Imagine you are on a train, traveling towards your destination. You look to your right and see a fellow passenger. Attempting to be friendly, you ask him where he’s heading. He shrugs his shoulders and says, "I don't know." Confused, you ask again. He repeats, "I'm just riding the train. I don't know where I'm going." At this point, you begin to wonder if this guy is out of his mind. Who goes on a train without a destination in mind?
However, if you ask the average person on the street the same question, “Where are you going in life? What's your ultimate destination?”, they will probably give you a similar answer. They’ll shrug and say "I don't know". Now, if the absence of a defined destination for something as simple as a train ride is so clearly absurd, how can we fail to treat life in the same manner? Life, the most important journey we take, must surely require a clearly defined and meaningful destination.
As Shabbos occupies one seventh of our lives, and much of Judaism centers around its observance, let us delve into its inner meaning in order to gain a deeper understanding of this unique and beautiful day.
It is striking to consider how fundamental and central Shabbos is in Jewish thought and practice. Shabbos is included amongst the Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Commandments, which are viewed not only as uniquely important, but as the root categories that contain all the other mitzvos. Furthermore, the punishment for desecrating Shabbos is not just death, but skilah (stoning). According to most opinions, this is the most severe of the four death penalties.
When we consider whether or not someone is an observant Jew, we usually ask whether he or she is "Shomer Shabbos," Sabbath observant. Why is this the defining feature of religious observance? What makes Shabbos a root mitzvah, why is its punishment so severe, and why do we see it as the measuring stick for all of Torah observance? What is the secret of Shabbos?
Usually, when we have a specific time of kedushah, a holy point in time, there is a unique positive act that we associate with it. On Rosh Hashana we blow shofar, on Succos we sit in the succah and shake the lulav, on Chanukah we light the menorah, on Purim we read the megillah, on Pesach we have the seder, and on Shavuos we learn Torah. On Shabbos though, we tend to think less about what we are meant to be doing, and more about what we are not allowed to do. The issur melacha, the prohibition against creative work on Shabbos, dominates our focus. We can easily fall into the trap of associating Shabbos with only restrictions, leading to an unfortunately negative connotation. These prohibitions can take over the day, leaving us feeling restricted, limited, or even trapped.
In an enigmatically cryptic manner, the Gemara compares Shabbos to Olam Habah (The World to Come). The exact terminology is "mei'ein olam habah", Shabbos is a taste of The World to Come. Once again, we are left to wonder, what is the deeper meaning of Shabbos?
In order to answer these questions, we must first understand the nature of Olam Hazeh (this world) and Olam Habah (The World to Come), and their unique relationship:
The joy of this world is the ability to grow, to learn, to become. The pain is that it is limited; we are only in this world for a short amount of time before we leave. The joy of the World to Come is the ecstatic pleasure of experiencing everything we have built during our lifetime. The pain is that it's only that, nothing more. All the potential we failed to actualize will remain eternally so: potential.
This can be compared to a person who is given a pile of clay and one hour to mold it. During that hour, he can create anything he wants, impress any form he desires into the clay. After the hour, the clay is placed into the kiln, and whatever form he created during that hour will remain forever. So too, we receive a lifetime in this world to mold ourselves. During our time here we have the free will to create ourselves, to grow. Once we leave this world, we remain forever as the being that we created.
It is essential to understand that the reward in the World to Come is not merely an external reward, some “treat” given to you in exchange for the good deeds you performed. Rather, the reward is you, the consciousness and self that you created during your lifetime. As the Ramchal and the Nefesh Ha'Chaim explain, when you die, your mind and consciousness are peeled away from your physical body, almost like taking off a coat, and you exist eternally as the essential being that you have created.
The weekdays are an experience of this world, a time to physically create, build, and grow. Shabbos is more than just a day of rest, it's a taste of Olam Habah. On Shabbos, we cease creative physical activity and experience what it means to simply exist. This is the spiritual parallel to our transition from this world to the next. In this world we have the chance to grow and build, in the next we cease our creative activity and experience everything we have built. Shabbos is the ultimate reminder that our lives have an end point, and that the result is only as great as every bit of effort that we have invested into building it. On Shabbos we reflect on what we have built and become, both in the preceding week and in our entire life leading up to this point.
This is why, despite the fact that we may pause our physical growth on Shabbos, we don’t stop our spiritual growth; in fact, we place special emphasis on it. This is because the experience of Olam Habah that we taste on Shabbos should compel us to take full advantage of this world, to further build, develop, and grow. Shabbos is the reminder that one day we will no longer have the opportunity to take advantage of this world; our response should be to redouble our conviction to do so. We can then enter the next week rejuvenated and inspired to become even more.
