Hey, she’s stealing men’s mitzvot!
This was my eight year old son’s reaction to seeing the photo of a woman raising the open Torah scroll for hagba’ah … read full blog
Hey, she’s stealing men’s mitzvot!
This was my eight year old son’s reaction to seeing the photo of a woman raising the open Torah scroll for hagba’ah … read full blog
This year we are re-sharing the five point guide to Yom Kippur we developed and used as a template for Mishkan’s service. We heard from participants that this was useful way to focus their synagogue experience, and that they kept the guide and returned to it in following years.
With limited access to synagogue services, we hope you’ll find this helpful and find this Yom Kippur an opportunity for introspection and renewal.
Scroll below to find the five steps and scan your QR to hear a key niggun, or download the PDF version (originally printed in The Jewish Chronicle)
May 5781 bring renewed resilience and many moments of joy!
Rabbis Dina & Naftali
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most highly choreographed religious experiences across all Jewish denominations, from intimate shteibels to vaulted sanctuaries.
The setting, songs, and community surrounding us combine to impart a sense of occasion and are indeed key to the experience of awe and holiness of the High Holidays. The physical setting is a portal through which we achieve the spiritual.
The entire Jewish world has been stressing since Pesach about the impossibility of High Holidays under current pandemic restrictions. Indeed this is when every synagogue seat is filled, we reconnect with distant friends and family members, and we experience the effervescence of community at its best. The loss of this social component is especially acute now, at a time when our resilience is otherwise depleted and we most need the warm embrace of community.
Additionally, we have a clear concept of what an authentic HIgh Holidays feels like, and praying individually in our homes, (or joining a zoom service) doesn’t fit that definition.
We can attempt to replicate this authenticity at home, by importing elements of the synagogue service, but we are likely to find the result disappointing in comparison to the ‘real’ thing.
While, unfortunately, there is no substantive replacement for the social deprivation resulting from synagogue closures, there may be another way of imagining what an authentic service might look like.
This reframing, borrows from two options available to us when planning a vacation; a ‘package’ versus a ‘bespoke’ tour.
A package tour is hassle free; you pick a destination, and the tour operator worries about all the logistical details. You just show up and are conveniently shuttled to location, guided through salient attractions, wined, dined and entertained. You are spared the review of schedules and hotel ratings, the burden of making choices or experience of loneliness, and any hiccup or disappointment will not be your responsibility.
In some respects, Jewish institutions offer us the packaged tour version of Judaism.
They offer us the convenience of an expertly designed religious experience and deliver the congregational numbers required for Torah reading and Kaddish, to lift our prayers in a chorus of song, and embody the concept of Kehillah Kedosha, sanctity in community.
While these are aspects vital to our Jewish experience, other aspects can be achieved only through the bespoke tour approach.
Planning a bespoke vacation requires a significant investment of research and reading, and demands difficult choices. It can be more expensive, expose you to inconvenience, and you’ll have sole responsibility for any disappointment.
You will also have the opportunity to gain some expertise, whether by familiarizing yourself with the local history, phrasebook or map. You can personalize your itinerary, decide to linger at the cafe with a charming view or get delightfully lost in a labyrinth of alleys.
Reframing this year’s High Holidays as a bespoke experience can liberate us from the daunting pressure to recreate the High Holidays version we are used to. Rather than consoling ourselves with a homemade ‘reproduction’, we can take charge of curating our individual High Holidays. We can be more deliberate in the pace of our prayers, lingering over piyyutim or liturgy that resonates, and indulge in a tune we are fond of.
In becoming active agents and designing our religious experience we can become more attuned to and discover new ways to kindle our spirituality.
This year, we will miss the solemn peak of Rosh Hashanah as the Shofar is sounded in a packed synagogue, the pomp and circumstance of Kol Nidrei in a crowded sanctuary.
May we return to them next year with a fresh lens and renewed energy. Less as passive consumers and more as active contributors to the religious communal experience.
In Judaism, shoes, or more specifically their removal, frame key moments.
We approach the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, by removing our leather shoes. Pilgrims would remove their sandals on approaching Har haBayit, Temple Mount. Moshe’s very first Divine encounter at the burning bush …read full article .
Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, marks the death of the talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known by his acronym Rashbi. On this day, it is customary to tell his story (TB Shabbat 33b). This year, as we find ourselves isolated ‘in our caves’, his story feel particularly relevant.
