Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 4 July 2015 / 17 Tammuz 5775


by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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At the time of the giving of the Torah G-d called to Yisrael and told them: My son! I have a treat in the world and I’ll give it to you forever if you will accept My Torah and keep My commandments. They answered: G-d! What is this treat that You will give us? G-d told them: It is the “World-to-Come”. Yisrael answered: G-d! Show us an illustration of the World-to-Come. G-d said: Here is Shabbat which is one-sixtieth of the World-to-Come, which is all Shabbat. (Otiyot d’Rabbi Akiva)

This above teaching of Chazal deserves a clear explanation, as it must be pointing out an essential idea behind the meaning of Shabbat. In what way is Shabbat similar to the World-to-Come? In order to come to an understanding, we need to first study the World-to-Come and recognize both its connection and reflection in this holy day of Shabbat.

One description of the World-to-Come is found in Pirkei Avot where it says, He (Rabbi Ya’akov) used to say: Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World-to-Come; and better one hour of spiritual bliss in the World-to-Come than the entire life of this world (Avot 4:22). Based on this Mishna the commentaries explain that both this world and the next have their individual advantages. While the World-to-Come is superior in its reward and compensation for the performance of mitzvot, this world is superior in its potential for repentance and additional fulfillment of mitzvot. Once one leaves this world, the opportunity to improve one’s spiritual standing ceases to exist. It is told of the Vilna Gaon that as he was laying on his deathbed he clung to his tzitzit and cried. He explained, How precious is this world that with a few coins one can gain reward for the mitzvah of tzitzit and merit the countenance of G-d’s Shechina. In the Word-to-Come, however, it is impossible to attain such wealth.

We can now begin to understand the depth behind the statement of Chazal we presented in the beginning. The Gemara says, He who toiled on erev Shabbat eats on Shabbat, while he who didn’t prepare on erev Shabbat doesn’t eat on Shabbat (Avoda Zara 3a). In other words, it is the preparations one makes before Shabbat that one enjoys on Shabbat. The Gemara uses this principle to describe the nature of the World-to-Come. Just as Shabbat is a manifestation of one’s preparation from the previous six days, the World-to-Come is a manifestation of one’s life in this world. It is in the World-to-Come that one enjoys his accomplishments from this world, just as it is on Shabbat that one can enjoy his labor from the previous six days.

The laws that govern the day of Shabbat are a reflection of the above idea. Shabbat is a day during which one is meant to feel like he has entered the World-to-Come. Once one leaves this world, his ability to create and perform new activities disappears. In a similar vein, when one leaves the first six days of the week and enters the holy day of Shabbat, his ability to create becomes forbidden, hence the halacha that forbids the 39 categories of creative activity on Shabbat. Additionally, just as in the World-to-Come there is no more work that one may possibly perform, so too on Shabbat we are commanded to view all of our endeavors and undertakings that we began during the previous week as complete. As the Midrash says: When Shabbat comes it shall be in your eyes as if all your work is done so that you shouldn’t think about work (Mechilta to Shemot 20:9). Furthermore, just as there is no concept of preparing for what comes next when one is in the World-to-Come, so too we are not allowed to prepare on Shabbat for after the Shabbat. In all these ways Shabbat is truly a taste of the World-to-Come.

The Reishit Chochma explains that G-d gave us the Shabbat as a way to constantly remind ourselves of the ultimate goal. Every Shabbat we are reminded of the fact that this world is a temporary journey towards the World-to-Come in which we can no longer improve our spiritual standing, thus urging and inspiring us to make the most of the time we have here. The Imrei Pinchas goes even further and suggests that the way we feel on Shabbat is actually an insight into the quality of the World-to-Come that is awaiting us. According to this, one who spent his week pursuing and accomplishing futilities will experience his Shabbat as a senseless and pointless day, while one who was spiritually active during the week will feel a sense of accomplishment and completion on this holy day. In this sense Shabbat is the perfect indicator of how we have spent our week. With this gift called Shabbat we are able to detect the quality of our time spent in this world and with G-d’s help merit to make the most of our precious time here.

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