Freeze the Moment
Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )
The Sefer HaChinuch explains the prohibition against breaking a bone of the Passover Offering as follows: "It is not a way of honor for royal princes and counselors of the land to scrape the bones and break them like dogs... Therefore, at the beginning of our emergence [as] the treasured choice of all nations, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation and again every year at the same time, it is fitting for us to perform deeds which reflect the great degree of excellence to which we rose at that hour. Through the action ... that we perform, we set this matter in our souls permanently."
"We reflect the great degree of excellence to which we rose at that hour." We all have such hours. I would like to apply this to welcoming Shabbat and tapping into moments we felt truly connected to God.
In shuls throughout the world, we usher in Shabbos with the melodious and endearing words of Kabbalat Shabbos. The davening crescendos with the yearning expressed in L'cha Dodi and the embrace of the long-awaited arrival of Shabbos.
I once heard of a simple-yet-beautiful "technique" which may galvanize your Kabbalat Shabbos and lend a much-appreciated personal touch to our enthusiastic welcome of the Shabbos Queen.
The notion is follows: First, identify moments in your life when you felt a particularly keen and real connection with God. Second, "assign" each of one of those spiritual-high-watermarks to a different stanza of L'cha Dodi. Third, on Friday evening, as the chazzan and the shul collectively sing each stanza, spend a few moments reliving (so-to-speak) each of those moments.
For instance, the first stanza I'm in Brighton, MA in the winter of 1996-97, walking home from the Schachters inspired by one of very earliest Shabbos experiences I can recall. Reliving those initial brushes with the holiness and Divinely-inspired restfulness of Shabbos is a helpful counter-measure to the inertia and apathy that threatens to dampen our enthusiasm with the notion that the Shabbos-to-come is just another ho-hum Shabbos, a carbon copy of last week's. Good food. Good rest. No carpool. That's all.
Second stanza I'm jettisoned to the Kotel (1999) where I'm enjoying a particularly moving Kabbalat Shabbos alongside throngs of Jews of every stripe.
Third stanza I'm meandering the quiet streets of Jerusalem on the way back from Rabbi Bertram's home Friday night.
Fifth stanza it's 2000-01 and I'm back in Boston under the tutelage of Rav Moskovitz. (When the chazzan sings, "Shake the dust off yourself, arise ..." I recall the relief associated with having left the grind and dizzying pace of Manhattan).
Well, you get the picture by now. Other stanzas I find myself, of course, at the chuppah with my wife (December 2002). (Most apropos for the words "Your God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride").
In the penultimate verse, the words "we will rejoice and exult" I'm mentally and emotionally with the surge of joy associated with the birth of our first child (January 2004).
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In short, as we turn to welcome in the Shabbas Bride amidst "rejoicing and good cheer," one can find themselves brimming with a closeness to God, cognizant of a desire to re-connect in such a personal, meaningful and lasting way. Reminded that yes, indeed, such moments of connection are still possible - even for "ordinary" Jews like us leading "ordinary" lives and grappling with "ordinary" challenges.
So scan your emotional databases for those Kodak-moments where you truly felt in sync with God, when His warm, benevolent, all-Merciful, loving Presence was undeniable. Freeze-frame. Download to the recesses of your emotional hard drive and simply revisit those vistas whenever and however you see fit. L'cha Dodi is a particularly apt time for this program, but by no means the only opportunity.
In this small way, one can tap into the ideas set forth in the Sefer HaChinuch, i.e., that "we reflect the great degree of excellence to which we rose at that hour." We all have such hours. They are often personal. They are usually priceless. Seize them and enjoy.