Rashbi’s casual critique of the benefits of Roman rule in Judea is reported to the authorities, and he is condemned to death. Rashbi goes into hiding with his son, first taking shelter in a Beit Midrash. He then realizes he is putting his wife at risk of being tortured by the soldiers in order to disclose his hiding place, and so he finds shelter in a cave. Over the next 12 years, he maintains an ascetic lifestyle, immersed in prayer and study with his son, nourished by a carob tree and a brook just at the cave’s entrance.
There’s a postscript to this story that is less well known (TB Shabbat 33b/34a):
(Rabbi Shimon) said: Since a miracle happened for me, I will go and repair something (for the sake of others) as it is written: “And Jacob came in peace…” (Genesis 33:18).
Rav said: Whole in his body, whole in his money, whole in his Torah.
“And he graced the countenance of the city”;
Rav said: He established a currency for them.
And Shmuel said: He established marketplaces for them.
And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He established bathhouses for them.
He said: Is there something that needs repair?
They said to him: There is a place where there is uncertainty with regard to ritual impurity and the priests are inconvenienced to circumvent it.
He said: Is there a person who knows that there was a presumption of ritual purity here?
An elder said to him: Here ben Zakkai planted and cut the teruma of lupines. He also did so. Everywhere that (the ground) was hard, he pronounced it ritually pure, and every place that (the ground) was soft, he marked it (as impure).
After twelve years isolated in a cave, Rashbi emerges with a renewed appreciation for his dependence on society’s infrastructure. He sets out to repay his debt and offer his contribution. He sees this as a sacred duty, anchored in the midrashic interpretation of the verse describing Jacob as arriving ‘shalem’, in peace and intact, from his journey home away from Laban, and ‘he graced the countenance of the city’.
The rabbis interpret Jacob’s ‘grace’ as civic contributions; he establishes a currency, marketplaces, and bathhouses. It is striking that these three features are precisely the infrastructure brought by the Romans to Judea that Rashbi initially criticized:
Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai responded and said: Everything that they established, they established only for their own purposes.
They established marketplaces, to place prostitutes in them;
bathhouses, to pamper themselves;
bridges, to collect taxes from (all who pass over) them.
It appears that Rashbi’s period in isolation enabled him to come full circle. He is now able to appreciate not only the value of civic duty, but is ready to take up civic obligations himself.
His own contribution is to remove an inconvenience for a small group in a particular locality. Now the Kohanim, who until that point needed to take a long detour to avoid becoming impure due to some unmarked graves, can go about directly and confidently.
As we contemplate our own transition from quarantine and social isolation, Rashbi’s own story may hold wisdom that will be key to emerge shalem, wholesome and in peace, from our experience of isolation. We may be critical of society and individuals. The key is to be less cynical and undertake to fix something, ameliorate the lives of others, both as a sacred duty and as the sense of purpose that enables us to emerge shalem, at peace and intact.
Mah Nishtanah? Why is this night different…?
This year, this question doesn’t feel staged. It rings true and urgent.
This year, despite the variations in Passover customs across families, we are united in experiencing the seder through social isolation.
Our reference points for what a seder is, are shaped by our memories of seders past, which dictate what a real seder feels like.
So yes, this year it will be very different.
But will it even be a real seder?
Can we imagine a seder that feels authentic, without our extended family, friends or guests ?
But is there such a thing as the authentic seder, the real thing?
The mishnah (Pesachim 10:5) sums up the goal of the seder as:
In every generation a person is obliged to regard themselves as though they personally have been redeemed from Egypt.
The seder is a process of reenactment of the original story, largely focused on the haggadah, the moment in which we recall and retell our most important story.
But the haggadah isn’t just the retelling of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, it is also an exercise in telling the stories of seders past.
We’re invited to do so by the haggadah itself, as it opens by narrating:
‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord our God brought us out’, but rather than continuing that story, it detours to reminisce of another seder:
‘R’ Eliezer, R’ Yehoshua, R’ Elazar ben Azaria, R’ Akiva, and R’ Tarfon were reclining in Bnei Brak…’
The haggadah continues to weave stories and memories of other rabbis performing their seders; R’ Yehudah abbreviating the ten plagues into three sets of acronyms, R’ Gamliel capturing the essence of the seder by pointing to three symbolic foods.
And so, as we immerse ourselves in the haggadah’s narrative, we don’t find a linear, original story, but stories embedded with stories.
What the haggadah is doing is akin to frame story, a literary technique that enables us to access and connect to the main narrative through multiple side stories, or stories within stories, like a Russian doll.
The truth is that memories are themselves built in the process of retrieval. And while we may set out to retrieve the original exodus story, we can only achieve this by recalling our own stories and in so doing creating memories.
