Embrace Shabbos: The Everlasting Spiritual Impact of Kedushat Shabbat

Rabbi David Sutton February 16, 2024

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“Likras Shabbat lichu v’nelchah, ki hi mekor haberachah.”Let us go to greet Shabbat, because it is the source of blessing.

In this passage from the stirring Lechah Dodi hymn recited in our weekly Friday night prayer service, we express our excitement to welcome Shabbos, as it is mekor haberachah — the source of all blessing. We welcome Shabbos into our homes and into our hearts not merely because of the Torah command to observe Shabbos, but also because we recognize that all blessing emanates from the special sanctity of this day.

What precisely do we mean when we call Shabbos the mekor haberachah? In what way is Shabbos the source of all blessing?

On one level, of course, this refers to the material blessing we earn through our Shabbos observance. While at first it may appear that we lose by observing Shabbos, as we must close our business and refrain from profitable work, in truth, we gain through the inestimable rewards that Hashem promises for Shabbos observance.

Additionally, however, Shabbos is the mekor haberachah in a deeper, spiritual sense, as it is the source of all kedushah in the world.

Kedushah exists in three realms: time, place, and people. Certain times are more sacred than others, with Shabbos representing the most sacred of all units of time. Kedushah also rests on places, with the Beis HaMikdash, of course, being the most sacred place in the world. People, too, can become sacred, through the Torah we study and the mitzvos we observe.

Shabbos is the source and root of all these three manifestations of kedushah, by profoundly impacting all three realms: time, place, and people.

Shabbos in the Year 2100

One of the great challenges of our world is that things are constantly changing. Technology becomes old after just a few years; styles are outdated in a flash; what’s new quickly becomes old. Everything in our society is fragile and short-lived.

Shabbos, however, is a fixture of our world that will never change. It brings stability to our lives by stopping the flow of time each week, extricating us from the never-ending current of life so we can stop, reflect, enjoy, and grow. This is the special kedushah of time that Shabbos offers us.

And thus the Gemara in Maseches Chullin (101) describes Shabbos as keviya v’kayama — consistent and permanent. The holidays we observe occur on calendar dates that are dependent upon the declaration of the new months by the Beis Din (Rabbinic court). Shabbos, however, occurs every seven days, irrespective and independent of any factor in the universe.

In a world that is constantly changing, we find comfort each week with the onset of Shabbos, which is one of the very few consistent, reliable, and unchanging features of life.

In 1974, somebody approached a certain Jewish philanthropist, Stephen Klein, and proposed the idea of having the Shabbos candle lighting time printed in The New York Times every Friday. This would have the effect of spreading awareness of the great mitzvah of Shabbos, and also instill pride in Jews everywhere over their faith. The man was sold on the idea, and for the next 25 years, Mr. Klein paid $2,000 a week to The New York Times to publish a notice in the corner of page 1 every Friday informing Jewish women of the proper time for Shabbos candle lighting in New York City. The notice also included a phone number for people to call for more information about Shabbos.

In the spring of 1999, this philanthropist stopped sponsoring this project, and the candle lighting notice never again appeared in The New York Times, except once. On January 1, 2000, The New York Times ran three front pages in honor of the new millennium. It reprinted the front page from a century earlier, January 1, 1900; it had the regular front page for that day, January 1, 2000; and it printed a fictional front page for January 1, 2100, in an attempt to foresee what the news might be 100 years into the future. This imaginary front page included a fictitious article about the incorporation of Cuba as the 51st state, and a piece covering a controversy as to whether robots should be allowed to vote. Interestingly, in the corner of the front page, there was a notice announcing the time of Shabbos candle lighting in New York City for that week.

The production manager, an Irish Catholic, was asked about the inclusion of this notice, and he said, “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain, that in the year 2100, Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.”

Remarkably, even this Catholic manager working for The New York Times recognized the unique consistency and permanence of Shabbos, and astutely observed that Shabbos is one of the very few things in our world that can be predicted with certainty.

