the building will automatically feel uplifted and inspired.

This applies to Shabbos preparation as well. The purer our intentions when we prepare for Shabbos, the more of an impact Shabbos will have upon us. Whether it’s preparation of food, or the work done to earn money with which to purchase food for Shabbos, if the preparations are done with sincere and pure thoughts, these thoughts will affect the spiritual impact of the Shabbos experience. Of course, Shabbos is inherently sacred and will thus have an impact regardless of the preparations, but the quality and force of that impact depends upon the preparation.

We read (Shemos 24:16) that at the time of Matan Torah, Hashem’s special cloud covered Mount Sinai for six days, and on the seventh, He summoned Moshe to the top of the mountain so He could teach him the Torah. The Tiferes Shlomo explains that Moshe needed six days of preparation before entering the Machaneh HaShechinah, the Almighty’s domain. Correspondingly, the Tiferes Shlomo adds, we need six days of preparation before we can enter G-d’s domain on Shabbos. And the way we prepare during those six days directly affects the quality and effect of the experience.

A striking expression of this concept appears in Rav Tzadok HaKohen’s Pri Tzaddik (Parashas Beshalach). Rav Tzadok writes that the manna that Bnei Yisrael ate in the Wilderness had the effect of infusing them with holiness, and this enabled them to receive the Torah properly. Since manna was sacred food that originated from the heavens, it had the effect of generating holiness within those who consumed it. Rav Tzadok noted that this is true also of any sustenance that revolves around a mitzvah, and he explains on this basis the practice that many parents have to support their children for several years after the children get married. Since the money is given to the children to enable them to learn Torah, the children are facilitating their parents’ mitzvah of supporting Torah study when they eat the food purchased with this money. As such, this eating is a holy act and elevates the children to a higher spiritual plane.

Rav Tzadok’s comments apply to Shabbos food as well. When a family and the guests partake of the food especially prepared in honor of Shabbos, they facilitate the parents’ mitzvah. This eating is something sacred, as it is through this eating that the parents’ mitzvah of preparing food for Shabbos is fulfilled. This eating thus becomes sacred, and it elevates everyone at the table.

Whenever we enable someone to do a mitzvah, we become more holy. When we attend a Torah class and enable the rabbi to fulfill the mitzvah of teaching, then we absorb kedushah not only from the Torah we learn, but also from our facilitating the rabbi’s mitzvah. And so when we prepare for Shabbos with the proper intentions, for the sake of the mitzvah, then the Shabbos experience will uplift the entire household and elevate the family to higher levels of kedushah.

A number of rabbis have warned that one should not learn from a sefer that was printed with improper intentions, because these intentions undermine the spiritual impact of the learning. Thus, for example, Rav Yaakov Hillel warned that several editions of the Zohar were printed by people with insincere motives, and so these volumes should not be used for study. The intention one has in preparing for a mitzvah affects the quality and impact of the mitzvah.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz once commented that if a person is already praying, he might as well pray with kavannah (concentration). We might say the same about Shabbos preparation. Since we are in any event preparing for Shabbos, we might as well do so with the right intentions and mindset, which will elevate the Shabbos experience to an entirely different plane of sanctity and spirituality. If we prepare with the right intentions, our children’s eating of the Shabbos food will assume the status of an achilas mitzvah — eating for a mitzvah, a lofty act of holiness. And the holier our intentions, the higher the level of holiness we will attain through the Shabbos experience.


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