Coming Off the Bench in Olam Haboh 1
You can't get to Olam Habo unless you've been there before. Shabbos is the
best way to get there early.
These two statements are not at all contradictory, but complementary.
It is absolutely impossible, writes the Ohr HaChayim, 2 for a person to attain elevation to the Upper World
without having attained some tributary portion of it while still in this
world. In that world, a world that is entirely Shabbos, there is nothing
but delight and happiness. The extra neshamah we gain on Shabbos comes
from that world. When Hashem commands us to guard the Shabbos, He means
the neshamah that goes by that name. If Jews do not achieve the content of
that neshamah, they are unable to remain in the upper realm and delight in
its treasures. Shabbos, then, readies a person for the experience of the
next world while still residing in this one. It provides us with the
preparation we need, without which we would be unable to partake of what
olam habo has to offer.
Building upon this, Toras Avos offers a chilling observation. A person
can observe all the mitzvos and keep Shabbos in meticulous detail. If he
has never stirred his heart to feel the delight of Shabbos, he will merit
admission to the world to come, but his experience there will parallel his
experience here. There too he will be incapable of feeling its delight.
He will surely be in olam habo, but he will be a bench, an unfeeling piece
The Rambam3 underscores the special
gravity of Shabbos. Both it and avodah zarah, he says, amount to the
equivalent of the entire Torah. If you transgress other precepts of the
Torah, you are a transgressor. Publicly transgress Shabbos, on the
other hand, and you are likened to an idolator! The specialness of Shabbos
operates in the opposite direction as well. If one properly observes
Shabbos, says the gemara, 4 even if he
had worshipped avodah zarah like the generation of Enosh, his prior
misdeeds are forgiven. No similar offer is linked to the observance of any
We begin our explanation with a different aspect of Shabbos. Shabbos
is an eternal sign between Myself and Bnei Yisrael. 5 The sign is not in our observance of Shabbos, but
rather in its essential quality. Its inner content is that it serves to
connect and bind us to HKBH!
To understand this, we must look at the words of the Ramban. 6 The musaf offerings of Shabbos do not
include a chatos, because Shabbos finds its mate in Knesses Yisrael. In
it, all is peace. In the spirit of love covers over all offenses, 7 there is nothing but peace and
tranquility between the lovers. Their relationship will admit no
wrongdoing; there is no need for any atonement. Therefore, there is no
From the standpoint of individual avodah, 8 we can easily appreciate what this means. The soul leaves
its heavenly source under the Throne of Honor, and is forced into a world
that is spiritually arid, a world in which lurk all kinds of forces that
oppose kedushah. The journey requires an initial descent for the purpose
of eventual elevation.
How is this precious neshamah supposed to hold fast to its nature, and to
its goal? How can it be expected to survive in its pristine purity while
immersed in the impurity of this world? How can it possibly maintain its
connection and bond to Hashem, while placed so distant from Him?
The answer, of course, is the program of mitzvos that Hashem gave us.
These 613 are 613 opportunities to safeguard the sanctity of the soul in
its sojourn through this world. One of those 613 comes potentiated far
beyond the powers of any of the other mitzvos. This is what Chazal mean
in calling Shabbos the equivalent of all the other mitzvos: its ability to
bind us to Him, which is the purpose of Torah itself. Shabbos is the
chief form of Divine light and holiness that He abstracted from Ein Sof,
9 and made available to us. Shabbos is
called a goodly gift in My treasure trove 10 by virtue of its inner nature as a fraction of the light of
Ein Sof, which has the ability to return Jewish souls to their source.
We refer to Shabbos as from the substance of olam habo. We understand
that there the righteous dwell and bask in the radiance of the
Shechinah. 11 We further understand
(as Mesilas Yesharim12 teaches
explicitly) that the indescribable happiness of connection to Hashem is
reserved for a special place, which is not of our present existence, but
appropriate to olam habo. The Besht, however, taught that this is not
absolute. Some of that other-worldly glow can be felt even in this world
especially in the form of Shabbos.
