A few weeks ago, my wife and I had a couple over for the Shabbos night seudah (meal). The gentleman is tentatively exploring his Jewish roots. In the course of conversation, it was mentioned that it is forbidden to tear letters (writing) on Shabbat. The gentleman rolled his eyes and made a “You’ve gotta be kidding; that’s ridiculous” sound that would have made many a teenager proud.
I didn’t say anything. Frankly, I was surprised. Truth be told, it has been a long, long time since I have shared a meal with some who wasn’t already committed to observing Judaism. (Maybe I should get out more?) Anyway, here’s what I would have told him, had I not been caught flat-footed.
“Do you know what God used to create the world? He used letters. In the “planning” stages, God had, as it were, an interest in creating a world like ours, and then He “thought” about what it should look like, how it would operate and what its goal would be. Then, when He was satisfied with that plan, God spoke the letters to make the light, the Heaven and Earth and all that they contain. Those letters, their combinations and permutations, are the stuff of Creation.
“Those letters were—are—the holy letters of the Hebrew alefbet (alphabet). The ABC’s, the alpha-beta-gammas and the Cyrillic and Chinese whatchamacallits are all derivatives of those letters of Creation. They, too, are used in the human side of Creation. Their existence, too, is an expression of the Divine will: This is how things must be right now. During the six days of the work week, we have our opportunity to tear letters; to rip them apart in order to write into existence what we project will be a better world. In fact, the six days are not just an opportunity. They are a responsibility.
“But Shabbos is Shabbos. God “rested,” setting aside His creativity (as it were). On the holy Shabbos, we are told: Stay your hand. Now is not the time for human creativity, to discard or reconstruct the letters, to reform or recycle stuff. Shabbos is the time for human humility. God has acquiesced to what we have wrought during the week. Shabbos is not the time to begrudge that Divine will or to merely accept it. It is a time to celebrate it. But we can’t honestly celebrate it if we’re trying to change it.”
May we be privileged to observe and celebrate Shabbos in this world, and be allowed into Shabbos in the Next World. Amen.
© Copyright 2012 Breslov Research Institute