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Home » Food, Shabbos, Shmini

Shmini: Bribe Yourself

Submitted by on March 27, 2016 – 12:26 amNo Comment | 3,141 views

The Bribe

This scene has probably played out in every family home. You are going to a wedding and don’t want to be late. But your children couldn’t care less and take their merry time getting ready. At your wits end, you do what any desperate parent does; you offer a bribe. If they dress quickly, stop fighting and get into the car, they can have an extra helping of dessert at the wedding.

Scrupulous or not, bribes work, which is why so many parents do it. It is an efficient and effective way to gain your children’s compliance. But parents aren’t the only ones to bribe. Our souls bribe too.

Every Friday evening the soul exults over the oncoming Shabbat. As the holy day descends, the soul is in high spirits. It sings, it dances, rejoices and celebrates. But it is hampered by a reluctant body. Worn out from a grueling week, the body is tired and wants to rest. It isn’t interested in singing and celebrating. All it wants to do is crash. What does the soul do? It offers a bribe.

Do you think the soul cares for wine, challah, candles, festive dishes, delicious recipes, visiting guests and social camaraderie? No. The soul wants to study Torah with diligence, chant prayers with fervor and sing Z’mirot (melodies) for Shabbat. Yet, the soul acquiesces to the wine and food because it is the only way to bribe the body into willing participation.

The soul understands that if the body is offered a chance to learn and pray in honor of Shabbat, it will decline. But if it is offered a festive meal and enjoyable company, it will anticipate with relish. The hope is that if Shabbat is celebrated with a festive meal, the body will embrace the celebration. It will be more than a social gathering; it will hold spiritual meaning for the body too.

In other words, the soul bribes the body to celebrate Shabbat.

A Question Of Priority

In the Mishnah a dispute is cited between the schools of Hillel and Shamai about the order of the Kiddush blessings. The school of Shamai maintains that one should first chant the invocation to sanctify Shabbat and then the blessing over the wine. The School of Hillel takes the opposite view. One should first chant the blessing over the wine and then the invocation for Shabbat.[1]

Many of the disputes between Shammai and Hilel, resulted from their opposing worldviews. Shamai was an exacting man, who demanded much of himself and expected much from his students. Hillel was a patient fellow, who understood that not everyone can be held to the same exacting standards. Shamai’s didactic personality led him to expect the most from his fellow. Hillel’s pliant personality led him to be accepting of less. Consequently, Shamai often took the strict view whereas Hillel often took the lenient view.

In this particular dispute about the order of blessings there does not appear to be a strict or lenient approach. This appears to be a clear-cut dispute on protocol. Yet, the commentaries offered a deep insight that links this dispute back to their world view.

The disputants understood that Kiddush entails two parts, the invocation and the wine. The invocation is the spiritual element and the wine was introduced by our sages as a bribe to recruit the body. The dispute was over which deserves priority.

Shamai’s school insisted that since the goal is Shabbat, it should be mentioned first and the wine should be secondary. Hillel understood that one can’t expect the body to jump right into Shabbat without mentioning the wine and meal first. His school therefore ruled that the blessing over the wine should be chanted before the invocation for Shabbat. This way the wine can serve as a bridge to Shabbat.[2]

Jewish law follows the view of Hillel and indeed the liturgy of our Kiddush follows the lenient order. Nevertheless, some people are held to a higher standard. Namely, the priests, who were not permitted to drink wine in the Temple. The inner sanctum of the temple was so uplifting and inspiring that even ordinary priests were inspired without the aid of bodily libations.

Nadab and Abihu

This will help us understand a curious aspect about the tragic passing of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two elder sons. The Torah tells us that they died for the sin of offering a foreign flame that they were not commanded to offer. Yet Rashi, the biblical commentator, cites the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that they were punished for drinking wine before entering the sanctuary.[3]

The question arises, how could Rabbi Shimon contest the reason stated clearly in the Torah? The Torah said that it was in punishment for offering a foreign flame and Rabbi Shimon claimed it was for drinking wine before entering the sanctuary?

The idea that we developed in this essay will help us understand that Rabbi Shimon was in fact saying the same thing as the Torah only in different words. The foreign flame that the Torah spoke of, was the wine. They felt the need to drink wine in order to recruit their body to the inspiration of the moment, yet they were mistaken. In the temple, wine was a foreign substance because it was unnecessary.

Here they were expected to be inspired by the sheer intensity of holiness. Here it was expected that holiness would touch not only the soul, but the body too. There was no need to set the mood before entering the inner sanctum. Thus, their wine induced enthusiasm, was a foreign flame – a foreign passion. Sadly, by the time they realized this truth, it was too late. They had already entered and their punishment was meted out.

There is a lesson here for us all. What was wrong for Nadab and Abihu is right for us. We are not in the Temple and are thus required to use our wine and the meal as a bridge to Shabbat. But it is important to remember that it is just a bridge. We should not get carried away by the menu and the social scene. We should remember our purpose. We gather to honor Shabbat; the rest is just accoutrement.

Accordingly, we should incorporate a Torah thought into the conversation, ensure that we sing the Shabbat melodies and chant the blessings before and after eating. The table should be a Shabbat table and the gathering, a Shabbat gathering. Thus we ensure that it is not just a meal. It is in fact, a celebration of Shabbat.[4]


[1] Mishnah Brachot, 9:1.

[2] This and our original analogy of bribing children is based on the commentary of Tiferet Yisrael ibid.

[3] Leviticus 10:11 and Rashi ibid. This opinion is based on the following verse that prohibits entry under intoxication.

[4] This essay is culled from L’torah Ul’moadim by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin.



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