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Sefat Emet Shir Hashirim & Shabbat

The Sefat Emet explains the verse in Shir Hashirim (5: 6) that says: “Nafshi ya’tzah bedabro imi.” (That is, “My soul took leave of me when He spoke to me”.) Chazal apply this

verse to our encounter with HaShem at Matan Torah, when He gave us the Torah.. As the Almighty proclaimed the first Dibra (Commandment), the experience was so awesome that our souls took leave of our bodies. That is, Bnei Yisroel expired. What restored life to our people? The Torah did. Thus, a verse in Tehilim (19: 8) tells us that: “Toras HaShem temima, meshivas nafesh”. (That is, “HaShem’s Torah … restores life”.)

You may say: “A nice thought; but how did this process actually work — in the real world? ” How did the Torah revive our people? The Sefat Emet explains that the Torah has this restorative effect because the Torah is the vehicle through which HaShem chose to make His Presence manifest in the physical world. Thus, by adhering to the Torah we are connecting to HaShem. This is what the verse means when it says that the Torah restored our souls. The Torah enabled us to re-establish our intertwined relationship with HaShem. Note the chiddush (innovation)that the Sefat Emet has introduced here. The simple, conventional understanding of the phrase “meshivas nofesh” is: [“When our souls took leave of our bodies at Matan Torah”] the Torah returned our souls to our bodies.. However the Sefat Emetis reading “meshivas nafesh” as: “returned our nefashos to their previous close relation with HaShem”.

Mention of the words “meSHiVas nefesh” leads the Sefat Emetto thoughts about Shabbat. TheSefat Emetreminds us that our soul has three parts: nefesh, ruach, and neshama.. Of these three, “nefesh” is the closest to our physical reality, and hence, easiest to engage and repair. In fact, a properly spent Shabbat can restore a person’s nefesh.. Note, further, another connection between Shabbat and nefesh. The verse in Shemos (31,17) tells us that on Shabbat the Almighty: “shavas. va’yiNaFaSH”. R’. Hirsch translates this phrase as: “… (He) ceased to create on the seventh day and withdrew into His own essence”. I suggest that “His own essence” is ruchniyus (spirituality). So, too, on Shabbat our nefashos can be raised, bringing us closer to HaShem.

Why? How? Because our expanded Avoda on Shabbat gives HaShem nachas ruach (joy). And HaShem’s joy, in turn, gives our nefashos new life. Thus, HaShem’s “Va’yinafash” on Shabbat has an impact on a person’s nefesh. The Sefat Emettakes us even further. He emphasizes that closer contact with our source (HaShem) on Shabbat permits the vibrancy of Torah to reach the workaday world as well.

The possibility of reaching a higher state of ruchniyus on Shabbat should not be taken for granted; for it is truly a remarkable phenomenon. Accordingly, the Sefat Emetdevotes more effort to explaining it . The Torah (Shemos, 20:11) tells us: “Va’yanach bayom hashevi’. Al kein beirach…” (“He ceased to create on the seventh day.. For this reason, HaShem blessed the seventh day …”). The Sefat Emetunderstands this pasuk as providing further explanation of the remarkable phenomenon just mentioned.. We can return to a closer relation with HaShem on Shabbat because HaShem invested Shabbat with a special beracha (blessing).

The Sefat Emet sees this beracha in the verse just cited , specifically in the word “Va’yanach.” Mainstream Hebrew grammar reads this verb as a construction in binyan kal.. That construction gives us “Va’yanach” as: “He rested (ceased to create) on the seventh day.” By contrast, the Sefat Emet reads “Va’yanach” as formed in hif’il — the causative construction. This gives us: He caused (enabled) to rest. The Sefat Emet’s non-pshat reading of “Va’yanach” permits him to show us two special dimensions of the beracha that HaShem has given us with Shabbat. One is: a feature that we have already noted. That is: HaShem has granted us the possibility of achieving menucha (repose) to come closer to Him on Shabbat. The second beracha that the Sefat Emetshows us may come as more of a surprise, He says: “Va’yanach … nitan zeh ha’ko’ach le’ham’shich m’imekor ha’berachos le’chol ha’olam”. That is: HaShem has given us the capability to extend this blessing to the entire world.

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