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Weekly Story: The Pnimiyus (Inner Dimension) of Shabbos

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

Last week I wrote at the end of the column that I was advised to reply to someone that they should strive to accept upon themselves pnimiyus of Shabbos. In the feedback that I received, was the request if I can please explain what does pnimiyus hashabbos mean.

Being that this upcoming week is Shavuos and it is our custom to wish each other before Shavuos, to be mekabel (receive) the Torah bsimcha (with joy) u’b’pnimiyus, I decided to post the following story from one of the booklets which I published some years ago that discusses the meaning of this concept.

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In the final chapter of the Tanya [kuntres acharon][1] the Alter Rebbe speaks about the laws of Shabbos and states that they can be divided into two categories; the external dimension and the internal one. There he explains the external dimension of Shabbos, are the laws which instruct us to refrain from doing anything on Shabbos that the Torah defines as work.

He continues, but the intent of this commandment is not solely that we should rest and not do any work; but more importantly,  it has a much deeper purpose; which is we should contemplate and realize why we are not doing work. And that is the pnimiyus of Shabbos; that each one of us should utilize this holy day to become closer to Hashem and ultimately to cleave to him. This is accomplished by sanctifying the Shabbos through prayer and learning. That is called the internal dimension of Shabbos.[2]

I will try to illustrate this through the following story.

One Shabbos morning in the 1920’s, Reb Chatsha Feigin, hy”d, who was both a mashpia in Tomchei Tmimim and one of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s personal gabbaiim, was walking to the shul in Rostov with a few other chassidim. On their way, they passed by a shoe repair store and were saddened and hurt to see that the Jewish owner, who had been a respected member of the community,  succumbed to the pressure of the Communists and had opened his store on Shabbos.

They uttered a krechtz (sigh) as their thoughts turned to the fact that a Jew was now publically desecrating the Shabbos. What would be next? Would others chas v’sholom follow his example, as well as what is going to be the future of Judaism under this horrific regime? They noticed his painful expression and understood that he himself wasn’t proud of this act, but he was doing it because of the tremendous pressure that had been placed upon him. But hopefully they themselves and others would be able to withstand this pressure.

As soon as they arrived in the shul they all sat down to learn a maamar Chassidus as a way to prepare themselves for davening. As the time passed, more and more Jews came into the Shul. While many of them also began learning, some just sat around the table discussing various issues, waiting for davening to begin.

Reb Chatsha’s sudden cries startled everyone. They wondered, what had suddenly happened to him? What was causing him such excruciating pain? Rushing over to see what assistance he needed they asked, “What happened”?

Reb Chatsha sorrowfully replied, today in the morning, as we were walking to shul, we were pained when we saw a Jew desecrating the Shabbos. He opened his store. That is desecrating the external aspects of Shabbos, and that bothered us.

But now in shul I noticed a group of outstanding Jews engaged in, let’s say, idle talking. They are clearly desecrating the pnimiyus (internal aspect) of Shabbos. Yet no one is shocked or pained by this blatant desecration of the Shabbos publicly done by religious Jews!!??”

So pnimiyous of Shabbos is keeping the spirit of Shabbos on a much higher level, removing yourself from talking or even thinking about worldly matters.

As we all hear the Aseres hadibrois, let us resolve to observe the spirit and pnimiyus of Shabbos and all the mitzvos.and may we all speedily merit to receive the pnimiyus haTorah, as will be taught by Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

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Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. His newest one the biography of the Rebbe Maharash is now available. If you would like for him to speak or farbreng in your community, he can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

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[1] Essay nine of Kuntres Acharon.

[2] This is the reason why there are two different terms used in the Torah, when the commandment of Shabbos is mentioned in the aseres hadibros. Shomor refers to keeping away from any work, while zochor is reminding us to sanctify the Shabbos.

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