While everything around us constantly changes, we know with absolute confidence that every Friday night, we will have candles, special food, words of Torah, and beautiful zemiros. No one knows how wide and patterned our ties will be, or the color and style of the furniture, or what menus will be fashionable —but the Shabbos experience will always be the same, and this is something that we should always appreciate, each and every week. Shabbos is the source of kedushah in time, serving as the anchor that keeps us in place even as so many things around us are constantly changing.

A Song for Eternity

A vivid example of Shabbos’s powerful impact on place is a story told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn about Rabbi Yonah Lazar. In 1992, Rabbi Lazar left the Lakewood Yeshivah, where he had been learning, to lead a yeshivah in Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, a region in the former Soviet Union. A department of Agudas Yisrael worked to reestablish various yeshivos that existed before the Holocaust, and the yeshivah in Kishinev was one such institution. Rabbi Lazar went with another young Rabbi to rebuild the yeshivah and work to rejuvenate Jewish life in Kishinev. Baruch Hashem, their efforts were successful, and numerous young men and women from the city went on to study in higher level institutions abroad.

The highlight for the yeshivah’s students was the Friday night service, which was very moving and inspirational. The two young rabbis taught the boys a number of Shabbos songs to make the experience exciting, including a Yiddish song composed by Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. The words of the song, translated into English, are, “If I had the strength, I would go in the streets and say out loud: Shabbos! Holy Shabbos!” The song is sung in a slow, haunting tune, and is customarily sung on “Shabbos marches” as part of the effort to spread awareness of the importance and value of the day’s observance. The boys in Kishinev were electrified by this song. The rabbis had the words translated into Russian, and it became a weekly highlight, uplifting and inspiring the students.

A number of years later, Rabbi Lazar and his wife returned to the United States and moved to Los Angeles, where Rabbi Lazar worked as a seventh-grade teacher. Every Rosh Chodesh, he would tell his students stories of his experiences in Kishinev. Rabbi Aron Twerski, the grandfather of one of the students, heard about Rabbi Lazar’s experiences, and contacted him to inform him about his upcoming trip to Kishinev. Rabbi Twerski had ancestors buried in the city, and he wanted to visit their grave sites. He offered to bring anything Rabbi Lazar wished to send to the yeshivah.

Sometime later, Rabbi Lazar was reading a book of memoirs from prewar Kishinev, wondering if it mentioned Rabbi Twerski’s ancestors. He came across a passage that depicted the unique warm, serene atmosphere on Friday night in Kishinev. The author wrote that many of the city’s laymen would make a point of praying on Friday night in the yeshivah in order to hear the students’ spirited, soulful singing. He noted in particular the stirring experience of hearing Zecharya the watchmaker leading a rendition of Rav Levi Yitzchak’s song.

It was at this moment, the author wrote, that everybody truly felt the sanctity of Shabbos. Anyone who has not witnessed this sight, he went so far as to say, has not tasted the beautiful flavor of Shabbos. Rabbi Lazar was stunned. The song he had taught his students, and which stirred their souls and inspired them with the kedushah of Shabbos, is the same song that marked the highlight of the Shabbos experience in that exact spot, in the yeshivah of Kishinev, some 60 years earlier. The kedushah generated by the singing of Rav Levi Yitzchak’s song in prewar Kishinev never left that site. It remained there for decades, and eventually had a profound impact, igniting the souls of young men who had not received a religious upbringing.

This is the eternal, everlasting impact of the sanctity of Shabbos. This impact is real, and is something we can all bring to our homes. Every Shabbos, we have the precious opportunity to inject our homes with a powerful and eternal element of kedushah. By observing Shabbos the way it is supposed to be observed, by sharing words of Torah and singing zemiros, we can bring holiness to the home, where it will remain and have a profound impact for many generations to come.

Igniting an Eternal Spark

Finally, the Shabbos experience leaves an indelible impact upon people, upon us, igniting a spark deep within our souls that can never be extinguished, and whose effects endure forever.

Rabbi Pruzansky told the story of a girl named Miriam who grew up in Chicago and was raised by a family that was only minimally observant. They belonged to a Reform congregation, and she attended a Jewish school that had some Orthodox teachers, but they were strictly forbidden to teach religion. When Miriam was in fifth grade, her teacher, Mrs. Weiss, who was an observant Jew, saw something special in Miriam, and — at risk of losing her job — invited her for Shabbos. Miriam arrived just before candle lighting, and watched her teacher as she set up her candles in preparation for lighting.

