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Countdown to Shabbos

Excerpted from Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s Countdown to Shabbos: Bringing the Week into Shabbos, Bringing Shabbos into the Week 

Shabbos as ONE

Just as we are commanded to put Shabbos at the center of our lives, we are also commanded to work for six days. This is a both a religious and a logical prerequisite for experiencing Shabbos as it is meant to be. Unemployment, laziness, or a lack of satisfaction at work is not the preferred way to come into Shabbos. (I explore this in Chapter Six.) Even so, something more than six days of work are available in advance of Shabbos. This emerges from a Talmudic debate between Shammai and Hillel (Beitzah 16a).

If Shammai the Elder came across a delicacy early in the week, he would set it aside for Shabbos. If, later in the week, he would come across an even nicer delicacy, he would set it aside, and eat the first item. Thus, he considered his weekday meals to be in honor of Shabbos. Hillel the Elder would eat whatever came into his hands, confident that he would find a fitting delicacy for Shabbos at the end of the week.

Shammai was thinking of Shabbos all week long, while Hillel was “laid back.” Ostensibly, Shammai and Hillel differed. Not really, I would argue. Both Shammai and Hillel lived without modern techniques of farming or food distribution, without grocery stores brimming with every imaginable, delicacy, spice, treat, and dessert, and without liquor stores. It was necessary to set aside a delicacy for Shabbos as soon as possible (per Shammai), or it was advisable to trust in God that He would provide it just before Shabbos (per Hillel).

Neither condition applies today. Any imaginable treat for Shabbos is available any time, virtually anywhere in the Western world, at a price affordable to virtually everyone. We cannot say with certainty how Shammai or Hillel would respond to our conditions of plenty. We can say that these conditions complicate the effort to make Shabbos special, but also enable us to see the common ground between Shammai and Hillel. Both were saying: Focus on Shabbos. Whether one needs to exploit the earliest opportunity to make certain that Shabbos will be special, or whether one can trustingly wait until the end of the week—either way, focus on Shabbos.

When one does not wake up to Shabbos at the last moment, the easier it is to put the week away and settle into Shabbos. The more the mental anticipation of Shabbos, the less likely one will speak about upsetting matters on Shabbos (Chapter Four) or find the holy day stale (the at-risk teen’s complaint). The more one focuses on Shabbos during the week, the more grateful one is when it arrives.

The closer to the Shechinah one becomes.

The greater the glimmer of truth one sees.


And . . . the holiness of Shabbos can be extended. The melaveh malkah, the (not necessarily large) meal after Shabbos on Saturday evening, eaten to two lit candles, breaks what would otherwise be a black-and-white, abrupt departure of the Shabbos Shechinah with the recitation of Havdalah. Candles not only at the onset of Shabbos but at the close of Shabbos, fine food not only on Shabbos but after Shabbos, can extend Shabbos into the week.

Shabbos is an end unto itself. It is not a rest stop for the sake of recovering one’s energy for the coming week. Shabbos is a time to be; not a time to act or plan. Even so, Shabbos has a positive effect on the coming week. Shabbos refreshes. In removing one from daily demands and duties, Shabbos restores perspective and reignites commitment. Paradoxically, this is so only if one shuts out the week on Shabbos and allows its blessings to envelop one totally. When Shabbos is for Shabbos, and only for Shabbos, only then does it prepare the mind to take on the challenges in the week ahead. It’s a paradox.

And so, Shabbos is more than one day a week. It is a circle, even beyond the extension of Shabbos into the week via the melaveh malkah. For six days, one can taste the coming Shabbos. As Joseph Lieberman put it, “I have always been able to work harder on the six days knowing that the seventh day of rest is coming.”

May I wish you a “Good Shabbos”. . . and, a “Gut Voch,” a good week, too.

They can go together.

As . . .