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Shavuot and Returning to Soul

By: Rav Yonny Sack

The Holy chag of Shavuot is around the corner. Come Tuesday night, the Jewish Nation will begin their Tikun Leil, learning Torah in shuls, Batei Midrash, Yeshivot and Midrashot thoughout the world, spending the night delving into the Tree of Life that is the Torah and working to re-experience and plug into this year’s unique opportunity for Kabbalat HaTorah.

Let us explore an insight into Shavuot that will shed some light on the deeper meaning of this holy chag, zman matan Torateinu.   

Shavuot is not only the day the Jewish People were given the Torah. It was also accompanied of course with the entire nation experiencing the revelation of Hashem on Har Sinai, the cornerstone of our Emunah. What is fascinating is that the Gemara teaches us that this world transforming event of Kabbalat HaTorah took place on Shabbat. The Gemara says “And all agree that on Shabbat the Torah was given” (Shabbat 86b).  Why did Hashem choose to give the Torah and reveal Himself on a Shabbat? What was wrong with any other day of the week? Many might overlook this piece of information as trivial, but the truth is that there is incredible depth and meaning to be gleaned from this teaching.  Let’s try and understand.

To begin we need to understand a little more about Shabbat. When we say Kiddush on Friday night there is something peculiar that most people do not notice. We say (the pasuk from the Torah) “Vayechal Elokim Bayom HaShvii . . .” (Bereishit 2:2), which means “and Hashem completed the creation . . .” when? On the 7th Day.  If you massage your brain for a moment you will no doubt come up with the obvious question – How can the pasuk say that Hashem “completed” the creation on the 7th Day? That would imply that there was still creation on that day. The 7th is supposed to be a rest day! We learnt in preschool - 6 days He created, but on the 7th day He rested. What was He still ’finishing up with’ on the 7th

Rashi asks this question and gives the following answer: After the 6 days of creation there was something lacking. What was lacking? Menucha - the energy of Shabbat. Thus, on the 7th day, Hashem created a unique spiritual creation, different to that of the 6 days, called Menucha, the spiritual rest of Shabbat (Michtav MeEliyahu, V2, pg 13). On the 7th day Hashem brought the energy of Shabbat called Menucha into the world. As the Midrash Raba says “Shabbat comes, Menucha Comes” (Quoted in Rashi). This Menucha is what was put into the world on Yom HaShvii and since the Shabbat of Creation, each 7th day, that same energy descends and we are able to plug into it through the laws of Shabbat.

What is this energy of Menucha? It is literally translated as rest but what type of rest? We can understand it through the following illustration:

Have you ever been to a busy social gathering where you can find many of your friends or acquaintances, and as you enter you are greeted by someone and ‘the chit chat’ conversation begins - “Hey how are you, what’s been happening . . . ” etc. And then a funny thing happens. While you are chatting to them you might find that your eyes are wandering over their shoulder looking at the party and seeing who is there, paying less and less attention to what they are saying?  A similar example is that of a parent talking to their teenager about the teen’s day while he/she (or the parent) is ‘just quickly’ checking an email or SMS on their phone.  In these situations, the person distracted is not present. He may be there physically but he himself is not there. He is in his phone or email or already preparing for the more interesting conversation with someone different at the party. This is someone who does not have Menuchat HaNefesh, the Shabbat type Menucha in its character trait form.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may have met someone or know someone that makes you feel like they have all the time for you in the world when you speak with them. They are so fully present in the conversation that you feel as though there is nowhere else they need or want to be right now other than with you. This is what Menuchat HaNefesh is all about. A person with Menucha is a present person. He is landed in each and every situation he finds himself in. In fact, the word Menucha is based on the root ‘Nach’ which means “to be in place, landed, at rest”. When something is at rest, in its place, tranquil and serene without anywhere else it needs to or wants to be – that is Menucha.

This is the background of all spiritual living and growth (R Dessler ibid. and Alter of Kelm). When you are not present during the mitzvot you do (like during davening for example, where often one is physically saying the words, but their mind is in a different place) you can’t expect to truly connect or grow from the experience. You weren’t really there during the encounter.

So too, in relationships with others, without Menucha, a relationship cannot be built. You have to have focused presence with the person to build a connection with them. So many parents and children, friends, husbands and wives etc. are missing out on the genuine connection and pleasure of their relationships with each other as they are simply not really present half the time. This is why Menucha is so important.

Shabbat is the day where this energy of tranquility, of presence, descends into the world. Through ceasing from creative work, we allow ourselves to experience this pleasure of presence. As Rashi brings on the verse “Six days you shall work and do all your melacha” - “ When Shabbat comes, it should be for you as though all your work is done”. There is nowhere else to be, no work that needs to be done – you can be entirely present in the eternity of Shabbat. This is the secret of the rest of Shabbat. It is an arrival at a destination. After a week of doing, you can finally just be.

But there is something deeper going on here. In essence, the presence we can tap into on Shabbat is that of Hashem Himself. The Zohar calls Shabbat the day of the soul, and Shabbat is also known as a name of Hashem. As such, Shabbat is the day in which we connect to the root of who we are and essentially connect into the spiritually charged presence of the Source of all.

Hashem says “Ki Ani Hashem, Lo Shaniti - I am Hashem, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6) - He is unchangeable and beyond time. Just like the timelessness felt when speaking to someone with Menucha, when we connect to Shabbat we connect into our very root, where true tranquility, peace and timelessness is found – in Hashem Himself. In this sense, the word Shabbat is based on the root Shav – to return. Returning to our deeper spiritual self, which is an expression of Hashem in the world. When experienced properly, on Shabbat we can access a deep sense of Menucha which is a taste of the World to come, a glimpse of the everlasting all encompassing Presence of the Hashem.

The Torah had to be given on Shabbat. Why? The Sfat Emet (P. Yitro) explains that the Torah has this same power of Shabbat to return one back to the root of his soul. In Tehillim (19:8) it describes Torah as “Meshivat Nafesh” - it restores the soul. Through learning Torah one reconnects to the deepest root of self, restoring the nefesh to its source (Sfat Emet ibid). How so? The Torah is in fact a window into the world of Hashem. The Ramban writes that the entire Torah is one long name of Hashem (all the letters in a row without punctuation spell out one long name of Hashem). Therefore, when learning Torah, we are accessing Hashem’s ‘mind’ so to speak, the Divine wisdom, and therefore connecting to Hashem in the most sublime way. Through Torah we align our external intellect with our G-dly intellect, our Soul, touching a place deep within us and returning us back to our Source. This is the same power that Shabbat has. When one learns Torah, you can feel this same Shabbat like sensation of timelessness, and Presence of Hashem as you connect deep to the Divine wisdom within. Hashem thus revealed Himself to the entire nation, giving us the greatest of gifts, on none other than the day of returning to source, Shabbat.

This Shabbat and Shavuot, may we all be blessed to try and plug into the Menucha and Torah learning as best we can. In these incredible gifts we will find a world of unimaginable beauty and tranquility, and restoration of Soul.

Have a beautiful Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach for Tuesday.


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