This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By - Elisheva Maline
From Sunday to Friday, we can't help running from school to work to the kitchen and back to work again: some of us are chasing our dreams, raising a family or traveling. With the arrival of Shabbos, though, one has the chance to simply... stop. At sunset, on the sixth day of Creation, G-d gave us a gift: not just twenty-four hours of downtime but He bequeathed us with the means for deepening our bonds with Him, ourselves and the people we love.
There are so many ways to maximize on the experience of enjoying a Shabbos. I remember my mother requesting my presence when she was ready to light the Friday night candles. I'd stand beside her, dressed in patent leather shoes and a flowery top, the firelight reflected in my eyes. My mother would recite the bracha (blessing) that would welcome the day of rest into our homes. Her shoulders relaxed, she picked up a novel and parked herself on the sofa. My mom's relationship with herself is always top notch on Shabbos.
As for me, I love going to synagogue and singing the Friday night prayers at my local congregation. The songs are especially soulful in Carlebach minyanim (congregations). One could literally feel his/her soul reaching for the heavens when everyone starts swaying to the lilting tunes and grabbing each others hands for a dance around the shul.
Why do we sing songs on Shabbos? Where did the idea spring up from? The Talmud tells us that the Jewish nation began adding extra praises to G-d in the Shabbos prayers on the basis of a story brought down in a medrish (a story in the Gemara that hold depths of meaning). On the sixth day of creation, the angels G-d formed to "assist" Him with running the world approached G-d's throne with the following question, "We, the Chayot Hakodesh (Holy Angels) have noticed that You gave us six wings each to correlate with the six days of Creation. Why not give us a seventh as well so we can praise you properly with it?" Hashem answered, "No need! I already have a wing in the land of the living which will praise me sufficiently."
We have big shoes to fill. But why would Hashem prefer the off key warbling of a little boy's singing in place of the angels' orchestrated symphony? How could it be that this child's shrill voice, our singing, is considered more precious to Hashem than that of the angels? The answer is simple (although carrying it out isn't): the purpose of life here on earth is to elevate the mundane and the physical into the realm of spirituality. G-d formed man from the ground which means that He initially created us on par with the animals. Then, He animated Adam (the first man) with a spark of holiness. At that moment, Adam became akin to the angels. We learn from this that although we were created from the dirt, we have the potential to elevate ourselves. Angels cannot raise themselves up since they are wholly spiritual beings and therefore, already elevated. Our jobs as humans is to infuse this world with meaning, to make blessings over food so as to elevate eating, to give charity so as to elevate money. The list is inexhaustible. One of the ways we elevate the six days of the week is through Shabbos; on the holy day itself we sing songs of praise to show how much we value G-d giving us this opportunity to elevate the week.
No wonder I feel my soul reaching for the heavens every time I go to shul.