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The Music of Halacha: The Great and the Many

The most powerful symphony of The Music of Halachah is when the law connects to prayer, philosophy and other laws; when all the instruments play in perfect harmony. This past Shabbat, I heard just such a symphony as I prayed: “How great – Gadlu – are Your doings, God!” The text of the morning blessings of Shemah of Shabbat, besides expanding on those of the weekdays, makes a change: Gadlu, rather than rabu, “how numerous,” that we say on weekdays.


Our attention during the week is focused on the numbers; “how numerous.” We praise the infinite expressions of God’s creativity.¬† Each of the first six days of creation introduced new things into the world. We involve ourselves in the world, constantly discovering new expressions of God’s creativity.

Shabbat is not focused on the numerous expressions of creativity, but on their unity. We don’t speak of numbers but of gadlut, the greatness expressed by the unity of creation. Our minds are not in numerous places; work, home, community, politics etc. We have the Menucha of being focused on the purpose of creation. Everything is connected.

The Talmud (Bava Metziah 12a) defines Gadlut: A Gadol (adult) who relies on his parents for financial support has the status of a Katan (child), while a Katan who is self-sufficient has the status of a Gadol. Gadlut then, implies that the child has become independent. When we describe the unity of God’s creations as Gadlut, we are praising a world in which God’s creativity nurtures ours; we become independent beings unified with and connected to all of creation.

No wonder we so often find Gadlut associated with Tov, translated as goodness, but actually meaning, expansiveness: “Gadlo v’tuvo malei olam (Blessings of Shemah, Shabbat Morning).” ” O Lord God, you have begun to show your servant your greatness, and your mighty hand; for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to your works, and according to your might? (Devarim 3:24)” “And now, I beseech You, let the power of my Lord be great, according to what You have spoken, saying (Bamidbar 14:17).” “O give thanks to God, for He is good; for His loving kindness endures for ever (Psalms 107:1).” The Tov, or expansiveness is always expressed through Gadlut, His nurturance of our independence. Or, Gadlut as long as we are connected to and unified with His Tov.

We find this idea in the Nefesh haChaim (Third Gate: Chapter 9) in his explanation of the verses, “Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that God is the Lord in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other (Devarim 4:39).” “Because I will proclaim the name of God; ascribe greatness to our Lord (Devarim 32:3).” Elokim, or Lord, refers to His relationship with each detail. Hashem, or God, describes the Unified Source of all creation, as in, “Hashem echad,” God is a Unity. In these verse we reconnect the details, the numerous works of the Lord to their Unified¬† Source, Hashem. It is the Name of the Unified Source that ascribes Gadlut, greatness to the Lord of the infinite number of creations.

There is a Mitzvah called Gadlut: gedilim, or Tzitzit. There are many strings and knots reminding us of the numerous details of the 613 Mitzvot. However, when we wrap ourselves in the Tallit that unifies all the strings and Knots, we are wrapping ourselves in Gadlut: the independence that comes from seeing the Unity of Torah and the world. (Note: It is only in the Book of Devarim when Tzitzit are called Gedilim, and not in their appearance in Bamidbar, Parashat Shelach: Devarim is not focused on details but unity.)

How interesting to note that the Talmud describes Rabbi Yannai as, “wrapping himself in his Tallit to greet the Shabbat (Bava Kamma 30b).” The Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 30:2) takes this as far more than a story about a great rabbi. He includes wrapping ourselves in a Tallit as part of the Mitzvah of honoring Shabbat.

Perhaps we should carefully define what it means to honor Shabbat.

Stay tuned.

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