We are focusing this month on the middah of Menuchas HaNefesh. As we explained last week, having Menuchas HaNefesh means being fully focused on the present – not worrying about what will happen tomorrow, or re-thinking whatever happened a few hours ago. Developing this level of Menuchas HaNefesh is not just optional, but it is, in fact, an essential component of our avodas Hashem – for without Menuchas HaNefesh, we cannot focus properly on our mitzvos, brachos, or tefillos, or give our friends and family the proper respect and attention they deserve.
While we can all appreciate the need for Menuchas HaNefesh, it can sometimes feel like a very difficult task to accomplish. There are so many things we need to do, and so many places to go, and so many things to plan! How can we just let go of it all and calmly focus on the present?
Shabbos: The Source of All Menucha
As much as it’s difficult for us to let go, there is one day every week when Hashem forces us to let go. This day is Shabbos. As we say in the Shabbos davening, Shabbos is called “Yom Menucha,” a day of rest. One of the Shabbos Zemiros is even titled “Menucha V’Simcha” – rest and joy.
What does it mean that Shabbos is “Yom Menucha” – a day of rest?
Chazal teach us that “a day of rest” doesn’t just mean that we should be calm and move slowly (although that may we true as well). Having “menucha” on Shabbos means that we are required to “let go,” stop thinking about everything we need to do, and imagine to ourselves as if all our work is done – “kiilu milachtecha asuya” . We should feel as if we have no more homework to do, no more tests to study for, no more clients to meet, and no more bills to pay. No more carpools to run, and no more food to cook. On Shabbos, we are required to completely abstain from work and refrain from all creative activity.
What’s going on? Is this a lie? When Shabbos starts, I still have bills to pay, clients to meet, and tests to study for. How can I lie to myself and pretend that all my work is done?
The Lie That Is Really the Truth!Ii
As the Sifsei Chaim explains , this “lie” that we tell ourselves on Shabbos is really the truth, and the “truth” that we seem to be living during the week is really a lie and illusion.
We run around all week thinking as if we are accomplishing things. Why did I do well on my test? Because I studied so hard. Why were my kids picked up from school? Because I drove them in my own car. Why do I have money? Because I worked so hard and arranged that great deal with that client. Why do I have food on my table? Because I bought it from the store and cooked it myself.
But the truth is that all week long, we are living an illusion. The truth is that we are unable to accomplish anything without Hashem’s help. You may have invested effort and made the choice to study, but Who created your brain to begin with? You may have chosen to drive carpool, but Who gave your muscles the energy to move and Who is making sure that the tires of your car continue to exist and spin?
Only Hashem is doing these things, and only He is in control. As we say in davening, Hashem is “HaMechadeish B’Tuvo B’Chol Yom Maasei Bereishis.” Every day, Hashem, in His infinite kindness, renews all of creation and makes everything continue to exist. The world only continues to run and move and function and exist because Hashem is continuously pumping energy into this world and deciding every moment to keep us and the whole world in existence. If Hashem would stop thinking about us for even one second, we would not be able to move, breathe, or think, let alone exist all all.
Therefore, although it seems as if we are the ones running carpool, earning money, cooking food, and studying for our tests, the truth is that all we are doing is using our G-d-given Bechirah (free will) to make choices, and Hashem is doing the rest. As Rav Yisroel Salanter used to say, “Ah man darf tun, un nit oif tun.” Man is required to try to do, but it’s not up to him to to make it happen. We choose to drive to shul, and Hashem makes the wheels spin. We choose to learn Torah, and Hashem makes our brain work. We choose to cook food for Shabbos, and Hashem makes the oven work and (hopefully!) makes the food come out good.
As Chazal tell us: “Hakol Biydei Shamayim Chutz Miyiras Shamayim” . Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven. We are the ones who use our free will to choose if we will get up to go to shul, learn Torah, drive carpool, or cook for Shabbos – but Hashem is really the only One who can make it happen.
When we run around all week, we forget this truth, but then Shabbos comes, and we are forced to rest. No more carpool, business, studying, or homework. We are forced to ”Let go and let G-d.” Let Hashem take care of everything. Suddenly, we are forced to remember that we are not the ones with all the power; rather, Hashem is the only One with the power to do anything.
This is the “menucha” that we are talking about when we say that Shabbos is “Yom Menucha” – a day of rest. It means that we can finally take a breath and focus on what we are doing, calmly, with Menuchas HaNefesh, because we recognize that it isn’t I who has been accomplishing things all week long – it is Hashem. So when Shabbos enters and we feel like we still have business to do, food to cook, and errands to run, we can remind ourselves that we actually don’t. We don’t need to carry these burdens on our shoulders any more. It was never our job to make these things happen. It’s only our job to use our free will to choose to invest effort in doing these things during the weekday, according to what Hashem wants. If Hashem wants us to stop working right now, then that’s what we’ll do, and Hashem will take care of the rest.
This week, let’s practice reminding ourselves of the menucha that Shabbos comes to teach us. Let’s remember the truth that it’s not up to us to make sure our efforts are successful – rather, success is all in Hashem’s hands. Through these thoughts, we can finally feel Menuchas HaNefesh – no worries about the future, or pressures and burdens on our shoulders.
Sources:  Rashi on Shemos 20:8;  Sifsei Chaim: Middos V’Avodas Hashem, Vol. II. pg. 23;  Brachos 33b
Once a day, before doing an activity, pause and think: “I am going to choose to do this activity, but I recognize that the results are up to Hashem. It’s not a burden on my own shoulders to make sure it happens successfully.”
- Calling a shadchan – “It’s my responsibility to make an effort to reach out, but it’s up to Hashem to decide when exactly I will find my bashert.”
- Cooking food for Shabbos – “It’s my responsibility to cook food for Shabbos, but whether it comes out perfectly is up to Hashem.”
- Driving somewhere – “I am investing effort in driving to ____, but Hashem is the only One who ultimately decides what time I will get there.”
- Working to earn money – “I am going to work today because it’s my responsibility to try to earn a living, but I recognize that ultimately, only Hashem decides how much money I wil have.
- In the brachos that Yaakov Avinu gave to his sons, he says that one of his sons “saw Menucha that it is good.” About which tribe was this said? (See Bereishis Perek 49)
- Which animal is this tribe compared to? (See above source)
- Why was he compared to this animal? (See Rashi on above source)
- What kind of people are compared to turbulent waters which cannot rest? (See Yeshaya 57:20)
- According to the Gemara (Brachos 64a), what type of person has no rest in Olam Hazeh, nor in Olam Haba?
- There is one phrase that includes the word “rest” which appears in Shabbos Shemoneh Esrei of Maariv, Shacharis and Mincha. However, 1 letter is changed in each tefillah, every time this same phrase appears. What is the phrase and what are the 3 different versions of the word that changes each time?
Questions to Ponder
- The Beis HaMikdash is called “menucha v’nachalah” in Deverim 12:9. What does the Beis HaMikdash have to do with Menuchah?
- Why do you think Olam Haba is called “Olam HaMenucha”?
- Rav Yerucham Levovitz writes that Noach was a person who had Menucha, and therefore he found favor in the eyes of other people. What does Menuchas HaNefesh have to do with finding favor in other people’s eyes any more than any other good middah?