The dynamic of Shabbos should now be clear to us. At its core, Shabbos
creates closeness, devekus to Hashem. Without having experienced it, the
neshamah has no way to function fully when it arrives in olam habo;
lacking it, the neshamah remains a bench in the heavenly abode. This
closeness occurs only when Shabbos is not only observed, but appreciated
emotionally. We only make use of Shabbos gift when we delight in it, and
when this delight leads to lovesickness for Him.
We can understand the words with which the Rambam cited above
continues. Tradition explains the reward a person receives in this world
beyond that sequestered for him in olam habo, when he enjoys Shabbos
according to his ability. This reward is the ability to benefit from the
radiance of the Shechinah even in this world; the reward he receives here
is related to his ultimate reward in olam habo.
The Rambam.s son13 lyrically describes
the connection to Hashem in mind and obedience - that Shabbos is meant
to inspire within us. [A person ought to] diminish any activity that
might weaken this connection. He will refrain.[from them] lest they
interrupt his focused thought. He will refrain from any conversation that
does not pertain to areas specifically related to this; he will certainly
refrain from idle conversation. At the end of his journey his inner self
will achieve fear of Hashem, the love of Heaven, and a longing for the
Living G-d. This will be so intense that even if the limbs of his body lay
claim to their sustenance, he will not notice his hunger, so enriched will
his soul be by its portion. Sounds will press against his ears, but he
will remain captivated by his reverie and not hear them.
The Sochachover Rebbe likened avodas Hashem to the steps that constitute a
marriage. The first step is to ready and commit oneself to the
relationship, similar to kiddushin. Moving closer, we arrive at the next
step, which is comparable to chupah, or bringing the bride into one.s own
domain. These steps are followed by yichud, which in our analogy means
joining Hashem with all parts of our soul nefesh, ruach, and neshamah.
Every Shabbos follows a similar progression. Shabbos evening achieves
kiddushin, our readying ourselves for His company. On Shabbos morning, we
stand under the chuppah, within His enveloping light. The most intense
closeness, however, is reserved for the waning hours of Shabbos, at the
time of the third meal.
The Avudraham proposed the same structure hundreds of years before. In it
he finds an explanation of why each of the tefilos on Shabbos has a
different liturgy, in sharp contrast to the single formula used for
Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv on any holiday. Since each tefilah reflects
a completely different level of connection to Hashem, each requires a
matching liturgical expression.
A passage in the Sifri14 sees a
reference to Shabbos in the pasuk on the day of your rejoicing.. 15 Halachically, however, Shabbos does not
require simcha, as does Yom Tov. 16
Our approach solves the problem. Shabbos does not call for activities of
simcha, but its entire essence is the simcha of closeness to Hashem.
Having come this far, we can offer a different understanding of why
Shabbos weighs in as the equal of all the other mitzvos of the Torah, and
why violating it offends as seriously as avodah zarah, the ultimate
repudiation of Judaism. In the final analyis, being Jewish is all about
relationship with Hashem, specifically moving closer to Him and clinging
to him. The closer one gets, the more Jewish he is. The opposite is
true as well. When one breaks the connection entirely, he becomes, in a
sense, un-Jewish, similar to the position of an idolater. Shabbos is the
make-it or break-it experience. It is unique in its ability to bring us
closer to Him to make us more Jewish - and spend quality time
together. Spurning the opportunity by violating Shabbos leaves us distant
and remote so distant that we resemble those who are not Jewish at all.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom vol.2 pgs 36-40
2 Shemos 31:16
3Hilchos Shabbos 30:15
5 Shemos 31:17
6 Bamidbar 28:2
7 Mishlei 10:12
8 I.e. rather than the more mystical role of Shabbos in
attaching our world to specific aspects of the Upper Worlds and to
9 The most .distant. and profound aspects of Hashem.s
10 Shabbos 10B
11 Berachos 17A
12 Chapter 1
13 Sefer Hamaspik L.Ovdai Hashem, Hahalichah b.chukos
14 Bamidbar 77
15 Bamidbar 10:10
16 Oneg is required on Shabbos, but not simcha
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org