At a wedding, under the chupah and then at the reception afterwards, we say sheva berachot – the seven blessings. We continue to say these blessings at each festive meal held throughout the week following the wedding, fittingly known as the week of sheva berachot.
The halacha dictates that during the week of sheva berachot we can only say the seven blessings if we have panim chadashot, literally “a new face,” meaning there is someone present at the meal who was not present at the wedding. Because the blessings have already been said at the wedding, the only justification to repeat them is if there is someone new to share the joy of the newly-weds. Interestingly, Shabbat is the exception to this rule; on Shabbat we do not need panim chadashot in order to say the sheva berachot because Shabbat itself brings the dimension “a new face,” to the festivities.
What “new face” does Shabbat bring to the occasion?
The ten statements of the world
Everyone knows about the Ten Commandments, or as we say in Hebrew, Aseret HaDibrot, literally “the ten statements,” which G-d gave us when He appeared at Mount Sinai. But there is also another set of “ten statements” – the ten statements with which G-d created the world. The Mishnah in chapter five of Pirkei Avot says, Ba’asara ma’amarot nivra ha’olam, “The world was created with ten statements.” G-d created everything in the world through words. He said yehi ohr, “let there be light” and there was light; so too the waters, the animals and the plants. If you look in the first chapter of Genesis, you will find there are ten statements which G-d made, through which the whole world was created.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner, one of our great rabbinic thinkers of the twentieth century, says that it is not coincidental that the commandments received at Mount Sinai and the statements with which G-d created the world both number ten. Indeed there is a very important link between them: the one is the purpose of the other. The world was created so that it could be an arena for the service of G-d. G-d created the world and everything in it so that we could serve Him out of free choice and follow the commandments. Thus, the ten statements with which the world was created actually paved the way for the Ten Commandments.
This link between the ten statements and the Ten Commandments reflects the deeper, hidden reality of the world. One can look at the world and see it in purely physical terms, to the point where one could actually miss the very purpose for which it was created. The physical aspects of the world are so dominant and seemingly so independent of G-d. And because the physical world is so dominant, some people sever it from G-d. In other words, the ten statements with which the world was created could be cut off from their very purpose – the Ten Commandments – because although the Ten Commandments are the purpose of creation, they are the hidden, less obvious part of reality. Our task, then, is to see past the physical and discover the hidden, spiritual reality of the world, to reveal the underlying Divine purpose of the physical creation.
How do we accomplish this?
Seeing the inner reality of the world
This, says Rav Hutner, is what Shabbat is about. On Shabbat, the ten statements with which the world was created recede; G-d stopped creating, and so these ten statements become less important. By minimizing creative forces, we are able to see what the real purpose of Creation is. By way of analogy, it’s like blocking out background noise when we are trying to hear what someone is saying; we need the noise level to come down in order to concentrate. Oftentimes the noise of human creativity and every-day busyness is so loud that it drowns out who we are and what our ultimate purpose is. We need the cacophony of life to recede so that we can actually understand what the real purpose of life is. Therefore G-d created Shabbat, the one day a week when the noise recedes. He stopped creating and we, too, cease from creating; hence we refrain from doing melacha, the thirty-nine categories of work forbidden on Shabbat. Melacha is about human creativity dominating nature; on Shabbat all of that recedes. The world goes quiet, and once the noise and distraction are gone, the hidden, spiritual reality of the world is able to be heard.
This spirituality is most visible on the human being’s face. The human being, like the world, is a physical being. Yet we know that each person has a spiritual reality, and that is the neshama. The neshama is buried deep within a person, but we get a glimpse of it on the person’s face, in their facial glow. The neshama shines from the face, and this is why when a person dies, their face becomes ashen. Anyone who has seen a dead body can tell you that the departed’s face went ashen the moment the neshama, which shines from the face, left the body. This glow is unique to human beings. Animals have a life force, but they don’t have a neshama, the human glow on their face.
Shabbat is about the glow on the face. In the beginning of the book of Genesis we read about how G-d sanctified Shabbat. The Midrash comments that G-d sanctified it with Maor panav shel adam, “the shining face of man.” On Shabbat the world goes quiet because the every-day busyness and creativity recede, which allows for a person’s true reality – the soul – to come to the fore. The body of the world is the ten statements with which it was created, but the world’s “soul” is G-d’s word, as expressed in the Ten Commandments. Likewise, the body is the physical aspect of a person but the soul is the spiritual dimension which G-d placed within each of us and on Shabbat that shines through. A person becomes truly human on Shabbat. During the week we are so busy and distracted, we get caught up in the noisiness of the world, and the true essence of who we are doesn’t come out. But on Shabbat everything goes quiet and the neshama can shine.
A “new face”
Rav Hutner says this is why Shabbat is called panim chadashot; “a new face.” The blessings we make for a wedding are blessings of thanksgiving for the creation of a new person; as our Sages teach us, when a person gets married they become a new human being. This is why it is so important to have panim chadashot, a “new face” at the meal, because we are celebrating the creation of a new person. During the week of sheva berachot we need to have someone new at the meal. But on Shabbat the world is renewed, and every person is created anew; therefore even if there are no new people at the sheva berachot meal, we can still say the seven blessings because Shabbat itself is the “new face.” It changes everybody around the table; indeed it changes the world. It enables our true selves and the true reality of the world to shine forth in all its glory.
This insight into the importance of Shabbat is particularly relevant in today’s day and age. During the week we are so busy, we lose touch with who we are and what the purpose of life is. There is so much noise; it’s easy to lose our sense of direction. We lose touch with our neshama, our true essence, with our loved ones, with our community and with G-d. But then comes Shabbat, enabling us find our sense of self, to look past the physical externalities and return to the inner reality of our souls and the world. It is the one day a week where we can become ourselves again and reconnect with family, community and with G-d. We must realise that a human being is not just a physical body; we are so much more than the clothes we wear, the money we have or all the activities with which we are involved. Under all of that is a soul, whose ultimate purpose is to see past the physical world and make it a better place by doing good.
Thus we see that Shabbat is not just about being physically refreshed. Certainly Shabbat brings with it physical refreshment in terms of sleep and eating well, but there is deep and profound spiritual refreshment. This is why, as the Gemara teaches us, on Shabbat we get a neshama yeteira, an extra soul. The extra soul is a manifestation of the spiritual reality that comes to the fore on Shabbat. It uplifts us and renews our energy for the coming week, by reconnecting us with the true spiritual reality of ourselves and the world, allowing us to emerge as new people refreshed and ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of life.