Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 13 May 2023 / 22 Iyar 5783

Kiddush (Part 2): Unity Through Separation

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“Although you may enjoy the rest and the tranquility of Shabbat, have in mind that you are not observing the day for your own pleasure; rather to honor the One who commanded you to do so.”

Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter)

Kiddush begins with the declaration: “The sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all their array. On the seventh day, Hashem completed His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all His work which Hashem created to make.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

The word Kiddush is derived from the word Kadosh, which is invariably translated as “holy” or “sanctified.” However, the very first time that a word of the same root letters as Kadosh is found in the Torah is Genesis 2:3, “Hashem blessed the seventh day and made it holy – v’Yikadesh.” Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes in his commentary on the Torah that v’Yikadesh means Hashem set Shabbat “high and holy, unimpeachable, imperishable and eternal.” Accordingly, a facet of the word Kadosh is “separate.” As we envelope ourselves in the sanctity of Shabbat by reciting Kiddush, we declare that we as the Jewish Nation, are separate from all other nations of the world. During the week, we try our best to draw down the spiritual influences from the Upper Realms into our lives. On Shabbat, we aspire to transcend the physical and connect with Hashem in His Kingdom. How do we achieve such a lofty aspiration? By separating ourselves from the mundane and focusing on celebrating Shabbat in the way that Hashem has commanded us to do so.

Shabbat is crucial to the world’s existence. Rabbi Avraham Sabah (1440-1508) reflects on this from a Midrash, as he writes in his magnum opus Tzror Hamor. The Midrash says that as the Creation reached its climax, Hashem, Himself, along with the heaven and the earth longed for the onset of the first Shabbat — the final act of creation which would permeate the world with holiness.

In many Synagogues worldwide it is the custom to recite Kiddush upon concluding the Friday night prayers. If so, why do we need to recite Kiddush again when we arrive home? Rabbi Hirsch answers that we must introduce the Kedusha, the holiness, of Shabbat into our homes as well the Synagogue. As Rabbi Moshe Alschich (1508-1593) writes in his commentary on the Torah (Vayikra 19:2), Kedusha is not something that is reserved only for the righteous. Rather, it is accessible to all and it is something we all must aspire towards. This is why the Torah states that Shabbat is a sign that exists between ourselves and Hashem that we are His Chosen Nation. (Shemot 31:13)

However, there seems to be an anomaly between the opening sentence of Kiddush, which declares that the “heavens and the earth were finished,” and the very next verse which states that Hashem “abstained on the seventh day from all His work.” “Finished” means that there is nothing left to do; the task is complete. Whereas “abstention” implies there is still more to do. The Vilna Gaon explains: with inception of the first Shabbat, the physical creation came to an end, but, in the pursuit of spirituality there is always more that can be done. We are never finished. With the arrival of Shabbat we are commanded to desist from all creative work and to channel our spiritual energy into reinforcing and defining our relationship with Hashem.

This is why the Prophet Yeshayahu (58:13) enjoins us to proclaim that Shabbat is an “oneg” – a delight. When returning home from the Synagogue, the first thing we do is recite Kiddush with joy, in anticipation of the spiritual delights that Shabbat will infuse into our homes.

Rabbi Avraham Borenstein (1838-1910), the first Rebbe of the Sochatchov Chassidic dynasty and a leading halachic authority in his generation, cautions us to approach Shabbat with appreciation for its spiritual profundity. Shabbat must be savored in the correct frame of mind. In this way, its holiness can live within us throughout the week until the following Shabbat. On the other hand, a Shabbat observed merely out of habit, devoid of deliberation, lacks true Kedusha, which is the most vital ingredient of all.

To be continued…

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