Sunday, August 3, 2014

As Shabbos Ebbs Away- Some thoughts heading into my last week in Israel

When I was a boy, I loved “short” Shabboses. Of course, they lasted 25 hours just like any Shabbos, but at least in the winter, Shabbos ended early enough to catch some college football. At some point I grew up a bit and came to enjoy Shabbos. Still, even then, I rarely felt sad when Shabbos was over. I had taken out of it what I could. As such, I never  really “got” the need for besamim at havdalah. This summer has changed that.

Reish Lakish teaches that on Shabbos we get a neshoma yeseira. Commonly mistranslated as an additional soul, it really means that on Shabbos we have a heightened awareness of, and connection to, our neshama. As Shabbos ends, we say a bracha on besamim, which is, somehow, supposed to comfort us at the loss of the neshoma yeseira.

Not for the first time this summer, those of us in Israel went into Shabbos with tremendous sadness. A soldier had been captured by Hamas. The rav at the minyan where I davened on Friday evening, gave a hauntingly poignant drasha during which, judging by his tone of voice, he was fighting back tears. Lecha Dodi sang to the tune of Eili Tzion only reinforced the sad mood. Even Yedid Nefesh could not, even slightly, lift my spirits.

Then Shabbos started to work its magic. The combination of good friends, good food, meaningful discussions, and lots of talmud Torah brought me to a different place. It was as if I had been magically relocated to a world of total joy. Before I knew it, it was time for mincha. As I noticed the sun beginning its descent, I snapped back to reality. I knew that soon it would be dark. Shabbos would end, and with it, the illusion that all was alright in the world. The radio and internet would be turned on, hoping against hope that there would be some good news. Of course, after Shabbos, these hopes were quickly crushed.

This summer has been for me a “yom shekulo Shabbos”. As I travelled through the land, met its people, touched its stones, and ate its fruit, I felt what I can only describe as a neshama yeseira. Each sunset moved me, every word of Torah was an encounter with the Divine. I have met great talmidei chachamim and scholars. Even through the terrible pain of the kidnappings and subsequent war, despite the many, many tears, or maybe, somewhat paradoxically because of them, I have felt more attached to Eretz Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael than ever before. The thought that it will soon be over, that tearing myself away from Israel, will feel like tearing a bandage from a wound, saddens me beyond words.

How can I comfort myself? What is the besamim that can restore my sense of equilibrium? It seems to me that besamim is used as part of havdalah because out of all of the senses, smell was seen by Chazal, in both nigleh and nistar, as the most spiritual of senses. The smell of the besamim reminds us, that even though we are about to lose the soulful connection that we have felt, that it is only a temporary loss. In less than a week’s time, we will again experience the fragrant beauty of Shabbos.

I take comfort in the thought that I am returning to my family, and that maybe, just maybe, in the not so distant future, not only will I be back where I belong, but we will be back, not temporarily, but permanently in the land that is “kulo Shabbos” and “kulo tov”.

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