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.
Last week, we discussed the requirement to refrain from work on Shabbat. The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot) discusses Shabbat both in his positive commandments section (sanctify the Sabbath) and in his negative commandments section (don’t do any labor on Shabbat). Rabbi Dovid Ribiat in “The 39 Melachos” presents the 39 forbidden labors in an easy-to-understand yet comprehensive manner with modern-day, up-to-date applications.
Studying these laws and committing to their observance is not only a sign of one’s Sabbath observance, but serves as a key identifier of one’s entire Torah observance.
* * * * *
The Gemara (Ta’anit 16a-b) discusses the qualifications of a shliach tzibbur. It cites the Sages who maintain that even when an elder or scholar is present, it is preferable that the chazzan be someone who is “conversant with the prayers.” R’ Yehuda explains that this term means “someone who has many dependents without sufficient means of support, whose livelihood comes from laboring in the fields [since he will have greater kavannah, especially in asking for rain], whose house is empty, whose youth is unblemished, who is ever humble and acceptable to the people, who is skilled at chanting, who has a pleasant voice, and who possesses a thorough knowledge of Torah, Nevi’im, Kesuvim, Midrash, Halacha, Agadah, and all the berachot.”
One would assume that somebody who possesses thorough knowledge of all these topics would be the very “elder or scholar” whom we are supposedly passing up in favor of someone else. Apparently, then, vast knowledge was more prevalent in Talmudic times and found even among the general populace. Thus, someone who possessed a thorough knowledge of so much material was not necessarily a scholar or elder.
The Gemara notes a redundancy in R’ Yehuda’s list since “without sufficient means of support” seems the same as “whose house is empty.” R’ Chisda explains that “whose house is empty” means “empty of sin.” Abaye explains that “whose youth is unblemished” means that there have been no rumors of evil behavior from his youth onward.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 53:4-5) codifies all the attributes listed in the Gemara as basic requirements for one who will lead the congregation in prayer.
What is actually meant when we require one to be “empty of sin”? The Rema (ad loc. 53:5) explains that it does not mean someone who never sinned. He writes, “If someone committed a sin by accident – for example, he killed someone accidentally, yet subsequently repented, we permit him to lead the congregational prayers. [Please note: We see that someone who committed such an act accidentally is nevertheless referred to as having sinned, and he must repent.] However, if he killed someone intentionally, we do not allow him to lead the congregation in any event.”