Shabbat Story

Contributed by Reb Daniel Lev

Shabbat/Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest, is most sacred to our tradition and provides us with a full day of spiritual respite each week during which we celebrate, connect with our loved ones and the earth, and just “be” after a long week of “doing.” To the Jews of Eastern Europe, the day was called “Shabbos,” due to the different Hebrew pronunciation they used. As Rabbi Heschel taught in his book, “The Sabbath,” our tradition tends to sanctify time and not materials. Shabbat is a prime example of our making time sacred. One way to practice this is by refraining from work during the twenty-five hours of the Sabbath.

Reb David was in a quandary. He faced a predicament that shook him to the core of his Jewish soul. It began when David’s Rebbe, his spiritual master, decided to move his community from Poland to a medium-sized city in Germany. Like a good Chasid (a devotee of heart-centered Judaism), he and his family followed the Rebbe to Germany. It was the mid-nineteenth century and the industrial revolution was in full swing, creating a major challenge for Reb David. He brought his problem to the Rebbe:

“Rebbe, you know I was a cobbler in Poland and made a good living selling my shoes out of my little shop; but here I have no money to open up a shop. The only way I can make a living in this country is to work in a shoe factory, and – Oy Rebbe! – They make us work on Shabbos! What can I do? I have to support my wife and seven children, but Shabbos…”

The master stroked his beard for some time and then he gently soothed David with these words: “My sweet brother, you know that the central commandment regarding Shabbos is written in two places in the Torah. However, there is a difference in the words used. In Exodus it says ‘ZACHOR’ – Be mindful of the Sabbath, and in Deuteronomy it says ‘SHAMOR’ – Practice the Sabbath…” So why did G-d use two different words? This creates a logical problem. If we are to remember Shabbat and keep it in mind, why do we need to practice it? Its peace is already in our consciousness! And, if we are in the midst of doing the Shabbos practices, what need is there to remember it? We’re doing it! In other words, it seems that we can’t do both at the same time. Maybe G-d knew that such a problem as yours would arise. Perhaps G-d knew that there would be times in a Jew’s life when he or she would not be able to practice Shabbos as completely as they could. But in such a case do we just give up Shabbos? No! – When we cannot fully observe Shabbos, the Torah gives us a way to stay connected. It tells us that we should ZACHOR: remember Shabbos. So, my dear David, perhaps if you decide to work in the factory on Shabbos, you could spend every moment being mindful of Shabbos. Sing songs to yourself, review the Torah portion in your head, recall previous Shabbats spent with your loved ones. And…if you do this, a most wonderful thing will happen to you.” The Rebbe took David in his arms and gave him a loving kiss and hug.

David took the job at the shoe factory, which required him to work Friday evenings and all Saturday. Although it was difficult at first, he eventually followed the Rebbe’s suggestion and filled his workday with Shabbos mindfulness. After a few months, he grew stronger and stronger in feeling Shabbos even in the midst of assembly-line work.

Many in the community returned to Poland, unable to make David’s choice. A number of Chasidim were able to find work that did not require their violating the Sabbath. Unfortunately, they looked down on David and never had a good word for him. Most shunned him in shul and he was not welcomed into the weekly study groups that met in the local Beis Midrash (learning center). However, David was not hurt by this and went about his business in peace.

After some time, things changed. David’s wife Chana took on a small job in addition to her household work and she was able to add to the money that they saved each month. Finally, the day came when they had accumulated enough savings to open up a little shoe store. They were elated! Finally, David could come home and practice Shabbos!

On that first Shabbat, something unusual happened. At the Shabbos table, his family and visiting friends waited for David to make Kiddush. He stood silently for what seemed an eternity. Then, as David raised the wine glass, everyone at the table felt their bodies lift a little off the ground. After a half-an-hour of slow, intense Kiddush chanting, everyone eased down into their chairs and felt bathed in light. When they reached the bread blessing, they were completely and intimately absorbed into the Day of Rest. Throughout the meal, he brought out the spiritual depths of the Sabbath as he led the singing, stories, teachings and prayers.

It was even “worse” the next day when he came to the synagogue. Most of the community heard that he was coming and planned to continue their silent treatment. Although most Chassidim are known for ecstatic, high energy song and prayer, in the early morning it sometimes took a little while to rev themselves up into a blissful frenzy. Reb David walked in as his Chasidic brothers and sisters were sleepily attempting to wake themselves up through chanting the psalms. Even the Rebbe was a little surprised as the spirit in the room suddenly shot up as David began to pray. Everyone in the shul felt this and soon they were praying like mad! They danced and sang to the max and the place became a combined euphoric Shabbos Rave and Simchat Tora bash!

It was obvious to all that Reb David brought something special into the room. After the services, many came up to excitedly schmooze with him as if he were the hottest new rock star. When the Rebbe approached the little crowd, it parted and he faced David.

“So how do you like it?” asked the Rebbe.

David asked, “Rebbe, this is amazing! What’s happening to me?”

The master put his arms on David’s shoulders and softly answered his question: “My brother, you did well. While at your job on Shabbos, you spent every moment being mindful of the special quality of this day. As you assembled each shoe, you filled yourself with this by recalling Torah, your family’s love, meditation, song, laughter and prayer. You let Shabbos reach deep into your insides and permeate your very being – all the way into your toenails! And now my precious one, you have reached what many desire – you are not only practicing or remembering Shabbos. At this moment you have become Shabbos, and your presence fills everyone with its spirit and raises them to the highest places.”

So, what could Reb David do? He had to eventually become a spiritual master! They called him the SHAMOR Rebbe. And he continues to fill people with Shabbos joy to this day.