Latest update: January 15th, 2015
Question: May someone who desecrates the Sabbath lead the services if he has yahrzeit? If yes, may he replace someone else who has yahrzeit?
Answer: Exodus 31:16-17 is the source for our Sabbath observance. The verse explains that Shabbat serves as a sign between G-d and the Jewish people of our uniqueness before G-d. The Gemara (Shabbos 10b) describes Shabbat as a precious present from G-d to the Jewish people. In addition, in parshat Bereishit we see that Shabbat bears testimony to the creation since G-d abstained from creating the world on that day.
We discussed the self-sacrifice that many Jews throughout the generations have exhibited in regard to Sabbath observance. While today there are many laws to protect Sabbath observers, this was not the case generations ago. Therefore, It became de rigueur for Jews to refer to themselves with the appellation “shomer Shabbat” as opposed to, for example, “shomer Torah u’mitzvot.” Although the observance of Shabbat is just one aspect of Judaism, it is one that clearly identifies the Jew and is an unmistakable indicator of his or her level of commitment.
We relayed the story told by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, shlita, about a chassidic Jew in Auschwitz who was so dedicated to Hashem that he was ready to give up a job outside the concentration camp because it required him to desecrate Shabbat. The late Klausenburger Rebbe, zt”l, had to reassure him that since the job gave him the possibility to save other Jews, he was required to keep it.
In 1956, Dr. Isaac Lewin, professor at Yeshiva University, fought against a UN resolution to designate a “World’s Day” to the calendar, which would have created one eight-day week per year and resulted in Shabbat falling out on a day other than Saturday. Dr. Lewin enlisted the world’s religious leaders, among others, to defeat this threat to our observance of Shabbat.
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The key to Shabbat and its proper observance is the requirement to refrain from work on that day. As the Torah tells us (Exodus 20:8-12): “Zachor et yom haShabbat leka’desho, sheshet yamim ta’avod ve’asita kol melachtecha; veyom hashevi’i Shabbat laShem Elokecha, lo ta’aseh chol melacha ata u’vincha u’vitecha avdecha va’amat’cha u’vehemtecha vegercha asher bishe’arecha; ki sheshet yamim asah Hashem et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz et hayam ve’et kol asher bam, vayanach bayom hashevi’i; al ken berach Hashem et yom haShabbat va’yekadshehu – Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work but the seventh day is a sabbath to Hashem your G-d; [on it] you shall not do any work – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your cattle, and your convert within your gates. For in six daysHashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.”
The above verses from Parshat Yitro are repeated in Parshat VaEt’chanan (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) with some changes in wording (see Rashi on Exodus 20:8, “zachor veshamor bedibbur echad”). These verses constitute the fourth of the Ten Commandments given to Israel at Sinai.
The Rambam, in his Sefer Hamitzvot, has two separate entries related to Shabbat. The first entry is Mitzvah 155 inthe positive commandments section, specifying the command to sanctify Shabbat and to grace its arrival and departure verbally. When Shabbat arrives we should mention our deliverance from Egypt (yetziat Mitzrayim) andthe sanctification of the day (Kiddush Hayom) with a blessing said over wine. When Shabbat departs we recite Havdalah, again saying a blessing over wine.
The second mention of Shabbat in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot is Mitzvah 320 in the negative commandments section – a warning not to do any labor on Shabbat. As the verse states, “Lo ta’aseh kol melacha… – You shall not do any labor…”
How should someone who never experienced Shabbat or became estranged from its observance long ago bring him or herself to observe it? Surely, the famous saying “ignorance is bliss” will not create a shomer Shabbat individual! The answer is that one must immerse oneself in the study of the forbidden Shabbat labors – the “39 melachot.” We find a listing of these 39 melachot presented in a clear and concise manner in the wonderful work of Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, The 39 Melachos (Feldheim Publishers).
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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