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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah 5777

Ein Ayah: Energy at the Intersection between the Holy and the Mundane

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:278)

Gemara: [Rabbi Shimon and his son, Rabbi Elazar, left the cave after an additional stay.] As Erev Shabbat was turning into Shabbat, they saw an old man who was holding two fragrant branches and running during twilight. They said to him: “Why do you have those?” He told them: “In honor of Shabbat.” “Why isn’t one enough?” “One corresponds to zachor (remember Shabbat) and one corresponds to shamor (observe Shabbat).” Rabbi Shimon said to his son: “See how beloved the mitzvot are to Israel.” 


Ein Ayah: There are two ways in which Shabbat sanctifies Israel. One is that it sanctifies and elevates Israel through the innate holiness of the day to a level that exceeds anything that exists in the mundane world. Shabbat also takes all that is mundane and lowly within the weekdays’ activities and elevates them through their connection to Shabbat.

Even without any conscious awareness, the Jewish soul elevates itself even during the week by remembering Shabbat. In the process, matters that would otherwise be lowly become less lowly than they would appear to be, as they become elevated by means of Shabbat’s sanctity. A person can be involved most of the time in mundane work and still have sanctity very close to his heart so that his life revolves around holiness. Thus, based on the degree to which a person is able to link his soul to Hashem and cling to His goodness and justice, we must view him in a very positive manner despite his great involvement (time-wise) in fleeting life.

Twilight is the gateway between the past and the future and between the mundane and holy. At that point, the holy can impact on the mundane by means of their connection. Mundane matters seem very coarsely material and lowly. However, they may have a subtle inner power that can only be detected by means of a sensitive feeling. This feeling is comparable to the sense of smell, which nourishes the spirit and not the body. Sanctity can provide the mundane with the power of diligence, to the point that even an old person can be filled with great energy. Even though the mundane is impacted by the holy, it is not that the holy becomes an appendage of the mundane, but rather it remains on its own level.

Let us see how these ideas connect to the story at hand, which took place as Shabbat was about to begin, the time of closest connection between mundane and holy. An old man, who should have been beyond the point where he would have the energy to run, was doing just that. That which energized him were the fragrant branches that were to be smelled on Shabbat in its honor. This showed the type of internal spiritual feeling that is associated with Shabbat.

The old man explained that he needed two branches, corresponding to zachor and to shamor. That is because zachor relates to the connection between Shabbat and the mundane week and shamor relates to observing Shabbat in regard to itself.

Rabbi Shimon was impressed and observed that the sanctity of practical mitzvot could be the soul that dwells in the midst of the whole of the actions a person takes, even though they look so simple. He and his son were now at ease and were no longer upset with the situation whereby eternal life (i.e., Torah study) is, for many, swallowed up by fleeting life. This is because, within Israel, even fleeting life has a strong connection to eternal life. This connection gives renewal and power to those who stumble and are tired, enabling them to be energetic in their service of Hashem even in old age. The idea of making the old youthful can only be accomplished when mundane actions leave the realm of the mundane and are connected to the sacred in an equivalent way to the interaction between eternal life and fleeting life.


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