Sam Zeitlin loved cycling as a kid and dreamed of being in the Olympics. He joined the American National Cycling Team, and he aced the competitions. Although Sam was not a religious Jew, he was concerned he would not be chosen to move ahead just because he was Jewish. He decided to go to Israel and join the cycling team there, and indeed, his career did move ahead and he helped train the other cyclists. During his stay, someone connected him with the Yeshiva Shema Yisrael started by Rabbi Noach Weinberg. During this time, Sam accepted upon himself to fully keep Shabbos. He loved the Shabbos meals and zemiros, especially the song of Ki Eshmerah Shabbos—“If I safeguard the Shabbos…”
The date for the Olympics tryouts was announced and Sam was shocked: They were scheduled on Shabbos! Sam asked if the date could be changed in deference to Shabbos but was told the date could not be changed. He asked for a makeup date for himself and was disheartened to hear his request was denied. Either he would compete on Shabbos, or he would forfeit his chance to qualify for the Olympics. He had an inner struggle. This was his dream. He had worked for years to be the best. He was ready! But Shabbos… He decided Shabbos would prevail…every time. He gave up his dream opportunity. That year was 1972. The Summer Olympics were in Munich, West Germany. During the second week of the Olympics, terrorists broke into the apartments where the Israeli athletes were staying, killing two Israeli athletes in the initial siege and nine more during a failed hostage rescue.
When Sam heard about the massacre, he was deeply shocked and saddened. Sam realized that had he tried out on Shabbos and qualified, he would very likely have been killed in the terrorist attack. The following words of the Shabbos daytime zemiros came to his mind—Ki eshmerah Shabbos, Keil yishmereini—if I observe the Shabbos, Hashem will protect me.
In Parshas Ki Sisa, Hashem commands Bnei Yisrael that the building of the Mishkan does not override Shabbos. The parsha includes the pesukim said during Shabbos morning Kiddush and in a few of the tefillos of Shabbos: “V’shameru Bnei Yisrael es haShabbos”—the Jews should observe the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos...
The Abudraham says this extra measure of protection is a merit to those who make extra efforts to observe the Shabbos. Sam Zeitlin sacrificed his dream ambition and merited this Shabbos protection, which saved his life.
In the Hashkiveinu paragraph before the Shemoneh Esrei of Shabbos Maariv, we see the special protection that’s reserved for those who take extra measures to observe Shabbos. During the week, the bracha for that paragraph concludes, “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who protects the nation of Yisrael forever.” But on Shabbos, we conclude that Hashem spreads a special protection of peace upon klal Yisrael and Yerushalayim. The Tur explains this is why the verse of “V’shamru...” is added immediately following the above bracha before reciting Shemoneh Esrei. This pasuk is giving the message that Hashem guards those who guard the Shabbos.
This pivotal message is also brought down by the Chofetz Chaim, who explains that every store has a sign in front that states the name or the nature of the store…hardware, grocery, etc. When the sign is removed, it indicates the store is no longer in business. The keeping of Shabbos is our sign that a Jew is in business with Hashem. Not observing Shabbos—that’s a removal of the sign.
But guarding the Shabbos is more than just not violating the Shabbos prohibitions. The pasuk states about Shabbos: “…la’asos es haShabbos l’dorosom bris olam”—to make the Shabbos a permanent covenant for their generations. We need to take active and positive steps to elevate our keeping of Shabbos. There’s so much we can do! We can diligently study the laws of Shabbos. We can elevate the content of our conversations at the meals on Shabbos. We can dress in our finest, as we would for an honored guest or a special occasion. And serve yummy foods! Whatever we invest in Shabbos…it is reciprocated.
Ki eshmerah Shabbos: If we safeguard the Shabbos, then Hashem will safeguard us.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.