The Blessing from the Queen

The Journey to Unity - 69

The Blessing from the Queen:

"She is holy to you, the Shabbos Queen, within your homes to bestow a blessing; in all your dwellings, do no melacha - your sons and daughters, manservant and also maidservant." (From the Shabbos Table Song, "Baruch Kel Elyon")

Dear Friends,

Who is the "Shabbos Queen" mentioned in the above song? According to a mystical tradition, the Shabbos Queen is the "Shechinah" - the nurturing and loving Divine Presence that expresses the "feminine" aspects of Hashem - the Compassionate One. On Shabbos, we refer to the Shechinah as the Shabbos Queen, as on Shabbos, we acknowledge Her sovereignty over the earth by refraining from the 39 categories of creative work known as melacha. Through this spiritual discipline, we receive a special blessing, as the above song states, "She is holy to you, the Shabbos Queen, within your homes to bestow a blessing; in all your dwellings, do no melacha."

One aspect of the Shabbos Queen's blessing is described by Erich Fromm, a noted psychoanalyst and writer of the previous generation. In a couple of his books, he discusses the spiritual blessing that Shabbos offers the modern Jew who refrains from doing melacha on the Sacred Seventh Day. For example, in his book, "To Have Or To Be?" he has a section on Shabbos, which he refers to as "Shabbat" (the Sephardic pronounication), and he writes:

"It can hardly be doubted that the Shabbat was the fountain of life for the Jews, who scattered, powerless, and often despised and persecuted, renewed their pride and dignity when like kings they celebrated the Shabbat. Is the Shabbat nothing but a day of rest in the mundane sense of freeing people, at least on one day, from the burden of work? To be sure it is that, and this function gives it the dignity of one of the great innovations in human evolution. Yet if this were all that it was, the Shabbat would hardly have played the central role I have just described. In order to understand this role we must penetrate to the core of the Shabbat institution. It is not rest per se, in the sense of not making an effort, physically or mentally. It is rest in the sense of the re-establishment of complete harmony between human beings and between them and nature. Nothing must be destroyed and nothing be built: the Shabbat is a day of truce in the human battle with the world. Even tearing up a blade of grass is looked upon as a breach of this harmony, as is lighting a match."

A noted European psychiatrist and thinker, Professor H. Baruk, describes another aspect of the Sabbath blessing:

"The modern people are slaves of work, and of pleasure - people incapable of stopping for one single day to think. They believe themselves obligated, on the day of rest, to exhaust themselves with their automobiles and are the slaves of annual vacations, often returning from them ill. Such vacations may represent for many a goal of the whole year, but medically and psychologically, they are less beneficial than the weekly repose of the Sabbath." (These comments appear in "Jewish Identity - Modern Responsa and Opinions," edited by Sidney Hoenig)

In my own life, Shabbos provides me with a weekly vacation, where I experience a sense of renewal within my own space. With the arrival of the Shabbos Queen, everyone and everything around me seems new and different. My friends and neighbors tell me that they too experience this sense of renewal each Shabbos. It's as if a veil has been lifted, and we're able to see more of the holiness and beauty within everyone and everything in our environment.

On Shabbos, we can begin to see the world around us in the way that we saw the world when we were in the Garden of Eden. Before the sin, we were able to perceive the loving Shechinah all around us, for we were not blinded by our selfish desires and needs. Through the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, however, we began to view everyone and everything as "objects" that can be used for our self-gratification. Instead of seeing the loving Shechinah all around us, we could only see a mirror of ourselves. On Shabbos, however, when we let go of our desire to be the masters and sovereigns of our environment, we begin to once again perceive the Shechinah in our "Garden"; moreover, we begin to sense that the Shechinah is within the "Garden" of our souls.

Wherever I have been for Shabbos, whether it was New York, Berkeley, or Jerusalem, I have often noticed a special glow on the faces of those who were celebrating with me. I now live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and one Friday night, on my way to a local synagogue, I saw a good friend that I had not seen in a while. His face was glowing, and I felt that I was seeing the light of the Shechinah. When he noticed me, he ran to greet me and he said: "Yosef, it's so good to see you on Shabbos, as I see the light of the Shechinah on your face!"

I then realized that we had experienced the special blessing of Shabbos - the blessing that enables us to see the light of the Shechinah in the faces of those around us. This spiritual delight is a "taste" of the delight that is awaiting us in the future age of redemption, which is known in our tradition as "the day that is entirely Shabbos and contentment for life everlasting" (Mishna Tamid 7:4). For in this future age of "Shabbos and contentment," the Shechinah will be fully revealed, and all human beings will be able to see Her glory. This prophecy is mentioned in the following teaching from Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (1:14), which cites a biblical reference to the Shechinah as "the Glory of Hashem":

"In the present world, the Shechinah is revealed upon individuals; however, in the future that is to come, 'the Glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all humankind will see together' (Isaiah 40:5)."

Much Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Teachings:

1. As we discussed previously, "tzedek" refers to the nurturing Divine plan whereby every creature is entitled to receive what it needs in order to fulfill its purpose within creation. In our letter on Sarah - Letter 63 - we mentioned that a name of the Shechinah is "tzedek." Shabbos - the day when we spiritually rededicate ourselves to tzedek - is therefore the day when we can experience to some degree the nurturing and loving Shechinah.

2. The following Jewish tradition may sound sacrilegious in certain capitalist circles: We not handle money on Shabbos. This is why we do not give tzedakah with money on Shabbos. On Shabbos, we perform acts of tzedekah and lovingkindess in other ways. For example, we have a tradition of having guests for Shabbos, and it is a special mitzvah to invite those who would not otherwise have a Shabbos meal or who would be alone.

3. The 39th melacha is the restriction regarding carrying on Shabbos. We are allowed to carry on Shabbos within a private domain, like our own home. What is prohibited by the Torah is carrying from a private domain to a public domain and vice versa. It is also prohibited to carry something more than four cubits (about 8 ft) within the public domain. Carrying is different from all the others melochos. All the other melachos help us to proclaim the sovereignty of the Shechinah over our relationship to nature and the earth. The Sabbath restrictions regarding carrying, however, help us to proclaim the sovereignty of the Shechinah over our social and economic relationships. As Dayan Dr. Grunfeld writes: "The circulation of material goods, whether for commerical, personal or social ends, is the life-blood of the community; and it is this which must be dedicated to its entirety to God on the Sabbath." This quote is from an essay on carrying that appears in an excellent and inexpensive book by Dayan Grunfeld about the 39 categories of melacha which we refrain from doing on Shabbos. The book is called "The Sabbath," and it is published by Feldheim: . (Feldheim is now having a special sale on all their books in honor of the approaching Chanukah holiday.)

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