April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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At a rabbinic convention in St. Petersburg, a very wealthy gevir—known for his open-hearted support of Torah institutions—approached the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisroel Meir HaKohen. While he had been a consistent donor to the yeshivah in Radin and contributed to many causes that the Chofetz Chaim took responsibility for over the years, he had never been privileged to meet the renowned gadol in person. He approached the rav with humility and awe, and asked for a blessing for parnasa and success.

The Chofetz Chaim looked up, grabbed the donor’s hand and said, “Oy! What a pity that this generous hand is mechalel Shabbos! How sad that it desecrates the holy day!”

The respected sage held onto his hand, looked pleadingly into his eyes, and began to cry.

The donor began to cry as well. “I want to do teshuva,” he blurted, “I would love to keep Shabbos! But please … I have so many responsibilities, so many people are counting on me! Please allow me to work just one last Shabbos, so that I may close up shop and tie up my affairs before moving forward … ”

“If Shabbos were mine, I would permit it!” answered the Chofetz Chaim. “But it belongs to the Ribbono Shel Olam and to klal Yisrael So no, I will not permit its desecration—not even one moment of Shabbos!”

~

וַיַּקְהֵל משֶׁה אֶת־כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה ה׳ לַעֲשׂת אֹתָם:

שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַה׳ כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת:

“Moses then gathered the whole Israelite community and said to them: ‘These are the things that Hashem has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to Hashem; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death,’” (Shemos, 35:1-2).

The name of this week’s sedra, “Vayakhel—And he gathered,” frames the primary mitzvah and focus of the reading. Moshe Rabbeinu assembles klal Yisrael and reinforces Shabbos as the backbone of our relationship with Hashem. As an illustration of the foundational nature of Shabbos, consider the juxtaposition between the commandment to observe Shabbos and the instructions for the construction of the Mishkan, Hashem’s home among us.

~

Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth, zt”l, is the renowned author of the classic “Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah,” a multi-volume work addressing a wide range of halachic aspects of Shabbos observance. His father served as the rabbi of major congregations in Berlin and Mainz, before the war, and then—through a series of incredible miracles—most of the family survived the Shoah by hiding in Amsterdam. In 1946, as a teenager, Rav Yehoshua fled to the Holy Land.

As migrating to pre-state Israel was illegal, the organizers of the effort told Rav Neuwirth that his boat had to leave on Shabbos. While such a “Shabbos journey” was technically justified due to pikuach nefesh, Rav Neuwirth promised himself that if he would make it to Eretz Yisrael, he would commit himself to doing something to glorify Shabbos observance. His masterpiece—addressing the contemporary laws of Shabbos—was the fulfillment of that promise.

Upon arriving in Yerushalayim, Rav Neuwirth studied at Yeshivas Kol Torah and established a close, lifelong relationship with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach—one of the respected gedolei hador, whose piskei halacha are featured throughout Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah.

In the introduction to the new printing of the sefer, Rav Neuwirth shares an insight pertinent to the parsha. Of all the mitzvos in the Torah, Shabbos is the only commandment that is introduced with the term “Vayakhel”—from the same root as “kehila—gathering or community.” While there are many mitzvos in Torah that have a communal, public component, in order for Shabbos to be observed in its intended form, it must be fulfilled, celebrated and experienced within a community. While much of religious life is expressed communally, the Torah defines Shabbos in this way. It is ביני ובין  בני ישראל—“Between Me, and between the children of Israel … ”

וַיַּקְהֵל: Today—just as in the Mishkan—Shabbos gathers together all of Am Yisrael, welcoming us into a shared, intimate meeting with Hashem. With work being forbidden, hierarchy is dissolved; social status and all external metrics of power, influence and success, are irrelevant in this “sanctuary in time.” There is no “getting ahead,” no competing with others—nor even speaking of the workday world which seems to divide us into professions, labels or classes.

All of this allows us to orient our attention toward our inner world, and toward community, our closeness with others. As in the Mishkan, we are to be consciously “before Hashem” in “dveykus—closeness to God.” In this world of the spirit, all are “friends and family.”

~

On this Shabbos, we gather also to read the maftir of Shekalim—the contribution of the half-shekel. Each of us individually are but one “half;” we are built to gather in one another and to form “wholenesses” between every other member of this vast family. May we answer the great call to unity and togetherness, and fulfill the plea of the righteous heroine, Esther HaMalka: “Lech, kenos kol haYehudim—Go, gather together all the Jews!”


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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