Welcoming The Shabbat: Entering As One
The academy of R’ Yishmael taught: On Friday afternoon we sound six Shofar blasts announcing the arrival of the Shabbat. As the Shofar blower would sound the first blast, those standing in the field would cease digging and plowing the earth, and would stop doing all manner of work in the fields; they would then begin their journey back to the town for the Shabbat. And those working in the closer fields were not permitted to enter back into town until those who were in fields further away had come as well, and then, they would all enter the town as one. (Shabbat 35b)
The image evoked here is a very powerful one. After a hard week of laboring in the fields, one can imagine that the workers were anxious to get back to their families and prepare themselves for Shabbat. However, although the workers in the fields closer to town heard the first shofar blast indicating that it was time for them to stop their work and return home, they could not go back just yet.
We usually picture the last moments before Shabbat as filled with frenzied activity, definitely not at a standstill, suspended in time, waiting. Yet, it seems that it is within this very pocket of time that the workers prepared to greet the Shabbat Queen. They understood that waiting for the others coming from far to join them, and entering the town together was an integral part of welcoming the Shabbat. They realized that preparing for Shabbat must involve a sense of responsibility for one another, as well as a feeling of unity. It is through this oneness that we, as Israel, can become a vessel worthy of receiving the blessings of Shabbat, as we say in “Kegavna” which some recite Friday night: “Oneness below paralleling Oneness above”.
This can be played out on an individual level as well. There are parts of our own being that resemble the workers in the more distant fields for whom the walk back to town takes longer. We have experiences, preoccupations and mindsets that are disconnected from the concept of Shabbat. But we also have parts of ourselves always rooted in the essence of Shabbat, that, like the workers in the closer fields, don’t need to bridge too big of a gap to enter the city and greet the Shabbat.
Just as the workers had to wait for those coming from afar, we too, must regroup. We must gather the fragmented parts of our being and experiences so as to welcome the Shabbat as one; as a whole person. This is referred to in the verse (Genesis 33:18) “Jacob arrived intact at the city of Shechem”- on the Eve of Shabbat. It is about arriving “shalem”, complete and at peace in order to greet the Shabbat.