One of my childhood favorites, The Little Prince, is a little book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator who flew airmail routes, and joined the French Air Force at the outbreak of WWII.

In this semi-autobiographical novella, the little prince is a boy from a tiny asteroid, who just appears out of nowhere to strike up a conversation with a pilot stranded in the desert, attempting to repair his airplane before he runs out of drinking water.

The little prince talks to him about various characters he has met on his travels. His sharp observations are full of wisdom.

Here, I want to share some of his conversation with the fox. At their first encounter, the fox asks the little prince to ‘tame ‘ him, so that they can be friends. The next day the little prince meets the fox again:

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy.

I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances.

At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am!

But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . .

One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox.

“They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”

The fox is explaining the role and importance of ritual.

Ritual requires the little prince to be consistent in the timing of his visits.

Only through consistently visiting every day at the same time, the fox can begin to anticipate his visit and look forward.  The fox is saying that the anticipation is not just a necessary step to get to the desired encounter, but is a pleasurable and essential element of the relationship itself.

This fits in really well with the Torah portion of Beshalach which introduces Shabbat, our set time for encountering God.  Shabbat is first introduced to Bnei Yisrael through the instructions for the manna (Exodus 16:4-5):

הִנְנִ֨י מַמְטִ֥יר לָכֶ֛ם לֶ֖חֶם מִן־הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְיָצָ֨א הָעָ֤ם וְלָֽקְטוּ֙ דְּבַר־י֣וֹם בְּיוֹמ֔וֹ

I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion.

וְהָיָה֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁ֔י וְהֵכִ֖ינוּ אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־יָבִ֑יאוּ וְהָיָ֣ה מִשְׁנֶ֔ה עַ֥ל אֲשֶֽׁר־יִלְקְט֖וּ י֥וֹם ׀ יֽוֹם

But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.

And from these verses the Talmud (Shabbat 117b)  infers:

א”ר חסדא לעולם ישכים אדם להוצאת שבת שנאמר והיה ביום הששי והכינו את אשר יביאו

Rav Ḥisda said: A person should always rise early on Friday in order to prepare all of the expenditures for Shabbat, as it is written with regard to the collection of the manna: “And it shall be on the sixth day, and they will prepare that which they have brought” .

On the surface, it seems that the double portion of manna on Friday is just a logistical detail. It is practically necessary to have a double portion on Friday, so as to have provisions ready for Shabbat, the day in which gathering manna is not permitted.

But, if we look at the double portion gathered on Friday through the lens of the fox, we transform it into a ritual.

The gathering of double manna, is not merely a technical detail that enables the Bnei Yiisrael to have food on Shabbat, it is crucial to creating the sense of anticipation that in turn creates the magic of Shabbat.

This lens also enables us to re-read the oft quoted phrase from the Talmud in Avoda Zara 3a:

מי שטרח בערב שבת יאכל בשבת

One who painstakingly prepares before Shabbat, will eat on Shabbat.

It is not simply about preparing the food and ensuring you can actually eat,  but it suggests that the pleasure of Shabbat is inherent in its anticipation.

Preparing for, and looking forward to Shabbat is what sets Shabbat apart from the rest of the week. It is what makes Shabbat feel special.

The Talmud (Shabbat 119a) further describes the ways in which a number of Amoraim would ritualize their preparation for Shabbat.

They each had their own set Friday errands and routines.

Some of these are very practical, some less.

Some are necessary and some completely superfluous:

Rav Anan would don a simple black garment for the Shabbat preparations, so that he could change to special clothes for Shabbat,

Rava salted a fish,

Rav Huna kindled lamps,

Rav Pappa spun the wicks

Rav Ḥisda cut the beets,

Rabbi Yannai put on his garment on Shabbat eve and said: Enter, O bride. Enter, O bride.

Rabbi Ḥanina would wrap himself in his garment and stand at nightfall on Shabbat eve, and say: ‘Come and we will go out to greet Shabbat the queen’.

This list goes on.

It is not simply to tell us that these Amoraim were helpful around the house on Fridays. The Amoraim understood preparing on Erev Shabbat as an important ritual in its own right.

In fact the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Hayim 250) rules that:

ישכים בבוקר ביום הששי להכין צרכי שבת ואפי’ יש לו כמה עבדים לשמשו

ישתדל להכין בעצמו שום דבר לצרכי שבת כדי לכבדו

One should rise up early on Friday to prepare provisions for Shabbat. Even if one has many staff that can do it, they should make an effort to prepare something themselves in order to honor Shabbat.

It’s not about getting the job done. It’s about entering into the task as ritual.

It’s not about getting the job done. It’s about entering into the task as ritual.

 

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik used to say that the true mark of a pious Jew is not that he or she is a Shomer Shabbat, but is a Shomer Erev Shabbat, observing the eve of Shabbat.

The narrative of the double portion of manna, with its earliest example of Shabbat preparation, invites us to consider how we might develop or enhance our own Shabbat preparation rituals. And how we might reframe ordinary chores into sacred rites that heighten our anticipation for the arrival of the Shabbat queen.

 

(Adapted from a Shabbat sermon delivered at Congregation Netivot Shalom,

Teaneck, NJ, 2018)

Advertisements