When Shabbos begins, it's time to seriously unwind. Rabbi Noah Weinberg writes that "[t]he key is to relinquish control of the universe and get in touch with the Almighty." He also offers an exercise to make that real to you. "At sundown this Friday, take a minute and do the following: Clench your fists tight for 60 seconds. Then let go...That, my friends, is Shabbat."
Yesterday I read an old article on Aish.com written by someone named Jeffrey Dunetz. He describes at length how he went through a very long period during which he was miserable at work. But he stuck it out. Eventually he found that Shabbos allowed him to cope.
"With every mean-spirited word or sarcastic comment, every time they ignored the record and told me that I was doing a lousy job, I began to count the days to Shabbat," writes Dunetz. "That was the bell for the end of the round. If I could only make it till Shabbat, I would be out of their world of cruelty and into God's world surrounded by the warmth and comfort of my family and friends."
It seems that his wife was sensitive to what he was going through and, working behind the scenes, made an extra effort to make Shabbos night an experience that made up for the trials and travails of the week.
Now, "when I come home from those horrific Friday staff meetings, my table is decorated with candles, challah, a Kiddush cup and a heavenly Shabbat meal is served. It's almost as if God put the solution for my malaise into my wife's head.
"Now, no matter how bad that Friday meeting is, when I pick up the Kiddush cup and begin to recite the prayer, the weight of the horrible day at work is suddenly lifted off my shoulders. The pit in my stomach goes away, and I begin to feel truly happy, sitting at the table with my family, feeling the warmth of their love."
I was really moved reading about the solace -- or perhaps really spiritual uplift -- Dunetz found in Shabbos. And when I reread his description of the joy he found in Shabbos, I noticed that most of what he describes is actually gashmius, the physical world. He writes about the Shabbos candles, the challah, the Kiddush cup and a scrumptious meal. As if it's really the physical accoutrements, not the spiritual elements, that create the experience.
Or is it?
A fabulous writer, Miriam Kosman, notes that from a Kabbalistic perspective "the physical world [parallels] the spiritual with exquisite exactitude."
Moreover, the Midrash records "a conversation" between G-d and Moshe:
בשעה שאמרה הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה 'עשה לי משכן', התחיל מתמיה ואומר – כבודו של הקדוש ברוך הוא מלא עליונים ותחתונים, והוא אומר עשה לי משכן?... אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה: לא כשם שאתה סבור כך אני סבור, אלא עשרים קרש בצפון, ועשרים בדרום, ושמונה במערב, ולא עוד – אלא שארד ואצמצם שכינתי בתוך אמה על אמה"
Rough translation: "When HaKadosh Baruch said to Moshe, 'Make a tabernacle for me,' Moshe was taken aback and wondered: 'The glory of HaKadosh Baruch Hu fills the Upper Realms and the Lower Realms. And He tells me to make a tabernacle?' Said HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Moshe, 'I do not regard the matter in the way you regard the matter, rather 20 boards to the north and 20 to the south and eight on the west, and furthermore, I will descend and reduce My Presence within a space of one cubit by one cubit."
Enhancing your table with a beautiful challah cover and challah board
Here Moshe does not see how the Glory of the Divine could possibly have anything to do with earthly objects, but G-d explains to Moshe that the Shechina will be infused into certain implements, as described in the Tabernacle.
So really the Shabbos candlesticks and all the beautiful Judaica items on your Shabbos table: the challah cover, the challah board, the challah knife -- even a plain white tablecloth, since the table in a Jewish home is compared to an alter --are not merely a piece of embroidered velvet, a carved wooden board, a decorated metal blade with a handle, but rather objects that parallel elements in Divine realms.