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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shelach 5775 "Shabbat Shalom"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Dave[1] had finished college. A young, restless, and vivacious American teenager, he decided that it would be an experience to bike across Europe. He spent weeks traveling from country to country with nothing more than a backpack, some money, and his bike. After touring much of Europe he decided that, being Jewish and all, he should bike to Israel.

Eventually he made it to Jerusalem. As he stared at ‘the wall’ wondering about its uniqueness, he was approached by a religious looking fellow who asked him if he would be interested in attending a class about Judaism. Dave figured that a rendezvous with Judaism would be interesting and he agreed.

The class was intriguing, and like nothing he ever experienced before. So Dave stayed on for a few more classes, and eventually decided to stay for a few days.

Time passed quickly. Dave enjoyed yeshiva and found meaning in Judaism. He began to avidly study rudimentary Hebrew, Jewish philosophy, and Mishna. He devoted five months to studying before concluding that it was time to heed his parents' requests to return home. Dave’s Rabbeim tried to dissuade him from leaving, countering that his commitment to Judaism was not yet strong enough to leave the spiritually safe confines of the yeshiva. But when they saw that Dave was insistent they blessed him and wished him well.

When Dave walked off the plane his parents thought he had been out in the sun too long. The son that had left to bike across a continent embarked off the plane dressed in typical yeshiva student garb. Nevertheless they allowed him the latitude to make his own decisions.

Friday night arrived; time for the family’s weekly excursion to the movies. They were surprised when Dave informed them that he would no longer be joining them because he was now Shabbos observant. Reluctantly they all packed into the car and left Dave home alone. Dave was committed and he sat at the table with his store-bought Shabbos kosher food, singing zemiros to himself, and reading about the weekly parsha.

The following Friday night the scene repeated itself. This time Dave felt a bit more despondent. However, he insisted to himself that he would be able to do it and again he transformed his lonely Shabbos meal into a somewhat spiritual experience.

By the third Friday night however, Dave felt his resolve weakening. As he sat in the stillness of his home he finally felt himself caving in. “Give me a sign G-d” he thought, “or else I’m out of here!” He waited five, ten, twenty minutes. The clock ticked monotonously. Finally, Dave got up and walked into his den and flipped on the TV. “Late Night with David Letterman” immediately popped onto the screen. Letterman was always entertaining and Dave could use a few laughs at that moment.

The show was actually a re-run that had aired some time previously, but Dave did not know that. The second segment of the show featured a noted actor[2] who had just completed acting in a movie which was filmed in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem” thought Dave amusedly, “how ironic!”

The host asked his famous guest what he thought about Jerusalem. The actor replied that he found the affability of the Jerusalemites to be most pleasant. “Saturday is a holiday in Israel, called Shabbat. On Shabbat everyone greets each other and wishes each other ‘Shabbat Shalom’.”

Dave began shifting very uncomfortably in his chair. A guest on David Letterman was talking about Shabbat? That was surely strange! But the biggest shock was yet to come. As if on cue, the famous actor looked at the noted host and exclaimed, “Shabbat Shalom, Dave!” Within a few moments the entire audience became involved in the excitement as they too began to chant, “Shabbat Shalom Dave”.

And then as the segment was about to conclude, the camera zoomed in on the actor’s face. The entire screen was filled with his lips smiling and saying, “Shabbat Shalom Dave!”

Dave had received his ‘sign’. That event sparked the fire in his soul, which eventually lead to his return to Israel and to a full commitment to Torah, which he continues to perpetuate today.

In Dave’s own words the message is: “If you think G-d is not watching over you EVERY moment of the day, every day of your life, and that He doesn't love you more than you can imagine, and doesn't want you near (and doesn't have a sense of humor tailor made for each one us...), then you are blind, because I lived it (and hopefully still do...).”“The Children of Israel were in the wilderness and they found a man gathering wood on Shabbos day… Hashem said to Moshe, ‘The man shall be put to death; the entire assembly shall pelt him with stones outside the camp’.”Rashi writes that in recounting this story the Torah is relating the degradation of the nation. “They only observed the first Shabbos, and on the second one this man came and desecrated it.” How was one person’s iniquity considered the degradation of the entire nation? It would seem that Rashi should have come to the opposite conclusion. Out of an entire nation this was the solitary individual to desecrate the Shabbos. In addition, Sifrei notes that Moshe designated guards to ensure the proper observance of Shabbos. If so, why did this isolated act reflect negatively upon the entire nation?Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salant zt’l explained that the commandment to observe Shabbos is one of the Ten Commandments recorded on the Luchos. On the first Luchos, the Torah commands that one must “Remember (Zachor) the Shabbos day to sanctify it,” while on the second Luchos the Torah enjoins that one must “Safeguard (Shamor) the Shabbos day to sanctify it”. The sages explain that when G-d commanded about the observance of Shabbos, both ‘zachor’ and ‘shamor’ were said in one utterance. Thus, both aspects of Shabbos -‘remembering’ it and ‘safeguarding’ it are inextricably connected. Remembering Shabbos means that every individual must himself sanctify Shabbos. He must ensure that Shabbos is observed in his home with regality and holiness. Safeguarding Shabbos entails that one strive to ensure that Shabbos is observed by others too. It is not sufficient that I am vigilant in my personal Shabbos observance. I must also do all in my power to ensure that the day is observed by other Jews as well. One who is lax in this regard (shamor) is tantamount to being lax in his own Shabbos observance (zachor).

The entire nation was held responsible for the Shabbos desecration in the desert by virtue of the fact that they did not prevent the event from happening. The guards should have physically restrained him from committing the sin before he had a chance to do so. The fact that they did not reflected a lack on the part of the entire nation. They did not feel enough of a responsibility to ensure that the Shabbos is observed by every Jew. Therefore, they were all held accountable.

Every Jew has a responsibility to try to bring Shabbos to other Jews. We have an obligation to try to share the beauty of Shabbos with our ignorant brethren who were never privy to recognizing the radiance of a Shabbos. In addition, we have a responsibility to learn and perpetuate the study of the laws of Shabbos, to elevate our own understanding of the many complexities involved in proper Shabbos observance, as well as to help others learn those laws.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l notes that it is perplexing that the punishment for violating Shabbos is so severe. An individual who performed a seemingly trivial act on Shabbos was stoned to death. On the other hand, one who burns a Torah scroll or eats pork is not liable for the death penalty. In fact, even one who guilty of murder, although liable for death at the behest of the Jewish Courts is killed in a less severe manner than stoning. Why is desecrating Shabbos punished so severely?

Rabbi Pinkus explains that it is analogous to a fellow who breaks his hand or foot and requires surgery to repair the limb. If in surgery the doctor cuts an extra centimeter from the wound, although it may cause added scarring, it is not life-threatening.

One who requires open heart surgery however, requires a far more precise and exact surgery. If the doctor makes his incision a half meter off the results can be fatal. This is because the heart pumps and regulates the blood throughout the body. Therefore, the implications of even a miniscule mishap in the heart are far more severe than on other organs.

All mitzvos of the Torah are vital to the spiritual connection of a Jew. However, Shabbos is tantamount to the heart. It encompasses the fundamental belief system of a Jew in so many ways. Therefore, one who desecrates Shabbos has done egregious damage to his soul. He has breached the source of his spirituality and therefore is punished accordingly.

The inverse is no less true. One who is meticulous to observe Shabbos properly and to keep all of its laws with alacrity and vigilance increases his connection with his spiritual source.

Shabbos observance connects us with a transcendent world beyond all physical confines. It is a taste into a world in which the omnipotence of G-d is clear. In that world there is no disparagement or confusion. Rather, it is a world of peace and clarity. In a word, it is a world of “Shabbos Shalom”.

“Remember/ Safeguard the Shabbos day to sanctify it”

“Shabbat Shalom Dave!”

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[1] The following extraordinary story has “made its rounds”, even being published in a book. However, ever the skeptic, I always wanted to verify the story. A number of years ago I related the story to a group of students visiting our shul from LA. After I concluded speaking one of the listeners mentioned that he knew the subject of the story. I excitedly took down the name and tracked down his email address. The recipient of that email graciously replied that he was indeed the subject of the story and that that it was true, albeit not exactly as it had been written. He granted me permission to record the story, but requested anonymity. Still, I can now comfortably say that I know first-hand that the story is true.

[2] I was informed that the movie was called Every Time We Say Goodbye (1986) and the actor was Tom Hanks.

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