23 May 2019 Parshas Behar: Revering Shabbos, Our Sanctuary in Time
This week’s parsha is Parshas Behar. The Torah teaches us about the mitzvos ha’te’luyos ba’aretz (mitzvos that are only kept in the land of Israel) of Shemittah (translated as the seventh Sabbatical year) and Yovel (translated as the 50th Jubilee year).
The final pasuk of the parsha reads: אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ, וּמִקְדָּשִׁי תִּירָאוּ, My Sabbaths you shall guard, and My Sanctuary you shall revere, I am Hashem (Vayikra 26:2).
What is the connection between Shabbos and Mishkan/Mikdash, which is connected in four different places in the Torah (see Shemos 31:13, 35:1-2, Vayikra 19:30, 26:2)?
R’ Soloveitchik teaches, “What is the nature of these intertwined concepts (Shabbos and Mikdash)? The answer is fundamental: both Shabbos and the Tabernacle constitute sanctuaries. One is a sanctuary in time (Shabbos) while the other is a sanctuary in space (Mikdash). G-d wants the Jew to establish a residence for Him both in space and in time.
“The Jew who has prepared properly for Shabbos and is about to light his candles finds himself in the same position at the Jew of two thousand years ago preparing to enter the Sanctuary…
“On Friday night, as we sing Lecha Dodi, Hashem pays us a visit. On Shabbos, Hashem visits the Jewish people, while on the festivals, we visit Him. Lecha Dodi represents the Shechina (Hashem’s Divine Presence) knocking on our door…
“There is a difference between the sanctity of Shabbos and that of the Mishkan/Mikdash…Shabbos and the Mikdash are two antithetical poles…When we read the story of how G-d gave Moshe the blueprint for the Mishkan, we encounter the word “ach” (Shemos 31:13 – אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתַי, תִּשְׁמֹרוּ: כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם), from which the Sages derive that the construction of the Tabernacle does not override Shabbos. We have survived two thousand years without the Beis HaMikdash, but we could never have survived without Shabbos.
“There are two principal commandments – Shabbos and the construction of the Mishkan. However, Jewish survival is not bound up with the Mishkan. While the Mishkan is a lofty and important place, we must remember: ach – Shabbos, which is essential to Jewish survival, is stronger. Of course, we pray, that soon, in our day, we will experience both” (Darosh Darash Yosef, p.197-199).
This past weekend, my husband and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, located in lower Manhattan. The museum is currently running a special exhibit, entitled “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” (highly recommended that you take the time to visit this exhibit, which is running till Jan. 2020, and contains the highest number of Auschwitz artifacts in the USA, with over 700 artifacts in the exhibit). Of the many moving, impactful, painful, inspiring, wordless, mind-numbing, difficult and hopeful things that we saw, I would like to share one woman’s heroic story with you.
This is not a story of physical prowess, nor a story of wealth or fame. This is not a story of physical resistance, nor a story of one seeking honor.
This is a story of one courageous Jew who knew well, who lived and revered, who understood in the recesses of her soul, and with every fiber of her being, that without Shabbos, we cannot survive.
Rose Stavisker was born in Poland in 1883 to Moshe and Hannah. Her family immigrated to NY in 1887 and lived on Rivington Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side. Rose was raised in an Orthodox household. Praying thrice daily was a practice she embraced.
In an era when women had few opportunities to pursue higher education, Rose’s place in Columbia University’s dental school (class of 1905!) was a distinguished achievement. Along with six others, she was about to be among the first women to graduate from a professional dentistry school in NY State.
But Rose Stavisker faced a dilemma. In 1905, final exams at Columbia’s dental school were scheduled for a Saturday. As an Orthodox Jew, Rose could not write the exam on Shabbos. The school refused to accommodate her. She would have to wait another year and hope that the exams would not fall on a Saturday again.
Then, a remarkable event occurred. A consensus began to emerge among Rose’s classmates that the school’s insensitivity was unacceptable. Instigated not by Rose but by her classmates, the class of fifty-five students unanimously declared that they would refuse to take the exam unless it was given on a day other than Saturday. The school quietly reversed its policy, and the exam was rescheduled. Rose Stavisker passed, graduating proudly in the class of 1905.
Rose practiced dentistry for several years in the family apartment on Rivington Street, and then she married, and raised three children. When she returned to her profession, she chose to work at a free dental clinic. Dr. Stavisker also aided the growing number of refugees arriving in NY in the late 1930s from Nazi-threatened Europe. She took people in and provided Shabbos meals and other assistance. May her memory be for a blessing.
In one survivor testimony (there are a number of video survivor-interviews throughout the exhibit), one man recalled his transport to Auschwitz, from Hungary, in the cattle car. It was dark, fear and pandemonium reigned, no one knew what was happening or where they were going… And it was Friday, close to sundown. Suddenly, one woman in the cattle car took out two candles which she had packed for the journey, lit the Shabbos candles, and made the bracha. And then, some began to sing, to welcome Shabbos. The survivor recalled this incident, which he himself witnessed, with awe and great respect. There, in that dark and terrible place, Shabbos was welcomed.
May we always be zocheh to honor the Shabbos, our sanctuary in time, the key to our survival, until that great day when Hashem’s Sanctuary in space will be rebuilt – when we will be worthy to honor Hashem both in time and in space.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,