And so when we contemplate this year’s seder, rather than obsessing about how different and strange it feels compared to seders past, we can celebrate it in the knowledge that we are weaving another seder story into the rich stream of Jewish memory.
This year’s seder is certainly unprecedented, but in years to come, the memory of it, with its particular references, questions and symbols, will become an important chapter of the continually unfolding haggadah story.
Let’s write this chapter with all the joy and creativity we can summon.
Future generations will retell it with reverence.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is a 1979 postmodernist novel by the Italian writer Italo Calvino. In its opening chapter, a traveler arrives at an old-fashioned train station at a non-descript time, which is neither day or night, burdened by a suitcase that is not his, yet that he cannot get rid of.
I often find myself drawn to re-read this chapter in the lead-up to the High Holidays, a time traditionally set aside for reviewing one’s life journey. Calvino’s writing brilliantly conveys the traveler’s own sense of disorientation and irrevocable loss, together with his awareness of being adrift and his urgency in seeking to get back on track to continue his journey:
“Something must have gone wrong for me: some misinformation, a delay, a missed connection; perhaps on arriving I should have found a contact, probably linked with this suitcase that seems to worry me so much, though whether because I am afraid of losing it or because I can’t wait to be rid of it is not clear. What seems certain is that it isn’t just ordinary baggage, something I can check or pretend to forget in the waiting room.“ (Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, p 13)
Like Calvino’s traveler, we can find our journeys burdened by baggage. How we perceive ourselves and what motives we attribute to others, the connections we make and those we miss — all color our interactions and shape that suitcase we find ourselves carrying. It can be difficult to pinpoint where and when exactly we picked it up, what precise event lead us to take up the suitcase. Aware of its burden, its shape, and its weight, we seek some resolution.
The traveler admits that he is unsure whether his apprehension about the suitcase is “because I am afraid of losing it or because I can’t wait to be rid of it”. This is a significant insight into the process of change and Teshuvah.
Becoming aware of the burden we carry and how it encumbers our journey does not lead us automatically to get rid of it. Sometimes, as our hand rests on the handle of a wheeled suitcase, rather than us wheeling it, the suitcase becomes our rudder and we glide through the world following alongside it. We often hang on to the baggage because it contributes to our identity. It shapes who we are. Even though burdensome, it informs our self-view.
While change is a process fraught with pitfalls, the language of Teshuvah suggests return to an initial condition, prior to the events, actions, and consequences that led us to the present situation. The ritual of Tashlich, the symbolic casting off of one’s sins into a body of water, can play a role in facilitating this process if we approach it as a framework for change and not as a prayer to ‘magic away’ our sins.
There are two aspects to Tashlich that have transformative potential — the setting and the stance.
Tashlich takes place as we stand on the edge of a flowing body of water. There is something compelling and evocative about flowing water, well captured by John F. Kennedy’s remarks:
“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because … we all came from the sea […] And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” (John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews, September 14 1962)
The setting for Tashlich is an invitation to consider where we come from — to seek our starting point, before we acquired that unwanted suitcase. This is the first step in enabling a return to who we are at our core, to retrieve our true identity in its purest form.
There are two gestures associated with Tashlich in the mystical tradition: symbolically emptying out our pockets, and shaking out the corners of our garments, inspired by the verse: ‘And I shook out the bosom of my garment and said, So may God shake out...’ (Nehemia 5:13).
Both gestures invite a stance of ‘letting go’, enabling inner change. The items in our pocket were placed there deliberately, for safe-keeping or to have them with us at all times. The crumbs and dirt that cling to our garment were inadvertently picked up along the way, in a casual or negligent brushing past.
Tashlich invites us to deliberately empty what is in our pockets, giving up the baggage we are intentionally holding on to, as well as to gain awareness of what has inadvertently clung to us and needs to be brushed off.
The setting and the stance of Tashlich complement and reinforce each other, enabling the process of Teshuvah.
“Getting rid of the suitcase was to be the first condition for re-establishing the previous situation: previous to everything that happened afterward.“ (Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, p 15)
This year, let us experience Tashlich as a sophisticated ritual, finding release in its gestures, and in its setting an intuition of our true selves.