“What are you doing?” Miriam asked.

Mrs. Weiss explained to her the beautiful mitzvah of Shabbos candle lighting, adding, “One day, when you have your own family, you will also light these candles.” Miriam asked if she could light already then, and Mrs. Weiss said she could. She set out two more candles, and they recited the blessing together and lit the candles.

Mrs. Weiss then said, “This is a very special time to pray to G-d, to ask for anything we want.” Miriam prayed in front of the candles, and felt something very special inside.

This experience was Miriam’s only connection to spirituality as a child. She attended a public high school, and by the time she got to college, her friends were calling her Mary. In her final year of college, she met an Italian boy named Vinny, and not too long afterward, their wedding plans were set. She would be getting married in a church in a ceremony presided over by Vinny’s family priest.

On Mary’s wedding day, her friends pulled up in a limousine to bring her to the church. She got into the car dressed in her wedding gown, looking forward excitedly to the most joyous and significant event of her life. In the car, her friends told her to close her eyes, as they had a surprise for her. When she opened them she saw a diamond-studded cross resting on her heart.

Later in her life she recalled how time seemed to stop at that moment when she saw the cross. She felt a cry from deep within her soul shouting, “No! No!” Mary shook off the jittery feelings and regained her composure.

“Thank you,” she exclaimed. “It’s such a beautiful necklace!”

Several minutes later, the limousine stopped at a red light, and a few feet away there were five Bais Yaakov girls trying to find their way through the Chicago neighborhood. It was Shabbos morning, and the girls were there for a Shabbaton. They couldn’t find the synagogue where they were supposed to be praying. Just then, their eyes caught sight of a bride in her wedding gown wearing a cross around her neck, peering from the open limousine window. The girls decided to approach the limousine to ask for help.

“You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” Mary said. “I assume you are looking for the Orthodox synagogue. I know today is Shabbos. I can help you. I’m also Jewish.” The light turned green, and Mary told the driver that she wanted to help these girls find their way. She then turned to the girls and told them to follow the car.

As the girls walked after the car, they began talking about the unfortunate situation they just witnessed — a young Jewish woman wearing a cross and a wedding gown on Shabbos. They realized that she was marrying a non-Jew, and decided that they had to do something.

By the time they arrived at the synagogue, they had a plan.

“Thank you very much for helping us,” they said. “Would you like to come inside the synagogue and receive a blessing from the Rabbi on your wedding day?”

“That sounds nice,” Mary replied, and she agreed.

Her friends started shouting at her. “Are you crazy?” they said. “Don’t go there!”

“Don’t worry,” Mary said. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

The girls asked her to remove her necklace out of respect for the synagogue, and she agreed. She walked into the ladies’ section wearing her wedding gown and waited for the prayers to finish. She was touched by the sounds of a nine-year-old boy singing a beautiful song for the congregation, and was filled with a sense of longing. The rabbi and his wife met with Mary after the service, and asked if she knew anything about her Jewish roots. She said she didn’t.

“Are you really ready to give it all up without exploring it first?” they asked. “If you postpone your wedding for a few weeks to give it a chance, we would love to help you.”

“Are you serious?” Mary asked, incredulous. “You never met me before, and you and your wife are willing to spend time teaching me?!”

“Absolutely,” they emphatically replied. “We are here for you.” Mary had a very good feeling about it, and so she went back to the car to tell her friends she was postponing the wedding.

“What?!” they shouted. “Vinny is waiting! This is the happiest day of your life — don’t ruin it!” But her mind was made up. She wasn’t going to the church.

Over the next few weeks, Mary grew very close with the rabbi and his wife, and she embraced Judaism.

Several months later, she became fully observant. She went to Israel to learn more, and there everything started falling into place. She was introduced to a religious man from a background similar to hers, and she married the man that Hashem intended her to marry. They moved to Meah Shearim and built a beautiful family together.

