How to Spiritually Prepare for Shabbos

Parshas Yisro contains the Aseres Hadibros, the fourth of which is “Remember the Shabbat to sanctify it.” But before Shabbos arrives, one has to prepare, both physically and spiritually.

By Rabbi Aryeh Citron

The Torah portion of Yitro contains the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which is “Remember the Shabbat to sanctify it.”[1]

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov writes that some have the custom to refrain from uttering the word “Shabbat” in the bathroom or in any other place where one may not say G-d’s name.[2] This is based on the Zohar which says that “Shabbat” is a name of G-d.

The Zohar says, “All fundamental beliefs are found within Shabbat. On this day man is given an additional, supernal soul with all levels of perfection, a soul that mirrors the World to Come. This is why it [the soul] is called Shabbat. What is Shabbat? It is the name of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, the name that is perfect from all sides.[3]

Rabbi Spira gives two reasons as to why Shabbat is a name of G-d. Firstly, he writes that every one of the 27 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is a revelation of the essential name of G-d, Havaya. (There are 27 letters in the Hebrew alphabet if you include the 5 final letters [מנצפ”ך]). This is because G-d (Havaya) animates the world using these 27 letters.[4] The Gematriyah of the name of Havaya (26) times 27 (the letters of the alphabet) equals 702 which is the same as the word שבת (Shabbat).

In addition, just as G-d animates and energizes the entire world, in the same way Shabbat is the spiritual soul and energy of the entire week, as the Midrash says, “When Shabbat came, rest came.”[5] (Rest refers to inner energy.) As the verse says, “And on the seventh day, the soul arrived.”[6]

Teshuvah before Shabbat

The Alter Rebbe writes that it is important to do teshuvah (repentance) in preparation for Shabbat. This is because Shabbat represents the higher level of teshuvah (cleaving to G-d). In preparation for this level, we must, however, first do the lower level of teshuvah (repentance for our sins). The most opportune time to do this is on Thursday nights.[7]

Four Times to do Teshuvah

Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (known as the Shela Hakadosh) writes[8] that there four times when it is most appropriate to do teshuvah. He explains that the energy that G-d grants to this world returns to its source at these times, and a new energy descends to the world. It is important that we correct any deficiencies we may have caused through our misdeeds in the ascending energy. Although one can always do teshuvah and correct their past, it is easier to do so while the energy of that time is still “present” in this world and has not yet ascended.

The four times are:

  1. Daily, that is, Every Night before Going to Sleep

The 12 hours of the day and the 12 hours of the night represent various energies of the letters of the name of G-d (Havayah). As such, it is appropriate to do teshuvah at the end of every day before going to sleep so that the energy of the day can ascend to G-d in a corrected state.

As the Zohar says, “One who is a master of his reckoning will, every night before going to sleep, make a reckoning of his actions during the day, repent from them and pray to G-d for mercy… One should make a reckoning of his actions and confess about them as this time is (like) the time of death [before which one should do teshuvah]. Such a person is called ‘a master of reckoning.’”[9]

A Family Teshuvah

The Shela recommends that one should do this teshuvah daily with his family,

as he writes, “Every single day of one’s life, before going to sleep one should accustom himself to gather his children and family members and awaken (them to do teshuvah) and examine their actions of that day. If there was any sin, they should do teshuvah and fix it. If there was any laziness in Torah study or in any mitzvah, they should accept upon themselves to do it in a stronger manner and fulfill the verse, ‘Be strong and strengthen yourselves’[10] and always add in holiness.”[11]

  • Weekly Teshuvah

The seven days of the week correspond to the seven Divine Attributes. Shabbat is the source of the spiritual energy of the six days of the coming week. The energy of those days is then elevated to its source on the following Shabbat. For this reason, it is appropriate to do teshuvah before Shabbat so that we can fix the branches (of Divine energy) before they reunite with their root (a higher level of G-dliness). This is why many people fast on Friday, to assist them in this teshuvah. In addition, this teshuvah helps a person to be able to experience the Divine revelations that take place on Shabbos.

  • Monthly Teshuvah

The 12 months of the year correspond to 12 different ways of spelling the Divine name of Havayah[12] which in turn correspond to the 12 lines that connect the 10 Divine Attributes. The energy for the month is channeled to this world on Rosh Chodesh from which it filters into the weeks, and then into the days and finally into the hours. In addition, on Rosh Chodesh, all of the energy of the previous month is elevated into its source. As such, the day before Rosh Chodesh is a day for teshuvah and thus is called Yom Kippur Kattan, minor Yom Kippur. Some people fast on this day.

