David Walk
David Walk

Shabbat: The culmination

So, for every day of the week we had to figure out the SHIR SHEL YOM based on some poetic reference to what happened on the corresponding day during that first week of Creation. Well, it’s not true for Shabbat. Psalm 92 begins: MIZMOR SHIR L’YOM HaSHABBAT, This song is the poem of Shabbat day. That opening declaration makes it clear that we must recite this Psalm as our Shabbat SHIR SHEL YOM. Instead, we have another conundrum: What does the content of his Psalm have to do with Shabbat?

The Psalm itself divides quite neatly into three parts. The first part (verses 2-6) informs us that it is a ‘good thing’ (TOV, correct, appropriate?) to thank and acknowledge (L’HODOT) God.  That HODA’AH involves singing and waxing poetic over the awesomeness of God’s Creation. This joy and gratitude results in us being totally blown away by the greatness (GADLUT) of God’s burst of creative energy. We finish by acknowledging that God’s perfectly thought out (MACHSHEVOTECHA) Creation is too deep for us to ever completely fathom (AMKU).

Sidebar: I’m always fascinated by scientific discoveries, whether through microscopes or telescopes. I follow this kind of stuff in websites for laypeople. But the coolest thing is that every new discovery (either in the microscopic or macroscopic realm) uncovers new vistas, usually completely unanticipated. There is still more that we don’t understand about God’s Cosmos than we do ken, and that’s likely to remain true forever.

At this point in our Psalm, there’s a sort of transitional verse (7), which I find almost sad. There are people who just don’t get it. ‘It’ being the wonder of God’s world. There are two types of individuals described in this verse, the boor or brute (BA’AR) and the fool (K’SIL). The Malbim describes the ‘boor’ as more animal like, in other words, the truly unlettered, and, therefore, unaware or oblivious to the wonders of our world. While the K’SIL might be truly knowledgeable, but through either personal desires (TA’AVO) or nefarious inclinations (RISH’O) denies the wonders of God’s Creation. Being indifferent to the world’s glories is a serious defect.

The rest of the Psalm consists of two parts. The first (verses 8-12) describes the success of the wicked. They spread and sprout like grass (I would have suggested weeds or thorns) across the world, but they will be destroyed in rather short order. The demise of the evil will only further aggrandize the glory of God in our world.

I’m much more interested in the final portion of our MIZMOR (verses 13-16). Here we describe the flourishing of the righteous (TZADIK). The irony is that the same agricultural term is used to report the success of both TZADIK and RASHA, namely PORE’ACH, to sprout or blossom. However, the PRICHA of the RASHA is like that of grass, widespread and fast, but only for a single, short season. The PRICHA of the ZADIK is like that of the date palm and the cedar, slow but enduring.

The comparison of the TZADIK to the date is fascinating for two reasons. The date tree produces copious fruit, just like the abundant good of a TZADIK benefitting the world immediately and for future times. But the comparison goes a step further. The S’fat Emet describes a TZADIK as one whose inner reality and outer appearance are exactly the same, nothing hidden from the observer. That’s similarly true of the date. The outside of a date is a thin membrane which looks very similar to the inside. What you see is what you get.

The poem continues to describe the abundant good and influence of the TZADIK, which doesn’t go bad with advanced years (verse 15). TZADIKIM, like dates and cedars, tend to age well. The abundant grasses wither and die quite quickly, and to grow they must be replanted every season. Yes, there are many bad guys in Jewish history, but each one is a new phenomenon. Our TZADIKIM remain with us forever.

Before I leave this description of Shabbat’s Song, I’d like to share an important aspect of this beautiful poem. We’re addressing God directly and personally. The poem is constantly speaking in the second person to God. As the poem develops, it also uses the first-person singular format seven times. Perhaps, once for each day of that primordial week. My Shabbat joy and appreciation of God and Creation is very personal and unique to me. I may daven in a minyan and eat my meals with a crowd, but ultimately each one of us must have a powerful and visceral Shabbat experience unique to me.

The Shabbat cessation of creative activities (the 39 MALACHOT) isn’t just to allow me to rest and recharge my creative juices. This full stop on weekday life is to give me pause to acknowledge, appreciate, and adulate God for this universe created in seven days, ages or stages. STOP! Look around, because it is, indeed, a wonderful world.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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