There is an interesting concept mentioned in the blessing said at a bris, which gives us insight into what Judaism is about, and specifically Shabbat. After the circumcision has been done, we say Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, asher kidash yedid mibeten vechok beshe’ero sam vetze’etza’av chatam be’ot brit kodesh, “Blessed are You Hashem, Master of the Universe Who has sanctified the beloved one from the womb; Who marked the decree of the circumcision in his flesh, and gave his [our Forefather Avraham] descendants the seal and sign of the holy covenant.” The blessing continues: Al ken bis’char zot … tzaveh lehatzil yedidut she’ereinu mi’shachat, “Therefore, as a reward for this… may You issue the command to rescue the beloved soul within our flesh from destruction.” Twice in this blessing we have the term yedid, which is the Hebrew for friend or beloved. The baby, now circumcised, has entered the realm of yedidut, friendship.
Rav Shlomo Wolbe, one of our great rabbinic thinkers of the twentieth century, says that this word, yedidut, contains the whole philosophy of Judaism. As we know, Judaism is comprised of many commandments which give us our whole way of life. But if we had to encapsulate the entire philosophy of Judaism in one word, says Rav Wolbe, it would be the concept of yedidut, friendship – or, as he calls it, olam hayedidut, “the world of friendship.” The circumcised child, who has just entered into the covenant of the bris and become part of the Jewish people, has entered the world of yedidut. This, says Rav Wolbe, is the essence of Judaism. There is an olam hayedidut, a “world of loving friendship,” between us and G-d, between us and our fellow human beings and between us and ourselves.
This description applies to all of Judaism. As we know, a major portion of the Torah’s commandments are mitzvot bein adam lachaveiro, between man and his fellow man; this is olam hayedidut, the world of loving friendship, between people. Another major portion of mitzvot are those bein adam laMakom, the responsibilities that we have towards G-d. This is the world of loving friendship between us and G-d. When G-d gives us commandments He is not there instructing us as a legislator imposing laws upon us that we have to keep for fear of our lives. Rather, it is comparable to a loving parent who establishes rules out of love, in order to help us. When we keep His mitzvot, it is within the context of this world of loving friendship. Just as we do things for people we love – a husband for a wife and a wife for a husband, parents for children and children for parents – so too, says Rav Wolbe, we keep the mitzvot in the context of our relationship with G-d, in the world of loving friendship.
Shabbat: a day of friendship
Rav Wolbe adds that Shabbat in particular is about yedidut; it is a day of loving friendship. As we say this in one of the zemirot sung on Shabbat, Ma yedidut menuchatech, “How beloved is your rest.” Shabbat is a day to step out of the pressures of the week and reconnect with ourselves, with family and with G-d. By relieving us of all the work that has accumulated during the week, we are free to focus on our relationships. Throughout the week we are so busy doing and achieving that we don’t have a chance just to “be” and to connect with those we love. On Shabbat we take a break from the rough and tumble of life and reconnect with those most important to us.
In a microcosmic way, this is what we do in the daily davening. There are three prayer services every day, Shacharit, Mincha and Ma’ariv, which help us stay connected throughout the day. No matter how busy we are, we have to return to the Source and reconnect with Hashem. Just like a husband and wife phone each other in the middle of a busy day to touch base and reconnect, so, too, we reconnect with G-d three times a day when we daven, ensuring that we don’t drift too far.
In Sefer HaKuzari, Rav Yehuda HaLevi compares prayer to a meal. Throughout the day we get hungry, and so we have breakfast, lunch and supper to ensure we get proper sustenance. So too, in the spiritual sense, we need to reconnect with G-d on a regular basis lest we drift away from Him and become completely alienated. In davening three times a day, we re-establish this connection. Davening, however, is only for a small part of the day. In contrast, on Shabbat we have a whole day devoted to re-establishing all of our connections and relationships that get neglected during the week due to the many demands pulling us in all different directions.
Yedidut with ourselves
We have discussed our relationship with G-d and our relationship with others. But there is another part of yedidut, of this loving friendship, and that is the relationship we have with ourselves. Rav Wolbe quotes a Gemara which says that a person who loses his temper is likened to an idol worshipper. The verse says: “There shall not be a strange god among you,” which the Gemara interprets to mean that when we lose our temper and give in to our yetzer hara, it is like worshipping a strange god. The term for idols is el zar, literally “a strange god,” which means we become alienated from ourselves. Rav Wolbe says when we give into the yetzer hara and it lures us away from Hashem and His mitzvot, we actually become alienated from ourselves. When we are on the wrong path, when we are disconnected from who we are meant to be, we feel dislocated and alienated; we don’t feel good. This is our conscience – the knowledge that we have done something wrong and the sense of disconnectedness and fragmentation that comes along with it.
This is why, says Rav Wolbe, the word for idolatry in the Talmud is avoda zara, literally “foreign worship,” because it causes us to become alienated from ourselves. And in a sense, this is what has happened in the modern world. There is a pervasive sense of alienation, a sense that people are fragmented; or, as one author put it, “the ‘atomisation’ of the world.” When atoms come apart, everything disintegrates. In today’s society, the bonds of family have come apart and people have drifted from G-d. A sense of alienation has crept into society and there is a lack of connection – to G-d, to community, to family and to ourselves; we are not connected to an overarching value system. In contrast to all this is the world of connectedness—olam hayedidut, the world of loving friendship.
Rav Wolbe says the word zar, foreign, is actually related to the Hebrew word achzar, which means cruel. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch connects it to the word zar, which means foreign or estranged. Cruelty is exhibited when there is an estrangement between people. Rav Wolbe adds that the term achzar, cruel, is even used in the spiritual context. It says that if a person doesn’t repent when they ought to, that is a form of cruelty to themselves. Achzar, cruel, and zar, alien, are two aspects of the same concept. To combat these we have the Torah, which creates this incredible world of friendship – olam hayedidut; and one of the pillars of this world of loving friendship is Shabbat.
Shabbat connects us with G-d, with our community, with our families and with ourselves. Shabbat also holds the whole Jewish people together. Its rhythm unites Jewish communities around the world: we all read the same parsha together and there is a natural rhythm built into the Jewish week, which holds the Jewish people together, creating a wonderful, warm, loving atmosphere at the centre of our lives. This is reflected in the afternoon service on Shabbat, which describes Shabbat as menuchat ahava unedava “a rest of love and generosity.” The essence of Shabbat is love and generosity, harmony and unity. It brings people together in a social sense but also in a spiritual, existential sense as it strengthens our relationships to each other and to G-d, the connections which define our very essence.