Bamidbar 5783 – Ahavah Rabbah
I used to play monopoly a lot when I was a kid, and I was recently thinking about the Go Square on the Monopoly board. It’s the first square on the board where everyone starts the game. Each time you pass it throughout the rest of the game, you collect $200. It’s like a fresh start, propelling you forward with some new energy and cash flexibility for your next revolution around the board.
This week we’re entering the Shabbat that comes right before Shavuot, and I’m thinking about Shabbat and that Monopoly Go Square. On this Shabbat, we read Parashat Bamidbar, the beginning of a new book, and we find ourselves in the desert with possibility and new direction laid out before us.
The Sefat Emet (Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847-1905, Poland) teaches that Shabbat was given to the People of Israel right before receiving the Torah. If you think about it, you might remember this order from the song Dayenu that we sing at the seder on Passover,
“Ilu natan lanu et haShabbat v’lo keirvanu lifnei har sinai dayenu… ilu keirvanu lifnei har sinai v’lot natan lanu et hatorah dayenu.”
If God had given us Shabbat and had not brought us before Mount Sinai it would have been enough. If God had brought us before Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah it would have been enough.
That Shabbat is what allowed us to truly come together “״,כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד “as one person with one heart,” and only when we were unified through Shabbat could we be spiritually ready to receive the gift of Torah.
Shabbat reinvigorates us. Shabbat helps us prepare for what lies ahead. Shabbat allows us to truly be present in the moment. This is one reason why so many of our holidays (Sukkot, Passover, Hanukkah) last for eight days – so that we can celebrate the holiday and experience it anew through Shabbat. It is also why we celebrate our Jewish covenantal rituals on the 8th day of a child’s life – so that they truly will have experienced the power and beauty of Shabbat before fully entering into this tradition.
Shabbat and Torah are these two incredibly special gifts, given back to back, out of great love and connection. That’s what the words of the prayer Ahavah Rabbah are about. A great love between God and a people that facilitates this incredible gift and partnership. You loved us so deeply that you gave us the greatest kindness – חֶמְלָה גְדוֹלָה וִיתֵרָה חָמַלְתָּ עָלֵינוּ – that kindness being Shabbat. And then you light up our eyes with your Torah – וְהָאֵר עֵינֵינוּ בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ וְדַבֵּק לִבֵּנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶיךָ.
Coleen Dieker and I just wrote this piece last week, and we are so excited to share it with you as we make our way towards receiving the Torah. As you move into this Shabbat of preparation, how do you want to receive these gifts, and what will you choose to do with them?