Pact of Partners
In my previous article about the Friday night silent devotion, I stressed that the liturgy for Shabbat is special because each service has a totally different text for the Amida. But I could not say about the Friday night service what I must say about the Shabat morning iteration: This is totally unique and unprecedented!! Only on Shabbat morning do we begin the fourth blessing of our Amida without addressing God in the second person. Ever! Instead, we begin discussing Moshe Rabbeinu: Moshe rejoiced! What gladdened our national mentor, and why are we discussing him, not God?
The first question is the easier to address. Moshe is joyous because God granted him a special place in human history. God called him ‘Faithful Servant’. Moshe was the organizer of the special relationship between God and the Jewish people. Should we call him the Shadchan? Why is this germane to our Shabbat morning? Well, because the great sign or symbol of this Covenant or BRIT is Shabbat.
Moshe descended the fiery Mountain to bring us the Two Tablets of the Law, and we proclaim,‘He brought down the two tablets of stone in his hands; it was written upon them Sabbath observance.’ Now, we know that there were nine other issues discussed on those Tablets, but we are going to emphasize Shabbat, because it’s also written in the Torah:
The Children of Yisrael must keep the Shabbat, observing the Shabbat in every generation as an eternal Covenant. It is an everlasting sign (OT) between Me and the Children of Yisrael (Shmot 31:16).
In other words, there are other ingredients to our special relationship with God, but Shabbat is the OT or tangible manifestation of the liaison. Shabbat, more than any other specific Mitzva represents the unique association the Jews have with the Creator of all. Shabbat is the straw which mixes the drink we call Jewish Destiny.
That’s the answer to the second part of the question about Moshe’s prominence in this Amida. Moshe forged this bond, and that bond is the topic of this silent devotion. We are talking the Special Relationship begun by the Patriarchs, continued by us, but forged by Moshe.
On Friday night, when we were waxing poetic about the glory of God’s Creation. We clearly stated that our Shabbat observance mirrors, ‘With the seventh day, God completed the work He had done; he ceased on the seventh day from all the work He had done (Breishit 2:2). That description is very Universal; it applies equally to every creation of the Lord. However, now we’re living in Shabbat morning and we’re reliving the thrilling excitement of the epiphany at Sinai. There we stood alone.
So, it should come as no surprise that the next idea in our Amida is:
You, O Lord, our God, did not give it to the other nations of the world, nor did You, our King, give it as a heritage (NACHALA) to those who worship idols. In its all-encompassing restfulness, the uncircumcised do not dwell.
The Shabbat of Creation belongs to all; the Shabbat of Sinai is a closed family function. It’s not surprising that our Sages castigate non-Jews who attempt to observe Shabbat.
The author of this meditation then describes the glory of Shabbat observance. It’s wonderful that God bestowed this gift with love. We can be described as the People Who Sanctify the Seventh Day. In our idyllic picture: All find satisfaction (fulfillment?) and delight (pleasure?) in its observance. Actually, we still await the historic moment when all Jews will keep and treasure the Shabbat. In Kabbalah, if that happens (perhaps twice) the Messianic Era would immediately commence.
Now comes, for me at least, the most important word in this prayer: CHEMDA. We say that Shabbat is CHEMDAT YAMIM. ‘The most cherished of days’; ‘Most coveted of days’, ‘Most beloved of days’. I think I would suggest ‘most desirable of days’. This is the negative action in the tenth Commandment; LO TACHMOD, don’t desire stuff that doesn’t belong to you, but here it’s in the positive. There are things you are supposed to desire, love and want so very badly that it’s good.
I think this is the crucial idea of this Amida. On Friday night we say about Shabbat, ‘You blessed it more than all other days; You sanctified it beyond all other times.’ We define the exceptional essence of Shabbat in spiritual or, perhaps, heavenly terms; blessed, holy. But not on Shabbat morning. Then we describe the fabulous reality of Shabbat as something PEOPLE, HUMANS want, desire and cherish. This is very different from the ethereal Shabbat of Friday night.
Friday night is a light and fluffy souffle. It almost floats away. Shabbat day is like a hearty, meaty cholent that you can sink your teeth into.
So, we’ve brought Shabbat down to earth. Next week, we will find out where we must go next, when we attempt to dissect the Shabbat afternoon Amida