  • Annual Teshuva

All of the energy of the 365 days of the year stems from the energy of the 10 Days of Repentance which correspond to the 10 Divine Attributes. At the end of every year, all of the energy of the months, weeks, days, and hours of the previous year is elevated into its source. This takes place on Yom Kippur which corresponds to the Divine crown (keter). It is therefore essential that we cleanse ourselves and do teshuvah before (and on) Yom Kippur so that the entire year’s energy is rectified. We are then blessed with a renewed energy for the coming year.

Thursday Night Torah Study

There is a widespread custom to study extra Torah on Thursday night in preparation for Shabbat. Some stay up the entire night studying Torah. This is especially important during the 12 months after the passing of a parent as a means to elevate their soul.[13]

Segulot

There are many spiritual accomplishments one can achieve by studying extra Torah on (all of) Thursday night. Here are some of them:

  • Prepares One to Receive his Shabbat Soul

The Kabbalist Rabbi Sasson Mordechai wrote that the custom to study extra Torah on Thursday night is alluded to in a verse in the Torah portion of Beshalach where it says, “וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי וְהֵכִינוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר יָבִיאוּ וְהָיָה מִשְׁנֶה And it will be on the sixth day and they will prepare that which they will bring and it will be double….”[14] This can be understood as follows: “And it will be on Friday (וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי) , you should prepare yourselves  (וְהֵכִינוּ) by studying Torah (the final letters of the four words אֵת אֲשֶׁר יָבִיאוּ וְהָיָה spell תורה /Torah) and this will enable you to receive your Shabbat soul (מִשְׁנֶה is the same letters as נשמה/soul).”[15]

  • Helps Rectify the Week

Kabbalistically, Friday includes all of the previous days of the week since it corresponds to the Sefirah (Divine Attribute) of Yesod. As such, one can fix all of the previous week on Friday by adding to his Torah study.[16] In particular, this study rectifies any sin associated with speech of the previous week.[17]

  • Fixes Major Sins

According to the Arizal, staying up the entire night studying Torah can atone for a sin which was punishable by karet (excision of the soul and a premature death).[18] When this study takes place on Thursday night, it has greater power as one’s Shabbat soul begins to enter him at that time.[19]

  • Hastens the Redemption

As mentioned above, Friday corresponds to the attribute of Yesod (foundation). Sins of a sexual nature cause a blemish in this attribute. As such, one can rectify these sins by adding Torah study on (Thursday night and) Friday. Since these sins are a major cause of our extended stay in this exile, by rectifying them we hasten the coming redemption.


[1] Exodus 20:8

[2] Bnei Yissachar, Maamarei HaShabbatot, 1:1

[3] Parshat Yitro 88b

[4] See Sha’ar HaYichud Ve’Ha’Emunah, chapter 12, “Inasmuch as every single one of the twenty-two letters of the Torah is a flow of an individual, particular life-force and power, which does not flow through any other letter, therefore, the written shape of each letter is likewise specific and distinctive, which indicates the pattern of the flow… of the light… which is revealed and flows through this letter…”

[5] Bereishit Rabbah 10:9

[6] Paraphrase of Exodus 31:17 as explained by the Ohr HaChaim on Gen. 2:2

[7] Igeret HaTeshuvah, chapter 10

[8] Shnei Luchot HaBerit, Tractate Chullin, Torah Ohr, ot 63 and on.

[9] Zohar, Parshat Korach 178a

[10] Yehoshua 1:7

[11] Sha’ar Ha’Otiyot end of entry Teshukah

[12] The 12 ways are יהו”ה, יהה”ו, יוה”ה, הוה”י, הוי”ה, ההו”י, והי”ה, והה”י, ויה”ה, היה”ו, היו”ה and  ההי”ו

[13] Shivat Tziyon by Rabbi BenTziyon Mutzapi (Jerusalem 2005), page 1

[14] Exodus 16:5

[15] Shivat Tziyon ibid, citing Davar Be’ito (Jerusalem 1985) vol. 1, pg. 73

[16] Rabbi Salamon Mutzapi, quoted in Shivat Tziyon ibid

[17] Hanhagot of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobyl, ot 19, quoted in ibid

[18] Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh 3a, quoted in ibid

[19] Responsa Torah Lishma by Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Responsa 449

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