The Personal Treasure of the Jewish People
Those who love its words, have chosen greatness.
(from the Shabbos prayers)
Barry happily accepted.
It didn’t take long for the inmates to start “friendly” conversation with him. “I’m here for armed robbery, and they gave me a ten year sentence.” “And I’m here for murdering my girlfriend’s father; they gave me seven years.” Suddenly, their attention turned to Barry. “And what are you here for?” they asked.
Indeed, Shabbos is one of the most important aspects of Jewish life. It is through Shabbos that we achieve life’s true blessings. Shabbos endows us with an appreciation for life in a physical, emotional and psychological sense. A home that knows the joy of Shabbos will appreciate the grandeur of the Jewish people.
Herman Wouk, a noted author, playwright and a religious Jew describes what Shabbos means to him, to his family, and to our nation. In This is My G-d he writes:
Leaving the gloomy theatre, the littered coffee cups, the jumbled scarred-up scripts, the haggard actors, the shouting stagehands, the bedevilled director, the knuckle-gnawing producer, the clattering typewriter, and the dense tobacco smoke and backstage dust, I have come home. It has been a startling change, very like a brief return from the wars. My wife and my boys, whose existence I have almost forgotten in the anxious shoring up of the tottering ruin, are waiting for me, gay, dressed in holiday clothes, and looking to me marvelously attractive…
Wouk goes on to describe the beauty of his Shabbos meal. He writes:
… We have sat down to a splendid dinner, at a table graced with flowers and the old Sabbath symbols: the burning candles, the twisted loaves, the stuffed fish and my grandfather’s silver goblet brimming with wine. I have blessed my boys with the ancient blessing; we have sung the pleasantly syncopated Sabbath table hymns. The talk has little to do with tottering ruins. My wife and I have caught up with our week’s conversation. The boys, knowing that the Sabbath is the occasion for asking questions, have asked them. The Bible, the encyclopedia, the atlas, have piled up on the table. We talk of Judaism, and there are the usual impossible boys’ queries about G-d, which my wife and I field clumsily but as well as we can. For me it is a retreat into restorative magic.
Throughout the centuries, Shabbos observance has been challenged by the nations of the world. As early as the Greek empire (167 BCE), anti-Shabbos laws were legislated to prevent its observance. But our nation never wavered in their commitment to Shabbos. Shabbos symbolizes the perseverance of the Jewish people and our link to eternity. Shabbos grants us a new perspective on life, a serenity and an appreciation of who we are, and what kind of people we would like to become.
Don Manuel Elfradi was a secret Jew who learned to keep his true allegiances to himself. His ancestors had come to Spain 400 years earlier, fleeing religious persecution. And now, at least to the outside world, the Elfradi family had become Christians.
There was a limit to the amount of time that they could pretend allegiance to Christianity. Although they lived in a small town, it wouldn’t be long before the Hermandad would pay them a visit. They lived in daily dread, knowing that one fateful visit could expose the fact that Don Manuel was raising his children as secret Jews.
A decision had to be made. To relocate to Holland, a land of religious tolerance, was simply not an option. He was not wealthy. But to abdicate his position as a Jewish father, responsible for the next link of Jewish legacy, was equally unthinkable. Finally, he hit upon a solution.
In the dead of night, Don Manuel began to dig an underground room to meet his family’s religious needs. It took months to construct, and it was small, but it served the purpose well. Here he could store his religious books and educate his children in the ways of his people. In this little room he would teach them of the covenant of old, and the dedication of their parents to that great legacy. Don Manuel’s children grew up as secret Jews; as adults, they decided that they no longer wished to live a double life. With perseverance they relocated to Holland where they re-founded the family on friendlier soil. Today, five centuries later, a number of Don Manuel’s descendants can be found living on a side street in Tel Aviv. They speak of an ancestor of long ago, whose dedication to Judaism kept their family alive. Every Friday night they sing a haunting melody that they say was authored by Don Manuel himself, in his secret room. As they sing they remember that courageous decision of his, a decision of dedication and commitment which reaps dividends to our very day.
