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The Crown of Halacha

Ki Tisa 5776 – The Work Weak

The Work Weak

Therefore, keep the Sabbath, for it is a sacred thing for you. Those who desecrate it shall be put to death, for whoever performs work on it, that soul will be cut off from the midst of its people. (Shemos 31:14)

During the decade of the 1930s, the Great Depression was well rooted in the United States. Large numbers of people lived in poverty, desperately in need of food, clothing and shelter. For Jews that were Shomer Shabbes, being fired was a weekly event and for many it was a huge test of Emunah: were they willing to impoverish themselves even more, in order to uphold the Shabbos?

In this week’s Parsha, Am Yisrael is warned that breaking Shabbos is punishable by death. One may think, “I understand why murder, adultery and even idol worship deserve the death penalty. But why would desecrating Shabbes merit such a severe punishment? R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch answers our question with a mashol.

The owner of successful business decided to retire and hired a new manager to take over. However, the owner made one stipulation. Every so often he would come in and run the company for a day. As the years passed the new manager grew more and more resentful of the boss’s “meddling.” He wanted total control all the time. Finally one day, the manager changed the locks and announced to the owner, “I’m the boss here now! I know what’s best for the business. Stay home and let me run things!” The owner called for two of his strongest employees and quickly hustled the manager off the premises.

R’ Hirsch explains that some people make the mistake of thinking that Shabbos is a day of rest in the sense that we “take it easy”. If this were true then we would be able to do whatever it takes to make our day more relaxed, including using electricity or going for a drive. However the purpose of Shabbos is to acknowledge that Hashem is the Ultimate Boss, the sole Creator and Owner of the world. And if we do not acknowledge that then we will be evicted from the premises – we will be fired!

The answer to how those Jews who were God fearing accepted that it was better to look for a new job every week than to desecrate the Shabbos is that they drew their strength from a deep understanding that a Jew is first and foremost employed by God, who is the source of everything we receive.

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