Friday, November 25, 2011

Rejoicing on Shabbat and Chag

The Torah commands us "ושמחת בחגך" - that we should rejoice on the holidays. The Sages taught that one should fulfill this mitzvah by wearing holiday clothes, and eating special foods. Also on Shabbat there is a mitzvah to enjoy the Sabbath - "וקראת לשבת עונג" - "you shall call the Sabbath delightful."

Yet shouldn't the emphasis on these holy days be on spiritual matters? Shouldn't we dedicate them to elevating the soul, through prayer and Torah study? Why did the Sages speak of physical pleasures?

The Maggid explained with the following parable:

The Cripple and the Deaf Man

Michael had been a cripple for many years. It was very hard for Michael not being able to get around and see the world. Fortunately, he had a good friend called Simon. Simon was strong and able, but was completely deaf.

One day it occurred to Michael that, together, the two friends could do things that would make up for each other's shortcomings. They agreed on a plan that Simon would carry Michael on his shoulders, and Michael would act as his guide.

One day they went out together when they passed a house where there was wonderful music and dancing. Michael loved music. He wanted to stop and listen, but his friend, due to his deafness, quickly became bored and wanted to go on. How could he convince Simon to stay?

Suddenly Michael remembered he had a thin flask of gin in his pocket. He took out a small cup and gave his deaf friend a taste of the gin. Simon happily drained the cup. Before he could start walking again, Michael poured for him a second cup, and then a third. By this time Simon became somewhat tipsy, and began to sway and dance.

As Simon frolicked and cavorted, Michael not only was able to enjoy the music, but even dance on the shoulders of his lighthearted partner. In this way, each of the friends had a wonderful time.

Enjoyment for Body and Soul

The same is true with the soul and the body. The soul is aware of the spiritual blessings of Shabbat and Yom Tov. The body, however, is deaf to this wonderful music. But if we can gladden the body with fine foods and nice clothing, then both soul and body can share in enjoying the sweetness of these holy times.

(Adapted from The Maggid and his Parables, pp. 41-42)