Come my friend, to meet the bride, let us receive the face of Shabbat
My dear friends,
As we stand ready to spend this extraordinary Shabbat apart and yet together – let us do so with joy and an elevated sense of uplift.
It is a challenging situation for us all. We have watched these last days, the numbers of coronavirus victims, nationally and internationally, growing, the pace of imposition of precautionary measures quickening, and their extent tightening.
We walk around in a daze – can this be happening? All sports events and entertainment cancelled, international travel drastically curtailed, schools shut, panic buying …and then Shuls closed …. Shul closed? Shul closed!! No service? No davenning? No minyan?? How can it be? No one has ever experienced such a thing, even those who lived through world wars.
This is the unprecedented reality that faces us this Erev Shabbat. If there was ever a time when we wanted to go to Shul, it is now. We would want surely to pour out our hearts in prayer, we would want to seek the solace in the familiarity of the tunes, comfort in the presence of friends, family and acquaintances, when we would want to huddle together in a close communal embrace. But we are not able to. The Almighty in His Infinite and Inscrutable Wisdom has taken that opportunity and facility away from us, perhaps just when we most needed it.
This Shabbat we were due to leyn Vaykhel, the sedra associated by its title with kehilla, community, Moshe gathered together the whole congregation of the children of Israel and he gave them the twin messages of Shabbat combined with the sanctuary. And this Shabbat our sanctuary, our Shuls, will lie empty with no one there to congregate in them.
But let us take comfort and solace in Shabbat itself. Shabbat has a particular gift that it bestows upon everyone. The sages call it the gift of a radiance of the face; meor panim shel Shabbos, the gift of the radiant face of Shabbos that can be seen around the Shabbos table, around the Shabbos candles around Kiddush being recited and children blessed. It is the blessing and sanctification of Shabbos in the Kiddush verse vayevoreych elokim ess yom hashevii vayekadeysh oto
And it is, says commentator Baal HaTurim, why the description at the end of last week’s sedra of Moshe as having a shining countenance ki koran-ohr pney moshe – is followed straight away at the opening of our sedra Vayakhel with its instructions about Shabbat, because eyno domeh – you can’t compare the radiance of a person normally during the week with the glow with the charisma when he encounters that beautiful weekly gift, the Shabbos.
And so, dear friends, this Shabbos, let us take comfort and solace in Shabbat itself. Let us prepare for shabbat, let us observe shabbat. This Shabbos, we have no Shul to go to, let Shabbat be our shul.
Let us cook and prepare for it with our families, as candle lighting time comes at 6.08pm, let us hold our own mini davenning service as if in Shul, missing the parts out that require a minyan, let’s make kiddush, wash for hamotzi, and enjoy a Friday night meal, elevated with the Zemirot and Jewish songs. Let’s wake up on Shabbat morning; and instead of coming to Shul, lets hold again a mini service at home; siddur and Chumash at the ready. There’s no one there to do it for us, we will have to do it ourselves. Let’s enjoy a Shabbat lunch, maybe a post Shabbat lunch walk, and then a Shabbat afternoon sleep. Time for Mincha, a short third meal, and then 7.14pm Shabbat will go out.
Perhaps we can at that point tomorrow evening after Shabbat all, get together by videophone link up on Zoom for a joint Havdallah service with wine spices and the candle.
Dear friends, on Shabbat morning in Shul, we should have been saying together the Rosh Chodesh Bentsching, the blessing of the new month of Nissan, the month of redemption. May this coming month be one of chayim aruchim, of long life, chayim shel shalom, a life of peace, chayim shel beracha, a life of blessing, chayim shel parnassah, a life of livelihood and sustenance, chayim shel chilutz atzamot, a life of strengthening of bones – me we all be blessed with good health and strength, to escape affliction from this disease or any other.
With all good wishes, with love, esteem and blessings, Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag