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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Ki Sisa 5774 "A Day of Transformation"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman zt’l was a person of incredible faith, and legendary adherence to Torah. For many years Rabbi Herman lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This was during the early 1900s when keeping Torah and mitzvos was not in vogue in America. Still, his commitment to Torah was staunch and unyielding.

In her beautiful book, “All for the Boss”, Rebbitzin Ruchama Shain a’h, the daughter of Rabbi Herman, documented and captured the greatness of her father’s life and the challenges he faced and overcame.

She relates that one Friday evening, a policeman knocked on the door of their apartment with an urgent message for her father. “Mr. Herman, there is a fire raging in your fur store! The fire department is doing its best to douse the flames, but I would advise you to get there as soon as possible.” Rabbi Herman thanked the officer but replied that it was his Sabbath and he would not be able to come down to the store until the following evening.

The policeman was incredulous, “Won’t you at least come down to survey the damage?” Rabbi Herman politely shook his head and thanked the officer again.

The rest of Shabbos passed like any other. Rabbi Herman showed absolutely no sign of anxiety or concern. He sang Shabbos zemiros, repeated Torah thoughts, and did not even hurry to recite havdalah after Shabbos was over.

After Shabbos, Rabbi Herman traveled down to Seventh Avenue where his fur store was located, expecting to see it gutted. To his amazement, his store had been untouched. It was the adjoining fur store that had gone up in flames and reduced to rubble.

“And you (Moshe) speak to the Children of Israel saying, ‘But my Shabbos you are to observe; for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies you.”[1]

The Torah makes it clear that Shabbos is not only about acting in certain ways and refraining from certain activities, but it must also be a cognitive experience. Through Shabbos observance a Jew should come to realize and understand that G-d is the source of all holiness and sanctity.

This idea is especially apparent from the laws governing the many prohibitions of Shabbos. Although there are specific labors that are forbidden on Shabbos, performing any of the forbidden labors does not automatically render one liable for desecrating Shabbos. The doer’s personal objective must be taken into account. The rule is, “מלאכת מחשבת אסרה תורה – calculated (i.e. planned) labor is forbidden by the Torah.”

In other words, whether a specific labor is forbidden or not is partially contingent on the motive of the doer. Thus two people may perform the same action, yet one will be liable for desecrating Shabbos, while his counterpart will be exempt. It all depends on what their intent was when they performed the action.[2]

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l explains this concept in his characteristically profound and poignant manner[3]:

The status of a vessel or a tool is dependent on its purpose. A small leather pouch may be used for money or to store marbles. If it is used to store money it becomes a wallet; if it is used for marbles it is a toy.

There is a prohibition on Shabbos of “hotza’ah” - to transport objects from domain to domain. However, one only transgresses this prohibition if one transports an object of value. If the transported item does not possess any value, carrying it does not violate a Biblical prohibition. Therefore, transporting a vessel may not be forbidden in and of itself. It will depend on the motive of the carrier and whether there is anything in the vessel.

For example, if one transports an empty silver goblet, he has transgressed the violation of carrying because the goblet is his object of interest, and therefore is valuable to him. However, if the goblet is filled with wine then he is not (Biblically) liable for transporting the goblet since his primary intent was to transport the wine[4]. This is true even if the goblet is more valuable than the wine. Halacha is concerned with the value of an object in regard to the specific act being performed. In regard to this specific act, the doer was not really interested in the goblet. He was only using it to facilitate the transportation of the wine which he wanted to drink along the way. Therefore, he is not liable for carrying the goblet.

This example demonstrates the concept of “מלאכת מחשבת” in regard to the prohibitions of Shabbos. It is not merely the act that matters, but also the motive and intent of the doer.

Rabbi Hutner continues that the concept of determining what is the “ikkar- priority” and what is the “tafel- accessory” is not merely one of the myriad laws regarding the prohibitions of Shabbos. Rather this concept is fundamental in regards to understanding the essence of Shabbos, and the role it plays in the life of a Jew.

The Mishna[5] states that G-d created the physical world with “ten utterances”. Throughout the initial week of creation, utilizing those utterances G-d created, fashioned, and formed the entire natural world and everything therein. However, when the world stood complete at the conclusion of the six days, it lacked purpose and direction. It was essentially, a creation without meaning. With the onset of Shabbos, G-d invested into the world a new concept, i.e. holiness! At that point, it immediately became apparent that creating holiness was the purpose of creation. Holiness was preeminent; the rest of creation was an accessory. It suddenly became clear that the world - which until now seemed like an end unto itself - was merely a “vessel”, a conduit for holiness, and a means to reach a higher goal and purpose.

There is only one being created that could appreciate and grasp this concept, man. Every other being, survives based on instinct and nature, and therefore cannot realize the transiency of the temporal world around them. Only man, endowed with cognition, can appreciate the significance of Shabbos and the message it espouses. One who has the ability to ponder and comprehend the significance and purpose of life can understand that this whole world is merely a vessel, and a means to a greater existence.

The ability to appreciate the message and significance of Shabbos was essentially created on the sixth day when G-d created man with intellect and the ability to think. Without the creation of man, the message of Shabbos could not have been understood. Shabbos essentially caused there to be a drastic shift in the purpose of creation and that change was only appreciated in the mind of man.

The verse in Parshas Vayakhel states “You shall not ignite a fire in any of your surroundings on the day of Shabbos.[6]” Zohar notes that this prohibition is not merely a warning against igniting physical fires, but also for igniting ‘emotional fires’. On Shabbos one is obligated reach such a state of contentment that he cannot be moved to anger.

On the words of the verse, “For six days work shall be done and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, it is sacred to Hashem[7],” Rashi comments that complete rest implies, “מנוחת מרגוע ולא מנוחת עראי - A permanent resting; not a temporary resting“.

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l[8] explains that a “temporary resting” refers to one who is not permanently altered by the Shabbos experience. Although he observes Shabbos, and perhaps even sanctifies Shabbos, it does not have a lasting effect on him, but fades away with the puff of the extinguished havdalah candle. A ‘permanent resting’ refers to one who achieves a complete transformation. The Shabbos experience has such a profound affect upon him that he emerges from Shabbos a more elevated person than he was when it began. He becomes invigorated and revitalized with a newfound ability to confront the challenges of the week with faith, tranquility, and serenity.

How do such transformations occur? It begins in one’s mind, when one has his priorities straight. Throughout the week one often feels that the labors he engages in are an end unto themselves. He becomes tense with pressures of deadlines, angry because of missed opportunities and failed endeavors, and anxious with the uncertainties of tomorrow. But then Shabbos begins! The sun sets on Friday afternoon and the world is enveloped with holiness and sanctity. Suddenly, one is reminded that all of his weekly activities are secondary. He remembers that this world is merely a receptacle, a medium through which one can achieve holiness and ulterior purpose.

That realization which begins in the recesses of one’s mind eventually manifests itself in one’s conduct and how he lives his life. It begins with an understanding of what is the vessel and what it the content.

As the sun sets on Friday and darkness descends on the world, suddenly, there is light!

“My Shabbos …to know that I am Hashem Who sanctifies you.”

“A permanent resting; not a temporary resting”

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[1] Shemos 31:13

[2] One whose intent was to accomplish something forbidden on Shabbos, he will be liable for desecrating Shabbos. But if his intent was to do something permitted on Shabbos, but in doing so he unwittingly transgressed a law, he will be exempt.

[3] Pachad Yitzchok, Shabbos, mama’ar 1:4-5

[4] he is only liable for carrying the wine

[5] Avos 5:1

[6] Shemos 35:3

[7] Shemos 31:15

[8] Sichos Mussar 5731, mama’ar 12

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