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Question: Where I live, I see Chabad shluchim offering Jewish passerby to put on tefillin, is this of any value if they are otherwise non-observant, additionally is doing so in a street – a public thoroughfare proper kavod for the tefillin?

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Synopsis: We previously cited the Mechaber, who explains the mitzvah of Tefillin as to be worn the entire day, but due to the constraints of the human condition whereby one might not be able to always be in the state of cleanliness of one’s person – guf naki – in our time we only wear them as we pray [the Shacharit prayer]. We enumerated the blessings and reward as they relate to this mitzvah as poshe’a b’gufo – one who sins with his body. We also noted the importance to the performance of the mitzvah to purchase Tefillin from a G-d-fearing scribe who writes beautiful Tefillin that are to last for many years. We then noted Esav’s marriage to the daughter of his uncle Yishmael as a single momentary opportunity to repent his many sins, including his marriage to the evil Canaanite wives. Unfortunately, he and his new wife Mochalas did not take advantage of that opportunity and continued in their evil ways. Nevertheless, our Sages derive from this that a chatan and kallah fast on the day of their wedding, as they are forgiven all their prior sins. We also noted that such is repentance in the eyes of Hashem if even for but a solitary moment as the prophet Yonah is commanded [and he does so reluctantly] to save the gentile city of Neneveh from destruction. Surprisingly they heed his call and repent their evil way. We further cited the incident of R’ Idi who would spend six months in travel – three months each way – just to spend one day in the academy. We also cited as regards the matter of punishment that one day in a year is considered as an entire year. We followed that with the story of Keti’ah b. Shalom who was able to secure his eternal reward with one single action to which Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi proclaimed: “One may acquire eternity in one moment, while another may acquire it only after many years. Citing Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, we noted as well the special recognition Hashem accords Caleb for his momentarily silencing the fears caused by the evil report of his fellow spies as to what they saw in the Land of Canaan. Even though his doing so assuaged their fears for but a moment, such was the view on High with great admiration. That followed the halacha that we save a person on the Sabbath [and the festivals] even if such effort only renders a momentary measure of life – chayyei sha’ah. We then cited an address of the Gaon Rabbi Eleazar Menachem Man Shach, zt”l, at a Yarchei Kallah at the Ponevez Yeshiva (Sefer Meireish Amanah, 18 Menachem Av 4738 – 1978). Rav Shach referred to two individual tales of young people who faced their deaths with one last act of Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying Hashem’s name. Rav Shach noted that not only did they die al Kiddush Hashem but they “lived”[that last moment] al Kiddush Hashem.

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Answer: From all the above we see a pattern – that a single action, whether by an individual alone or by a gathering of individuals as a group, is seen with great favor by Hashem. Now, the Gemara seems to raise the stakes as we cite (Shabbos 118b) that R’ Yehuda said in the name of Rav: ‘Would that Israel had kept the first Sabbath [after having received the Torah] no nation nor tongue would have had the ability to rule over them, as the verse (Exodus 16:27) states: “Vayehi bayom ha’shevi’i yotz’u min ha’am lilkot [v’lo motza’hu] – And it was on the seventh day [the Sabbath] that there were some of the people who went out to gather [and did not find any].” They did so in spite of being forewarned by Moshe that they should not do so – that Shabbat was to be a day of rest, a day of cessation of all types of labor, and in spite of there having been provided by Hashem on Friday with the double portion of manna they nevertheless went out to the field with a total lack of trust in Hashem [they feared that since no manna rained down on that day perhaps it will cease henceforth to be provided to them].

Rav explains his statement via the exegesis of semichot – proximity of two Parashiyot – passages, the above passage and that which follows (Exodus 17:8): “And then Amalek came [and waged war with Israel in Refidim].” It was due to their violation of that very first Sabbath of their having gained the Torah that they became vulnerable to their enemy Amalek [and their many future enemies as well].

If such is the case, then what are we to do? As we seem to be left in a state of permanent vulnerability. R’ Yochanan cites Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai, who responds with the following solution, also via exegesis. “Would that Israel keep two Sabbaths according to its laws, they will be redeemed immediately, for it is said (Isaiah 56:4-5) ‘Thus says Hashem, the Eternal L-rd to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths – And I shall give to them in my house within my walls a hand and a name [a memoriam] better than sons and daughters; an everlasting name to them I shall grant, that not be cut off.’”

Rashi (Isaiah ad loc) explains the previous verse that the “eunuchs,” really those that are childless, offer the argument that what value is one’s entire being if after the passing of my days I leave no son or daughter to continue in my ways as I am gone with none to remember me. It is to this that Hashem responds – that keeping the Sabbath, which proclaims Hashem as Creator of the world and keeping his Torah, earns them an everlasting memorial. (Whereas from our cited Gemara, Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai derives that the observance by the entire Jewish nation of two [consecutive] Sabbaths is the prerequisite and the act that guarantees that the redemption occur, in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta’anit 1:1) we find otherwise, as we cite.

“R’ Levi stated; ‘Would that Israel keep one Sabbath with all its requirements [the king, the Messiah] the son of David will come post-haste.’ He derives this from an exegesis. It says in one verse (Exodus 16:25): And Moshe said: Eat that today; for today is a Sabbath to Hashem, the Everlasting L-rd: today you shall not eat in the field. And we find in another verse (Isaiah 30:15) ‘For thus says Hashem, the everlasting G-d, the Holy One of Israel: In ease and in rest shall you be saved; [in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; and you did not wish it]. The words ‘in ease and in rest shall you be saved’ is a reference to the Sabbath rest, and ‘saved’ refers to redemption (Targum ad loc). Thus if there be on the part of the entire Jewish people one complete Sabbath observance according to all its dictates, we will be immediately redeemed.”

Thus, we see that even for just one properly observed Sabbath in the millennia of Sabbaths, Hashem will look favorably upon us and hasten our redemption.

To be continued…


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.