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Shavuos: Torah, Shabbos and the Jews

A Striking entry in our Shavuot Contest for Children and Teens from Aryeh Spiro, age 8, of Toronto.

A Striking entry in our Shavuot Contest for Children and Teens from Aryeh Spiro, age 8, of Toronto.

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The Chofetz Chaim grasped the gevir’s hand and began to cry. “This hand,” he sobbed, “gives tzedakah with such devotion, yet is mechalel Shabbos…”

The tzaddik held onto the hand and wept bitterly until the man himself started to cry.

“Rebbe,” he finally managed to utter, “I give you my word that I will keep Shabbos, but I ask that you allow me to push it off for one week more due to an important assignment I must complete.”

Hearing the man’s words, the Chofetz Chaim responded emotionally, “My child, if the Shabbos were mine, I would forgive you and permit all that you desire, but the Shabbos belongs to the One above, the King of all kings, and I cannot grant even one moment of Chillul Shabbos.”

The heartfelt words spoken by the Chofetz Chaim worked their intent, as the man began to keep the Shabbos holy in all earnestness.

* * * * *

Preparatory measures undertaken in honor of Shabbos entail not merely physical exertion; on erev Shabbos we are obligated to do a cheshbon hanefesh – an accounting of our deeds of the week coming to a close.

It was that first Friday, in the week of the world’s creation, that witnessed the first man on earth manifest his vulnerability to sin even before his first day on earth was done. His Creator’s intent to punish him with extinction did not sit well with the Holy Shabbos – and she promptly intervened on Adam’s behalf, objecting to the first passing of human life marring her day. Hashem gave validity to the grievance and spared Adam’s life.

Since it is in the nature of mortals to memorialize a day when one was miraculously saved, we were commanded to keep the Shabbos holy – the day that saved the life of the first man on earth. (Ohr HaChayim)

The bride and groom are absolved of all their sins on their wedding day and are granted a fresh start. Shavuos, a time for renewal of our vows, commemorates our “wedding” at Kabbalas Torah and is hence an exalted time for teshuvah – as significant a day as Yom Kippur, when our transgressions are forgiven.

Shavuos is also considered to be a Yom HaDin b’ruchnios. On Rosh Hashanah the fate of mankind – who shall live and who shall die – is decided for the coming year, whereas on Shavuos our spiritual vitality and our soul’s life energy are adjudicated – who will merit divine assistance in learning and in the performance of mitzvos and maasim tovim. (Yismach Yisrael)

* * * * *

The esteemed Rebbetzin Malka, mother of Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg and Reb Pinchas of Frankfurt, two Torah giants and tzaddikim, was known to say: “I have two sons, one who never says krias shema at bedtime (Reb Shmelke never went to bed), and one who doesn’t say birchas hamazon for he doesn’t wash for meals (Reb Pinchas was known to hardly eat).

Reb Shmelke spent his nights learning Torah and would conquer his fatigue by keeping a basin of water handy. When tiredness overwhelmed him, he would rest his head on the water and soon feel refreshed and ready to pursue his study.

Late one night, after having been overcome with unbearable fatigue, the tzaddik lifted his head after briefly dozing, only to find that the candle’s flame had gone out. Not wanting to disturb the sleeping occupants in the house, Reb Shmelke stepped out onto a terrace that faced the street below, hoping to catch sight of a means of rekindling his flame so that he could carry on with his learning. No sooner did he begin to scan the dark outdoors than an outstretched hand holding a lit candle offered him the relief he sought.

Back in his room, immersed in his studies once more, a thought suddenly washed over him. How was it possible for anyone to have literally extended him a helping hand from the ground below? (The house he lived in at the time was situated on an upper level.) So troubled was he by the mystery that he began to fervently pray that Heaven reveal to him who it was that had offered him the flame. He agonized over the concern that its source may have been an impure one.

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