At the Gate of Shabbos- (September 2011)

Parshas Ki Savo begins with the phrase “When you enter”. It is one of the speeches which Moses made as the community was preparing to enter the Promised Land. “Ki savo el ho-oretz”.

I see a parallel between the Biblical People of Israel waiting to enter the Promised Land in Parshas Ki Savo and the Eternal Community of Israel waiting to enter Shabbos each Friday.

Last Friday it occurred to me that Friday often feels like a “lost” day. For most of us, it is spent in frantic preparation for Shabbos.  Each Friday we are often rushing about cleaning, cooking, buying last minute treats, finishing off tasks before leaving work, hurrying through traffic to beat the clock- and before we know it the day is gone in a flash and the heat of midday has become the dusk before the candles are lit.

Friday is the Sixth day and we read Ki Savo on the Sixth “Shabbos of Consolation”. Man was created on the sixth day - and what was His first day on earth? It was the seventh day, the Sabbath of God’s rest (menuchah) and mankind’s joy (simcha). All the business of the six days of creation, all our efforts during the six working days, and all the rush of our erev Shabbos preparations are there to create what? They exist solely for the sake of the menuchah and the simcha of Shabbos.

In Parshas Ki Savo (at Deut.27:4) what is the first practical task that we are enjoined to make on arriving in the Promised Land? It is that we should make an altar of unhewn stones (a place for sacrifice and prayer) and set up the twelve stones of the Law (a kind of Beis HaMidrash for the study and meditation on the Torah). Once these symbols have been created we are then enjoined to “eat there” and to “rejoice” in God’s presence (Deut. 27:7)

This is reflected in the way we set the Shabbos table, light the candles, say the Kiddush (which is both study and prayer) and then rejoice in “holy eating and singing” in the presence of our God. The moment of transition is marked by the Kiddush text which refers to Creation and to the Exodus...both of which are woven into the narrative of Parshas Ki Savo.

The earthly stones of our weekly labours from our six days of ordinary yet creative existence, have been re-fashioned as an altar to God. Yet all we offer has actually been given us by God, so in fact we are simply returning all to The One who is their Origin (This coincidentally is also the theme of the bikkurim passage in Ki Savo).

It is the Ner Shabbat, the light of Shabbos which transforms the ordinary and makes of this moment a gateway between the worlds. A gateway which opens once a week,every week, so that God’s blessings may stream into our lives and so that we may, for a short while, stand in its threshold and feel the pull to cross over into its other-worldly dimension. I’m using the phrase “other-worldly” specifically.

The six days of creation are concerned with the physical world
And they end with the breath of life entering the first man.
The seventh day is the day on which God “takes a breath”
And breathes that sigh of His own eternal contentment into all creation.

The six days are the “olam hazeh”.
The world as we (most usually) perceive in the “now”.
-The way things seem to be.
Shabbos is “mein l’olam ha-ba
A foretaste of the world which is coming
-The way things truly are.
And so the sixth day is like a gateway.

That’s why Friday sometimes seems to disappear in a flash.
In truth it is not like the other six days.
Its unique purpose is transitional and it symbolises a threshold.
Why is man created?
To do God’s will.
To be God’s activity in the world (olam hazeh).
Why is Shabbos created?
To move creation nearer to completion
To become God’s mind in the world(olam haba).

On finishing my Hegyon ha-Lev (meditative reading of the Parshah and its Haftarah) I opened the book of psalms at random, and the verse which I landed on confirmed to me that my passing thought about Erev Shabbos as a gate was a pointer to something:
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with Praise.”
Bo’u b’shorov b’sodoh chatzerosov bis’hilloh
Psalm 100:4

This immediately reminded me of the verse in the Leil Shabbos song “L’cho Dodi” which exclaims: “Enter in Peace, O Crown of the Husband” (Boi b’Sholom ateres ba’aloh).

It did not surprise me to find that the same hymn was also linked to Haftaras Ki Savo where we read:

“Arise, Shine for your light is come
And the Glory of HaShem shines upon you”
(Kumi Ori, ki vo oreich uch’vod HaShem olayich zoroch)
Isaiah 60:1

This verse is paraphrased in L’cho dodi as:

“Wake up, wake up
For your light has come: rise,shine!
Awake, awake, break out in song
For the LORD’s glory is revealed on you.”
(Koren-Sachs siddur p 320)

The lighting of the Shabbos candles marks the acceptance of Shabbat in the home.
Though they are plural, the Shabbos candles represent the One Light of Shabbos.
This light is the same light by which the worlds were created and by which the Torah descended.  It is the same light which transforms our “ordinary blurred perception” into God’s “True perspective”.

