The Long-Term Effects of the Shabbos Experience
People sometimes wonder why they should invest so much time and effort into Shabbos preparations. A woman might think that the many hours of preparation are not commensurate with the hour or two that the meal takes. It might make more sense to just order some pizza. Why put in so much time and effort into just one meal? This line of reasoning is correct if a meal has no longlasting impact. But once we recognize the long-term effects of the Shabbos meals, we will also recognize the value of preparing and investing effort into them.
Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, the late Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath, once arrived at the yeshivah during a severe snowstorm, and found that there were only four students in the beis midrash. The other students had not come to the yeshivah due to the inclement weather. When the time came for the daily shiur, the Rosh Yeshivah delivered the shiur with the same passion, vigor and enthusiasm as he always did. Afterward, one of the four boys approached him and asked why he spoke with so much intensity and excitement. “There were only four of us,” the student said. “Why were you shouting as if the room were filled?” Rabbi Heiman explained, “I wasn’t speaking to just the four of you. I was speaking to hundreds and hundredsof people. I was speaking to your children, your grandchildren, and your greatgrandchildren.”
Rabbi Heiman understood the long-term effects of divrei Torah. He realized that teaching Torah has an impact not only on the students themselves, but also on their children, their children’s children, and so on. The same is true of Shabbos. When we prepare for a Shabbos meal, we are not preparing for the one hour when the family is seated around the table. We are preparing for all future generations.
The Ben Ish Chai (Ben Yehoyada, Shabbos 119) tells of a Jewish man in Baghdad who decided to convert to Islam. The policy among the Moslems at that time was that a prospective convert’s conviction and dedication to Islam had to be tested and confirmed, and so a Rabbi was brought to try to persuade this man not to leave his faith. A Rabbi came and spoke to the man persuasively, but the man was resolute and firm in his decision. But then, a friend of his remembered that this fellow had a special affinity for the eggs in the cholent (hamin) on Shabbos. He would eat as many as 6-7 of these eggs at the Shabbos seudah. “Do you think you’ll be able to eat these eggs after you convert to Islam?” the friend said to the man. “Of course you won’t!” The man thought about this, and changed his mind. He decided not to convert.
The Ben Ish Chai explained that the special kedushah and “spice” of the Shabbos food had a profound impact upon this man’s neshamah (soul). Even as he began drifting away from Judaism, this spiritual connection, forged by the special Shabbos food, kept him from leaving. “I wasn’t speaking to just the four of you. I was speaking to your children, your grandchildren, and your greatgrandchildren."
When a woman prepares Shabbos food, she is not preparing just so that her family can experience the joy of eating. She is preparing something far deeper and more profound — a connection to kedushah that will last for many years. Indeed, many people have special memories of the Shabbos foods and their aromas. These memories reflect a deeper, spiritual connection that is created by the Shabbos experience.
There was once a family that was hosting a bar mitzvah in a hotel, and the mother called Rabbi Simcha Wasserman ahead of time to discuss with him several aspects of the celebration. She was surprised when the Rabbi asked what the menu would be. After hearing the menu, the Rabbi asked her, “What about chulent/hamin?” The woman explained that many of the guests come from a more modern background and were not accustomed to chulent/hamin. The Rabbi insisted that chulent/ hamin be served at Shabbos lunch — even though he would not be attending the bar mitzvah — and so the woman called the caterer and asked that chulent/ hamin be added to the menu.
In the middle of the meal, one of the guests (or, according to a different version of the story, a housekeeper of one of the guests) suddenly began to weep. When asked about why she cried, she explained that her parents had placed her with a Christian family during the Holocaust in order to rescue her from the Nazis. Since then, she never had any connection with the Jewish religion. Eating the chulent/hamin brought back memories of her childhood in her parents’ home, moving her to tears.
Once we recognize the long-term impact of the Shabbos experience, we will want to invest more time and effort into preparing for it. No time spent preparing for Shabbos is wasted. Whether it’s the flowers, the tablecloth, the food, or any of the other seemingly “trivial” aspects of Shabbos, the truth is that there is nothing “trivial” about it, because the effects endure for generations. The Torah says that Shabbos is a sign for Bnei Yisrael l’dorosam — for all generations. Therefore, there is no such thing as “over-preparing” for Shabbos, because every bit of preparation for Shabbos is actually preparation for all future generations.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.