But there is no need to search the history books for stories of Jewish courage. Commitment to Shabbos is alive and well in our generation. One such story occurs in a popular religious girls’ summer camp where Leah is the head counselor. Known for her exuberance and her ability to take charge, Leah’s loving personality has endeared her to the campers.
Leah had invited a group of girls to join the camp for Shabbos. These girls were from traditional homes, and had only recently expressed an interest in the complete observance of Shabbos. Leah felt that Shabbos in a camp atmosphere would be an enjoyable experience, and would give them an opportunity to see the richness of the Shabbos from a closer perspective. They would see the way Shabbos is spent in summer camp- a day replete with songs, games, and a relaxed atmosphere. But here it was, time for lighting the Shabbos candles, and the girls had still not arrived.
Leah was worried. Had the girls run into traffic? Maybe they had changed their minds about coming? As doubt gnawed at her insides, she led the Friday night meal with her usual exuberance and good cheer; all the while wondering about her friends who did not show up.
Some say it was 9:00 p.m., some say it was 9:30 p.m., when the missing girls finally appeared. They pranced into the dining room, a tired but smiling group; they were looking for Leah. “You see,” they explained breathlessly, “We were still on the road when we realized that sunset had arrived. We pulled the car over, and decided to walk; we weren’t going to drive on Shabbos! It took us a while to walk the remaining four miles, but we’re so glad that we did.” It didn’t take long for the campers to happily serve a second Shabbos meal. That meal was indeed “fit for a queen.” For it was a special meal, honoring the dedication of those Daughters of Israel who had so steadfastly expressed their commitment to the treasure called Shabbos.
Not only is Shabbos special in a spiritual sense. Even in a physical sense, Shabbos is a magnificent treasure.
The story is told of a doctor who said that she had been keeping Shabbos “two years before I believed in G-d!”
When the listeners expressed astonishment, she explained. “I saw how the Shabbos cared for the emotional and physical needs of a human being. I saw the warmth and happiness that it generated in the Jewish home. I was committed not to let my belief or lack thereof, stand in the way of my enjoying its benefits.” Although there are many magnificent events in Jewish life, Shabbos is a truly precious event that we do’t want to miss. Many an outsider has seen this concept clearly. As Herman Wouk recounts: My producer one Saturday night said to me, “I don’t envy you your religion, but I envy you your Sabbath.”
What is it about Shabbos that generates such enthusiasm and dedication? And how does the Shabbos relate to us in our, modern times?
These are questions which we will discuss and explore in the coming chapters.
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“The Magic of Shabbos is an essential handbook explaining the holiness of Shabbos in depth. It integrates philosophical ideas, traditional values and a precise explanation of the Shabbos laws.” — Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel
“The Magic of Shabbos portrays Shabbos as a delightful joyous experience…(the author’s) warm and caring personality comes across in the book.” — Avi Shulman, Lecturer, Educator and Director of Torah Umesorah SEED Programs
“An inspirational work about Shabbos, explaining the essence of Shabbos in an uplifting manner.” — Rabbi Yeruchem Olshin, Rosh Yeshiva Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood
“By relating inspiring stories… he inculcates a strong desire to become a participant in a major precept of Judaism.” — Rabbi David Cohen
“Immense help to any Jew seeking to enjoy the serenity and holiness of Shabbos.” — Rabbi Berel Wein, Author and Lecturer
“Judaism has no greater and more pressing need than to create accessibility to all of its depth and profundity… The Magic of Shabbos is the book of our times.” — Rabbi Yaakov Haber, OU National Director, Director of Jewish Education
“This book will be a great help to those thousands of Jews looking to experience the beauty of Shabbos.” —Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, Director, National Jewish Outreach Program