Just as the Pioneers were commanded to build an altar of unhewn stone, so the one entering Shabbos knows that the rest (menuchah) that is about to descend is not something they have made or deserved by their own hard work...but that it is something which is a transformative gift from God. In the same way the joy (simchah) we are given is not mere relief that the working week is over- it is a distinct and profound enlargement of the heart’s spiritual capacity. We light the candles, but the Light itself is God’s. We read in Haftaras Ki Savo that the light of the sun and moon will become (as it were) redundant and that:

“HaShem will be to you as an everlasting light (Or Olam)”
Isaiah 60:19

It is this light which we foreshadow when we light the Sabbath candles.

Haftaras Ki Savo is concerned with the restoration of Zion, but it also refers to the restoration of the individual soul. We experience a memory of that future event (sic) each erev Shabbos. Shabbos is a foretaste of that eternal moment, and each Friday that moment comes closer. In both the haftarah and in the hymn “L’cho Dodi” it is expressed as an event which shocks, which is full of excitement, which is akin to being shaken awake by a blinding light.

The Haftarah speaks of excitement so great our hearts will throb and enlarge (Isaiah 60:5), “L’cho Dodi” adjures us to welcome Shabbos as “she” enters with “joy and jubilation” (b’simcho u’v’tzoholoh). The Torah parshah (Deut 27:7) tells us we should “rejoice before the Lord our God.” (v’samachto lifnei HaShem).


I am writing this meditative and informal commentary in Elul, the pentitential month of preparation for the Royal Judgement of the coming Yamim Nora’im.
That text from Psalm 100 speaks of Gates and Courts.
In Elul (or any time of decision or self examination)
we know these have a particularly poignant message for us.

Are places of Judgement but also of Mercy.
At a gate one may find a beis din gathered for justice
Or a beggar crying out for alms;
In Elul we are sometimes judges of our own crimes;
Sometimes we are criminal supplicants hoping for a lenient sentence;
Sometimes we are just desperate beggars exhausted after a journey through a spiritual desert.

Are like the threshold of the Cave
Where the Elijah-in-us hears a questioning voice
Examining our past like a relentless laser.
They are also like the Door of the Tent of Meeting
Where the Moses-in-us hears the Word of HaShem,
Offering us mitzvos with which to make atonement
And inspiration to plan for a renewed future.

And they are like the place where all the worlds meet.
The moment in which we face the unanswerable Fiftieth Question
That can lead to our giving up
Or deciding to begin again with a soul washed clean at Yom Kippur.

Are the places where our community gathers for worship.
When we pray we are never standing before God alone.
All Israel stands waiting, waiting, in that temple courtyard as Elul moves to a close.
We are there together in order to help each other.
It’s a time to share forgiveness, charity, encouragement, hope.
A time to accept that some of us may fail or fall
Like animals to the slaughter
But to smile at each other in showing that acceptance of the yoke of heaven
Is our purpose.
That whatever the verdict may be- it is from the Hand of God
And in accepting it with love we are being who we are called to be.

Are for insiders
They are for those who have managed to gain admission through those imposing gates,
Through those twin mountains of terror and awe: Gerizim and Ebal.
If we are fortunate enough to have been invited in,
Let’s hope we do all we can to remain there
By not shirking our duty as contemplatives.

After all, there is another psalm (which we say each day in Elul) that marks us out:

“One thing I ask of HaShem
One thing I seek:
To live in the House of HaShem all the days of my life,
To gaze on the beauty of HaShem
And worship in His Temple”
Psalm 27:4

May we find ways to escape even the sins we commit in secret and throw ourselves on the Mercy of the Judge.

Confident that He is showing us the “blessings and curses” of Parshas Ki Savo
only as way to “Wake us up” so that we may “Arise and Shine”-
May we turn towards Him with joy to balance our fear.

And may each Shabbos be a gateway to that joy,
so that as each week passes through its Sixth Day
we may enter and be lifted up,
Each week ascending in His light just that little bit more,
To the day which is always Shabbos.

Sept 12 2011