(adapted from material previously published)
Tu B’Av is described in the mishnah as a summer mating festival in which girls would go out dancing in the vineyards: ‘There were no days as good (yamim tovim) for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, as on these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white garments, so as not to shame one who did not have her own’. (Taanit 4:8)
What is particularly striking, is the mishnah’s equation of Tu B’Av to Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The talmud questions this comparison: ‘Granted that Yom Kippur is a good day, because it is a day of pardon and forgiveness and the day on which the second Tablets of the Covenant were given. But what is special about the fifteenth of Av? (Bava Batra 121a, Taanit 30a).
The talmud segues with a number of disparate reasons for the significance of Tu B’Av, none of which appear to be connected to each other or provide a convincing reason for its comparison to Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichov (1740–1809), in his work Kedushat Levi, draws on two of the reasons offered in the talmud and through a mystical lens offers a compelling reading of the Tu B’Av ritual, setting its significance en par with Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is all about our renewed connection to God. Likewise, the name of Tu B’Av itself points to our unity with God: ‘Tu’, the letters tet and vav (whose numerical value adds up to fifteen), are a stand-in for the letters yud (ten) and hay (five) which spell God’s name. The word Av means father. The task of Tu B’Av is therefore that of reconnecting to God as our Father or parent. In this context, the mating ritual described in the mishnah seems even more out of place.
The talmud suggests that the restriction on intermarriage among the twelve tribes was lifted on Tu B’Av. The Kedushat Levi notes that each tribe had a unique trait, represented by the color of a stone in the choshen (the High Priest’s breastplate). Their intermarrying on Tu B’Av points to their ability, through a deep awareness that they are all children of one Av, one heavenly parent, to set aside all differences and distinctions, achieving unity. This process is in turn enabled by another feature of Tu B’Av, as the day that marked the waning of the sun’s brightness. The Kedushat Levi reads this dimming light as a useful ‘darkness’, one that blurs distinctions and mutes colors, again enabling a coming together in unity.
The concept of unity through a blurring of distinctions is also reflected in the mating ritual of Tu B’Av. The daughters of Jerusalem represent the souls of the Jewish people, and the mating symbolizes the coming together of the Jewish people and God. Unity among the Jewish people, a prerequisite to their unity with God, is enabled by wearing white. White is no color, yet it encompasses all colors. When spinning a disc divided into segments of various colors, the entire disc will appear white.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s read of Tu B’Av as facilitating unity among people and with God satisfies the comparison to Yom Kippur. It also frames Tu B’Av as the process for healing the rupture between God and people on Tisha B’Av, which is caused by hate and fracture among the Jewish people.
We live in times of deep schism and widespread alienation. Unbridgeable differences fuel bloody conflicts in many parts of the world. Hatred for those of different religions, ethnicity or orientations has been expressed in mass shootings most recently in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
We often encounter suspicion and diffidence across the political divide, and perhaps most unexpectedly among those who should be united by common goals or affiliations. This phenomenon was labelled by Freud ‘the narcissism of small differences’:
It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them. (The Taboo of Virginity, 1918)
Elaborating on this concept, organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out that the smallest nuances and variations in views can at times be more divisive than major ones. He cites a study in which vegans showed nearly three times as much prejudice toward vegetarians as vegetarians did toward vegans. While to omnivores the difference between the two groups may be negligible, vegans viewed vegetarians as ‘wannabes’ and somehow not fully committed to the cause. In another of Grant’s examples (that we may more readily recognize) Orthodox Jews evaluated non practicing Jews more favorably than Conservative Jews. While there’s a wider gap in practice between fully ritually observant and those who are not at all, the smaller differences in values of those who observe differently to you can be more threatening and divisive.
All this explains the ease with which we settle into factions and splinter, and find ourselves in the ruptured state of Tisha B’Av. Tu B’Av proposes an antidote. It suggests that at times it is useful to dim the lights, to close our eyes to the distinctions that divide us, or to enrobe ourselves in white, encompassing multitudinous colors, in order to discover what unites us.
But that is not an easy task. Two strange details of the Tu B’Av ritual may shed light on how we achieve this.
The girls have to borrow the dresses and they dance. The Kedushat Levi points out that a borrowed dress is something received without much effort. Dancing in its purest form is an involuntary reaction of our body to the rhythm of music. Both of these features suggest that the healing of Tu B’Av is something that cannot be achieved through our own independent effort – what hasidut terms hit’aruta d’letata, but only through gifted inspiration from above – hit’aruta d’leilah.
Just like a borrowed white dress that is not your own, or like breaking out in a jiig to the sound of another’s irrepressible music.
‘Living with the times’, is a motto of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l that resonates with me. He suggested that every day we ought to find inspiration from a segment of the current Torah reading. So what are we to make of the confluence of Fashion Week in New York over the last few days and in London over the Shabbat in which we read the sedra of Tezaveh ?
