Parshas Emor: Shabbos Keeps Us

In פרק כג (Ch. 23) of this week’s parsha, Parshas Emor, we are commanded regarding Shabbos.  The pasukim (verses) then move through the entire Jewish calendar year, beginning in Nissan with Pesach, moving on to the Omer offering and the counting of the Omer – seven complete weeks from the morrow of Pesach, to the night before Shavuos – to Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and culminating with Chag Ha’Succos. 

Why begin with Shabbos in a perek dealing almost exclusively with the mo’adim (appointed festival times); especially considering that Shabbos has already been commanded to us many times prior (beginning at Marah in Parshas Beshalach, even preceding Matan Torah!)? 

Rashi teaches:

ששת ימים. מָה עִנְיַן שַׁבָּת אֵצֶל מוֹעֲדוֹת? לְלַמֶּדְךָ שֶׁכָּל הַמְחַלֵּל אֶת הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת מַעֲלִין עָלָיו כְּאִלּוּ חִלֵּל אֶת הַשַּׁבָּתוֹת, וְכָל הַמְקַיֵּם אֶת הַמּוֹעֲדוֹת מַעֲלִין עָלָיו כְּאִלּוּ קִיֵּם אֶת הַשַּׁבָּתוֹת

Why is the subject of Shabbos put here next to the listing of the festivals? To teach you that whoever desecrates the festivals, is considered as if he desecrated the Shabbos days, and whoever upholds the festivals is considered as if he upheld the Shabbos days. 

Rav Soloveitchik relates, “The Medrash tells us a strange story.  Hadrian, the famous emperor during the time of Bar Kochba, said to Rav Yehoshua ben Chananya, whom he knew well, that there is a sentence in your Scripture, ‘A dog which is alive is superior to a dead lion.’  If so, I am superior to your teacher Moshe Rabbeinu.  Ok, I am a dog, but I am a living dog.  Moshe is a lion the way you classify him, but he is a dead lion.  R’ Yehoshua ben Chananya said, ‘Are you ready to for a test in order to find out if your statement is right or wrong?’  So he said, make a law that no one in Rome should light a match or fire within a certain 24 hour period.  All of Rome should get along in the dark without a fire, and whoever violates it will be executed.  Hadrian said, all right.  Whoever will light the smallest candle will be punishable with death.  Not one day, three days!  At the end of three days he went to Hadrian and said, let us go up on the roof and they saw smoke curling up from the street.  He said, you see?  You are the living lion, but your edict is not carried out 100%.  Moshe said ‘es Shabsosai tish’miru’, and if you would go up on the roof you wouldn’t find a single candle flare within miles and miles.  Apparently, Moshe’s authority is stronger than yours…

“[Comments the Rav,] We observe the law… without any police department, without any coercion, without fear of jail or capital punishment.  We don’t need a physical fence or boundary around the law” (The Rav Aloud Shemos, p.201-202).

The power of Shabbos is such that though we are commanded to remember, zachor, and guard, shamor, Shabbos, the reality is that “It’s not that the Jews keep Shabbos, it’s that Shabbos keeps the Jews.”

R’ Paysach Krohn tells the following story: “Rabbi Dr. Phillip Zimmerman was the founder of Freeda vitamins.  In 1953, he was chaplain in the US Army stationed in Georgia.  One Friday night a serviceman from NY came in and said, ‘Chaplain, I need help.  I have three letters here.  The first says that I’m supposed to be transferred to Korea on Sunday morning.  The second and third letters are from my parents’ cardiologist.  My parents and I went through the Holocaust and I am their only child.  If they find out that I was transferred to Korea, they will die from the trauma of it, the cardiologist writes.’  He showed the chaplain the letters.  ‘Please,’ the soldier pleaded, ‘please try to help me!’

“Rabbi Zimmerman had no idea how he could help the young man; chaplains had very little say in such matters.  But he did not let that stop him.  The next morning, which was Shabos, he walked six miles to the military commander on the base.

“‘Chaplain, what are you doing here so early?’ the commander asked.  ‘I need a favor.  A serviceman came to me last night and told me he’s supposed to be transferred to Korea, but his parents, who are Holocaust survivors, are so frail that they will literally die of fright if he is transferred.  I have letters from cardiologists attesting to this.’

“‘What are you talking about?’ the commander snapped angrily without even looking at the letters.  ‘The United States is at war!’

“Then he grabbed the lapel of the chaplain’s jacket.  (The official jacket of the chaplaincy had the Aseres HaDibros on its lapel.)  ‘You see your tablets?  They’re made of stone.  Do you know why they’re made of stone?  Because stone can’t be broken.  Well, my laws are like stone: they can’t be broken.  There are no exceptions and no transfer!’

“The chaplain felt terrible as he turned around and left.  He hadn’t gone far outside when, all of a sudden, the military commander called out, ‘Chaplain, where’s your jeep?’  ‘I have no jeep, sir.’  ‘What do you mean, you have no jeep?  How did you get here?’  ‘I walked, sir.’  ‘You walked six miles from your camp?’  ‘I walked, sir.’  ‘How are you getting back?’  ‘I’m going to walk the six miles again.’  ‘Why didn’t you take a jeep or have someone drive you?’  ‘Because it’s my Sabbath and I can’t drive a car or be driven in one.’  ‘You walked six miles for that serviceman and you’re going to walk another six miles for him?’  ‘Yes, sir.’  ‘Come back to my office,’ said the commander.

“The commander looked over the letters, picked up a phone, called his second-in-command, and ordered that the serviceman be transferred to Governor’s Island in NY… with a direct command and explicit instructions to visit his parents every night” (Perspectives of the Maggid, p.188-189).

May we always be worthy to properly remember and guard Shabbos, so that while we watch over her, she, in turn, will watch over us.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


1 Comment
  • Malki Bendavid
    Posted at 08:15h, 16 May

    I got the chills when I read this one! Beautiful. Thanks.