Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow Courtesy

At first blush, it ought to be our Shabbat, or most appropriately G-d’s Shabbat. How can we claim Shabbat for ourselves?

The answer is that we each have the capacity to enhance our Shabbat. Our sages wrote that only he who toils before Shabbat gets to enjoy Shabbat. The simple meaning is that he who prepares food ahead of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat because on Shabbat we are not permitted to cook.

But there is a deeper meaning: He who spends his week generating Shabbat moments, enjoys a holier (and more complete) Shabbat. It works like this. Every time we use a moment, a resource, or an opportunity for holiness instead of self indulgence, we create a Shabbat moment in our week. When we pray during the week, these Shabbat moments ascend to G-d along with our prayers. When Shabbat arrives, our weekday prayers blend with our daily prayers and our Shabbat is enhanced.

The Fixed Day
This is a lovely idea, but it is problematic. After all, Shabbat is fixed, and we can’t unfix it. Unlike festivals that are determined by the day of the month, and therefore, by the calendar keepers, Shabbat is fixed. It begins each week on Friday night and ends when night falls on Shabbat. Its holiness is not generated by us, it is fixed by G-d. How can we enhance Shabbat?

This problem is even more complex when viewed through a spiritual lens. The mystics explained that the difference between Shabbat and the weekday is like the difference between speech and thought. During the six days of creation, G-d spoke, and the world came into being. On Shabbat G-d rested. Since all He did during the week, was speak, He obviously rested on Shabbat from speaking. G-d was silent.

There is another doctrine that touches directly on this subject, the doctrine of continual creation. Suppose you want to form a depression upon a surface of water. The only way to accomplish this would be to blow upon the water. Once you blow and create a depression, you can’t stop blowing and expect the depression to continue. The moment you stop blowing, the depression ceases to exist.

The same is true of creation. G-d spoke, and the world came into being. But if G-d would stop speaking, the world would cease to exist like the depression on the water surface. Thus, G-d must speak continuously for the world to continue to exist. This raises a question. If G-d is silent on Shabbat, how does the world continue to exist?

The answer is that the same G-d who can create by speaking can also create by thinking. Though he stopped speaking on Shabbat, he never stopped thinking. On Shabbat, He creates the world by thinking.

If so, what kind of rest is Shabbat for G-d? He isn’t free to kick back and do G-d things. He still needs to worry about creating the world. Surely, thinking is easier than speaking, but it is still a chore.

The answer is that, indeed, Shabbat is not a day to rest and do nothing. Shabbat is a day to rest from the ordinariness, mundaneness, and weakness of the weekday. But it is a day to work on Shabbat things.

Thought And Speech
Think of the difference between your thoughts and your speech. You can think anything you want, but speech must be moderated. You can’t let your private thoughts spill out indiscriminately. People might get hurt. Speech must be filtered, but thoughts need not be.

You can only reveal your inner thoughts without reservation to the people you love and trust. The closer they are to you, the more you can entrust them with your cherished unfiltered thoughts. Grant them unfettered access to your thoughts is a gesture of intimacy. On Shabbat, G-d does just that for us. Creating the world by thinking on Shabbat, means that He invites us to share His inner thoughts, His private space where He doesn’t moderate or filer His message. It is a time of intimacy with G-d. A holy time.

This invitation is extended every week irrespective of our behavior, which raises the question, how can our behavior during the week make Shabbat holier? What can be holier than an invitation into G-d’s private space? And yet, the Torah tells us that we can make Shabbat holy through our efforts. How much holier can it get?

For Us
The answer lies in a beautiful story. A man once asked an elderly sage why G-d is so demanding with His commandments. He has everything He can possibly want. What does He need from us? Why does He drive us so hard with hundreds of instructions and transgressions? The rabbi looked at the young man and said, I don’t understand the question. Its not for G-d, its for you.

The young man would later say that this changed his life. He realized that the commandments are not our burdens, they are our gifts. G-d didn’t give them to us to make Him happy, He gave us tools to make us happy. The greatest happiness a human can achieve is a relationship with G-d. G-d laid out the steps that we need to take to have a relationship with Him. The commandments help us mold and adapt ourselves to G-d. They enhance our relationship with Him.

With this new understanding, the young man embraced the commandments with a complete heart and embarked on a lifetime of observance.

This answers our question about Shabbat. We can’t make Shabbat more holy, but we can attune ourselves to its holiness to get the most out of it. A Shabbat moment during the week is when I choose to do something G-d’s way rather than my way, for Him rather than for me. To do this, I need to transition from a me first to a G-d first mindset. In other words, I need to transition from a weekday orientation to a Shabbat orientation when G-d invites me into His space.

The more I accustom myself to this during the week, the more seamless my transition will be on Shabbat. Rather than feeling that Shabbat is a burden that deprives me of my weekday pleasures, I will feel the delight, beauty, and joy of my enhanced relationship with G-d. I can’t make this relationship any holier, but I can get more out of it. This is how I can turn Shabbat into My-Shabbat.

From Below
The truth is that we can make it holier for G-d too. Our sages taught that G-d did not create us to give Himself to us. He created us so we can give ourselves to Him. If all G-d wanted was to be known, He could have spared Himself Creation because He was already known in the Heavens. What G-d really wanted was for us to get to know Him on earth.

Thus, the best gift we can give G-d in honor of Shabbat is to carve out a moment of our weekday and turn it into a Shabbat moment. This gives G-d much more pleasure than the pleasure He receives from giving Himself to us on Shabbat. Thus, it is true to say that we can add to the holiness of Shabbat. We can make Shabbat more pleasurable to G-d than it would have been without our effort.

Shabbat Shalom.