London Fashion Week (LFW) takes place twice a year – in February and September, one of the big four international fashion trade events together with Paris, Milan, New York – where designers showcase their new creations to an audience of 5000 buyers and press. If you follow fashion, or have seen photos of what is presented on the catwalks you know that the new fashion collection that are presented are very creative but not really practical or even wearable for most of us.
So is it relevant to normal people, who are neither in the business, nor celebrities invited to grace the front row?
But before you are tempted to dismiss it as just shmattes, it is worth bearing in mind that the LFW alone generates between £40 -100 million in sales. And the global apparel market is valued at 3 trillion dollars, and accounts for 2 percent of the world’s GDP.
The Torah portion of Tezaveh presents God’s own debut as a designer, with a capsule collection specially designed for the kohen gadol, the high priest.
God is incredibly specific in detailing the exact fabric, the color, the size, and the method for constructing the eight pieces. In fact, the instructions take up about forty verses.
Why so much attention to the details of the high priest’s garments?
‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’
(attributed to Mark Twain)
It seems that the high priest draws influence from the garments specially made for him:
וְאַתָּ֗ה תְּדַבֵּר֙ אֶל־כָּל־חַכְמֵי־לֵ֔ב אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִלֵּאתִ֖יו ר֣וּחַ חָכְמָ֑ה וְעָשׂ֞וּ אֶת־בִּגְדֵ֧י אַהֲרֹ֛ן לְקַדְּשׁ֖וֹ לְכַהֲנוֹ־לִֽי׃
‘And you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as priest’. (Exodus 28:3)
It is not enough to simply be clothed, but the specifications and characteristics of certain garments enable us to carry out precise functions. There are some great examples:
Each of the fourteen layers in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), otherwise known as a space-suits has a particular function: from a water cooling layer to regulate body temperature to one that regulates air pressure. We can also look at the gear that Olympians wear; fast swimsuits that give olympic swimmers an edge by reducing skin friction and drag of the body on the water. And what is it about being clad in tight fitting Lycra & Spandex that enables us to tackle exercise ?
Returning to the high priest, what special function did his elaborate outfit enable him to carry out?
Various commentators elaborate on the practical function of each garment, for example the bells sewn into the hem of his robe announced the kohen’s arrival. This is interesting, but not easily relatable to our own everyday life.
Here I’d like to turn to the Tanya, the handbook of Hasidut Habad. Its fourth chapter is dedicated to the topic of levushim, garments of the soul. It explains that our soul is our essence, and that part of us that strives to connect to God, through Torah and mitzvot, On its own the soul is all spirit and holiness, but cannot find actual expression, spiritual growth or connection to the Holy. It is only able to do so through physical expressions called levushim, garments. The soul has three levushim;
מחשבה thought – used to understand Torah
דיבור speech – to study the laws and details of mitzvot
מעשה action – to put the details of mitzvot into action
The levushim don’t merely cover up the soul, so that it is embodied, but are what enable it to function in the world. This reframing of the physical as a vehicle for the spiritual expression is a recurring theme is hasidut and one that I find very useful.
But to go back to clothes that hang in our closet, we all have some well worn favorites that we love. We may not be interested in keeping up with new fashion collections or even feel the need to change our wardrobe every season. We may be most comfortable when slip into our favorite cozy sweater. But is that a good thing?
Think back to a time you wore something different for the very first time. How did you feel? I know that as a young teacher, barely a couple of years older than my own students, wearing a structured suit jacket was just what gave me the feeling of competence and authority I needed.
Considering how our physical attire affects the way we feel, let’s imagine what we could achieve if we injected some creativity in our own soul’s garments. What could a Fashion Week for the Soul offer?
A different way to access Torah; perhaps through the mystical language of the Zohar, or the lens of philosophy. A new ritual, perhaps one that doesn’t feel routine can refresh our spiritual practice.
The new designs being paraded at Fashion Week can be easily dismissed as totally unrealistic for real people to wear, and thus irrelevant.
In reality, there’s a huge amount of creative boundary pushing in fashion design, these ideas eventually filter down to the ‘ready to wear’ market and change what the average consumer buys and wears, and very gradually, even how we view what we have been wearing until that point.
As we read Tezaveh over Fashion Week, let’s ‘live with the times’. Let’s step out of our old, comfortable, go-to wardrobe staples, and try out something we would normally dismiss. Let’s enable our soul to find new meaning in Torah and new expressions of holiness in our world.
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)