Thursday, May 29, 2008

Question & Answer With Avakesh - Drinking From The Well

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In his book Sabbath Peace, Moshe Braun wrote,

There is a well, the source of all blessing,
and the stone, the illusion of difficulty,
covering it. On the Sabbath, the stone is
removed, and all who desire to drink freely.

In what ways have you experienced this phenomenon?

Avakesh answers:

First we must unpack the metaphor. I don't currently have access to Rabbi Braun's book but the reference appears to be to when Yakov removed the big stone from the well, from which all flocks drink, at which he met his destined bride, Rachel (Bereishis 21:2-3). The Torah tells us there that Yakov found a well on the mouth of which lay a great stone. When he saw Rachel, he singlehandedly rolled this stone away. Zohar in many places, including on the spot, tells us that the symbols of well, wife and Shabbos are related through being expressions of the sefira of Malchus. The idea is that every day of the week relates to a particular sefira, counting down from Bina to Malchus. Friday then is the expression of Yesod, a day on which the world prepares for Shabbos. Yesod is a masculine sefira, associated with Yosef and it gives, feeds and sustains. On Thursday night and Friday we function in the giving capacity as we prepare for Shabbos - cook, set up the meals, study, immerse in the mikve. The latter is significant because every going to the mikve (daily morning, before Shabbos, before Yom Tov, Erev Rosh Hashana, Erev Yom Kippur) demarcates a transition in Kedusha and so, the progression from Yesod to Malchus is marked by a visit to the mikveh before Shabbos.

Shabbos itself has both the qualities of Yesod and of Malchus. As Malchus is called "wife" and, "well", so those terms also apply to Shabbos (see Shaarei Orah, Ch. 1). Shabbos is the source, the well of blessings for the entire week. The transition from Yesod to Malchus takes place on Friday night - hence, Eishes Chayil, marital union and so many other features of the Friday night 'seder" echo the unification between the masculine and feminine elements (See Pardes 23: Shabbos, for the disagreement whether Shabbos is Malchus or Yesod, Shaarei Orah, Shaar 2, Chemdas Hayomim, Ch1 and others).

This implies that the process of preparing for Shabbos starts already on Friday. The first corollary of that is that to the extent of one''s ability, the transition into Shabbos begins Thursday night and intensifies as Shabbos approaches. It takes preparation; Shabbos is not something that just comes and happens. Shabbos is something that we must prepare for, something that requires our active committment and invovlement. This is why on Friday afternoons, as the sun set, the students of the Holy Ari dressed in white and they would walk to the outskirts of town and sing psalms of welcome to the Shekhinah who was envisioned as the Queen Sabbath, Israel’s bride. They would then symbolically escort the bride back to the synagogue, singing to her the bridal song Lecha Dodi, composed by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz.

Whenever Malchus transitions in, and comes out of the protective cloud of Chashmal, the kelippos, the powers of impurity, congregate and attemtp to draw vitality from it (Shaarei Hakkavonos, Birchas Hashachar). This is called in the evocative language of Kabala, the Great Stone. "There is another stone, which is called Great Stone. When it stands on the opening of the WELL, Israel is subjugated under it.... and your reference is, "and Yakov approached and rolled off the stone from the opening of the Well" (Shaarei Orah, Shaar 1)."

What the methaphor implies is straightforward enough. It teaches us that Shabbos requires advanced preparation, and that Erev Shabbos is a transition time between two expressions of holiness, with its blessings, overflow, kindness, redemption and Shekhina, all personified by the "pulling together" of the marriage on Friday night. The man is the Yesod and woman is the Malchus around the Shabbos table. At the same time, during this transition, we not only give but also receive and, as a couple, rise to be enveloped in the holiness of the Seventh Day. But... we must also be vigilant for this is precisely the time when bad things can happen. Precisely at the time of the greatest ascent, is the possibility of a great fall. Anger, marital discord, and a host of other problems are just waiting to happen as Shabbos approaches. A Simple Jew has written of the fact that anger tends to flare most in domestic situations just before Shabbos. It is common also for other trials to arise at that vulnerable point. The metaphor of the great Stone that is stoppering the Well is not a vain one but reflects the realitities and exigencies of Shabbos Avodah.

You might be tempted to interpret Rabbi Braun's parable in the New Age terms - just let it go, don't fight, lay back and let the enjoyment and holiness surround you. But this is not the real lesson. What the parable teaches us is something different. On the contrary, it cues us into the active part that we must take in preparing for Shabbos and also how determined we must be avoid the pitfalls to which transitioning into the greater holiness of Shabbos exposes us.


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