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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Spiritual DNA And The Observance Of Shabbos

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At a minimum, a suspension against me was brewing.

As I did every week, I asked Rabbi and Rebbetzin Furst if I could spend Shabbos with them. Rebbetzin Furst, sounding a bit hesitant in her affirmative reply, said, “Alan, we always enjoy having you. I just don’t like the reason that you’re coming to us.” She added that my employers were obligated to accommodate my religious needs, and by putting me up for Shabbos, they were enabling my employers to get away with something that was blatantly wrong.

Immediately realizing her wise point, I told her that instead of going to her and her husband’s house for Shabbos I was going to leave work at 3 p.m. on Friday and head home.

After my cousin informed me that Agudath Israel helps people with the type of work problem I was facing, I contacted the organization to seek its help. I would await a reply.

That Friday, when I told my supervisor that I would be leaving at 3 p.m. that day, he looked at me in disbelief. Nobody ever told him what time they were leaving if it upset the facility’s schedule. I had never done anything like this before (or since), but feeling that I was being treated so unfairly, I was willing to do the right thing – and, if need be, willing to face the consequences as a result.

That afternoon, we had a special event scheduled to start at 1:30. Each staff member had a specific responsibility. Knowing that I was planning to leave early for Shabbos, I was purposely assigned clean-up duty – a task that would not be completed until 4 p.m. at the earliest. I asked my supervisor for an earlier assignment. He angrily refused my request.

At a staff meeting later that morning, meant to discuss our upcoming event assignments, I began to report to my co-workers that I’d be leaving at 3 p.m. and thus unable to carry out my assignment. My supervisor interrupted me, saying that I couldn’t do such a thing.

With peace of mind, I calmly left work at 3 p.m. In the cold outdoor breeze, I felt warm – for I knew that my cause was just. That Shabbos was truly peaceful.

As the negative cost of my actions loomed, someone from Agudath Israel returned my call. The person sent me a copy of the New York State law pertaining to the requirement for reasonable accommodations to be made for one’s religious practices, and the legal action that could be taken against those who violated the law. I showed my copy to my department head and she sent it to the facility’s vice president. He informed my department head of my new schedule: 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday. No suspension or any other professional punishment would be levied against me. Arriving home on time for Shabbos would no longer be a problem for me.

With Hashem’s help, I had single-handedly fought an entrenched bureaucracy – and I had won. It was the Pirkei Avos shiur that I heard – a few decades after the experience I’ve described – that helped me see that the trials faced by our patriarchs and matriarchs give us the spiritual DNA to withstand great tests. But we must always make the best effort possible to pass the tests.

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I recently heard a Pirkei Avos shiur in which the speaker said that our spiritual DNA derives from our patriarchs and matriarchs. The great tests they withstood and for which they gained ever greater prominence was witnessed by the Jews who followed them, many of whom succeeded in overcoming great challenges as well. It seems that an individual’s great effort helps the spiritual strength kick in.

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