This is also why the Gemara in Brachos specifically says that Shabbos is one sixtieth of Olam Habah. In halacha, if something is less than one sixtieth it has no taste. This is why the halacha of bittul (nullification) applies to that which is less than one sixtieth. By stating that Shabbos is one sixtieth of Olam Habah, the Gemara is explaining that Shabbos is just enough of a taste of Olam Habah that it is not nullified, but not more than that. It is a glimpse of another dimension, the faintest taste of the World to Come. This is the ultimate oneg Shabbos, the pleasure of experiencing a taste of Olam Habah.
This profound understanding of Shabbos sheds a new light on many of the halachos and characteristics of Shabbos. If a muktzah object (an object that cannot be used on Shabbos) is resting on a table at the time that Shabbos enters, the halacha is that the entire table takes on a muktzah status. This is true even if the muktzah object is somehow removed from the table over the course of Shabbos. Conversely, if a muktzah object is placed on a table once Shabbos has already begun, the table does not become muktzah. Whatever the status of the table is when Shabbos enters remains its status throughout Shabbos. Why?
Shabbos is compared to Olam Habah, and once you enter Olam Habah, your status becomes static, unchanging. So too, an object that takes on a muktzah status at the outset of Shabbos retains its halachic status throughout Shabbos, remaining static and unchanged- parallel to Olam Habah.
On Shabbos, in the second to last paragraph of birchas ha'mazon (the blessing after eating bread), we switch the pasuk “magdil yeshuos malko” for “migdol yeshuos malko.” Why is this so? While there are many answers, I would like to suggest my own, based on the aforementioned ideas. Magdil means to grow, to make bigger, to enlarge. Migdol is the Hebrew word for a building, a tower. During the week we grow, we become, we build ourselves. On Shabbos, we take a step back and observe the building we have created, we enjoy the experience of everything we have built during the week.
It is all too easy to lose focus of the bigger picture, of what is truly important in life. Many people are stuck in an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep, repeat. Life becomes about weekends and vacations, and the purpose of life is simply to get by. However, this is not what we were created for. Each and every one of us has the potential for greatness, and our job in this world is to find our unique greatness and bring it to life.
Businesses holds regular meetings to discuss their goals and progress, and athletes build specific training programs to ensure maximum performance. Both constantly track their progress and adjust when necessary to ensure that they continue progressing towards their target. Yet, when it comes to the important things in life, such as our life’s purpose, our family, and our spiritual growth, how often do we create concrete goals? How often do we sit down and measure our progress, recalibrating as necessary to achieve our goals? Shabbos is the time to focus on destination, to ask ourselves: "where am I going in life? What are my goals? What am I trying to accomplish?".
Shabbos is an opportunity to solidify past growth and propel ourselves towards future greatness. The first step to achieving this is to look back at everything you have become until now, and to enjoy everything you have built, the person you have created. The second step is to take a reflective step outside of yourself and view yourself objectively, from an outside perspective. We need to have the courage to go into a room, alone, and ask ourselves the important questions: Who am I? What drives me? What makes me unique? What are my talents? What are my passions? What can I contribute to the Jewish People and the world as a whole? But most importantly, how am I doing in life? Am I achieving my goals? Is there anything which needs more work, more attention?
The last step is to redirect and recalibrate. Just as a GPS recalibrates when you veer off course, Shabbos is the time to do the same for our life trajectory. Our lives are built through the decisions we make, and Shabbos provides us with the ideal opportunity to make the decision to become more. Every decision you've ever made in your entire life has led you to this very moment, and any decision you make going forward can forever alter your life for the better. Shabbos is when we regain perspective on who we are, where we are headed, and what decisions we must make to become our best and truest selves. May we be inspired to fully experience Shabbos, a taste of Olam Habah, and use this taste of destination to unlock our true greatness.
 See Rashi, Shemos 24:12. Rav Saadyah Gaon describes at length how every mitzvah falls under one of these ten categories. For more on this topic, see chapter on Parshas Yisro, section: “Emanation.”
 Brachos 57a.
 See chapter on Parshas Bereishis for more on the mechanics of this process. See chapter on Parshas Tetzaveh for the deeper meaning of achieving greatness.
 See chapter on Parshas Pekudei for more on the dynamic between potential and actual.
 In truth, there is movement and process in Olam Habah as well, albeit, a very different type; it is a growth based on expanding everything you began building during your lifetime.
 See chapter on Parshas Vayelech for more on the concept of being a consciousness, a soul. See specifically section: “Soul Questions: What Are We?”.
 To understand oneg Shabbos on a deeper level, see chapter on Parshas Metzora, section: “Oneg: Ideal Flow.”
 While the original questions that we lay down were not answered explicitly, the answer to each of them should now be quite clear.
 See chapter on Parshas Vayishlach for more on the concept of ratzon (will) and the power of decisions. See also chapter on Parshas Re’eh, section: “The Power of Decision.”
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