The story became known when the couple hosted guests for Shabbos, and the guests noticed something unusual. Before candle lighting, Miriam changed into her wedding gown, and after lighting she stood in front of the Shabbos candles for 45 minutes praying. Miriam explained to her guests that she took on this practice because it was the Shabbos candles that she lit as a fifth grader that paved the way for her journey to religious observance. “I feel that it was the merit of the only mitzvah I did as a child — lighting the Shabbos candles — that gave me the opportunity to have the limousine stop at that light. I thank Hashem all the time for those few seconds that changed the course of my life.”

This story teaches a powerful lesson of hashgachah pratis (Divine Providence), how Hashem puts people in just the right place and at just the right time. Additionally, however, this story also shows us the power of the Shabbos experience to impact upon a person even many years later.

Miriam’s Shabbos experience when she was a young girl instilled within her an element of kedushah that remained with her for many years after, such that when the cross was placed on her heart, the kedushah inside her cried out. Indeed, Shabbos has the power to resist the power of avodah zarah (idolatry). Our Sages teach that Shabbos observance brings forgiveness even in a generation steeped in idol worship, and the Steipler Gaon explains that Shabbos reinforces our faith, as we observe it to commemorate G-d’s creation of the world, and thus it has the power to oppose idolatrous influences. In Miriam’s case, her Shabbos observance as a fifth grader enabled her to resist the influence of idolatry many years later.

Once we recognize the profound, enduring impact of the Shabbos experience, how it affects our sense of time, our homes, and our souls, “likrat Shabbat lichu v’nelchah, ki hi mekor haberachah” — we will enthusiastically welcome Shabbos each week and euphorically celebrate this incomparably precious gift. We will approach Shabbos not as an overwhelming burden, and not as a source of unwanted pressure, but as the mekor haberachah, the feature of our lives that brings true blessing to everything we do.

A Personal Note

Baruch Hashem, my exposure to Shabbos was much more profound and much deeper than Miriam’s. My paternal great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Sutton, came to the United States from Aleppo, Syria in 1909, at a time when Shabbos observance, tragically, was not common in America. They would not surrender. To them, Shabbos was not a matter of choice; it was part of life itself. That year my great-grandfather established A.D. Sutton Inc., with the firm policy that closing time on Friday would be 2:30, come what may.

My mother’s forebears came here in 1865, and, miraculously, virtually all their descendants are shomrei Shabbos. They, too, faced and fought an environment that was hostile to Shabbos observance, and they, too, persevered. My mother’s grandfather never worked after midday Friday, and walked up and down Delancey Street telling storekeepers to close their stores for Shabbos.

My grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Naftoli Leifer, were an inspiration to us. He was a professional chazzan and the highlight of his week was leading the services. One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting next to him on the stage at Temple Beth El as he led the services. Not only would he say “Hayom Yom Rishon l’Shabbos” (“Today is the first day toward Shabbos”) in the Sunday morning prayers, he would announce it in his home on Sunday morning as well. He continued this announcement at home every day until his beloved Shabbos came. He would spend the final moments of Friday afternoon finishing shnayim mikra and waiting for Shabbos to come. I fondly remember his zemiros that filled the home with a special aura and happiness.

My father went through medical school. Everyone knows the brutal hours that young doctors must put in as part of their required hospital service. My father’s ingenuity and diplomatic skill were regularly put to the test to overcome the challenges to Shabbos observance, without compromise, and for one year he worked 48-hour shifts in exchange for being given off on Shabbos. He was required to serve as a military doctor for two years, in addition to years of internship and residency. Although this was all during the Vietnam War, through Divine Providence, he was assigned to work on research projects in the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, he was spared from the dangers of the front lines and was able to keep kosher and Shabbos and live in a religious community in Silver Spring. Not only that, due to the war, the government cut back on research budgets, so my father rarely had work and was able to spend his time learning Torah. I attribute this Divine help that enabled him to have such an easy military career to his dedication to Shabbos observance.

I thank Hashem constantly for the zechus of being nurtured in such a home and seeing the example of such parents.

May Hashem help us make the most of the special opportunity Shabbos offers us, so that we receive its full impact and so that its kedushah will remain with us and our children throughout the generations. Amen.


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