Parshas Ki Sisa
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And the Children of Israel shall guard the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath
throughout their generations as an eternal Covenant. Between Me and the
Children of Israel it is an eternal sign, that in six days G-d made the
Heavens and the Earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and
"The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moshe, 'Moshe, I have a wonderful
gift in my vault, and its name is Sabbath. I want to give it to Israel; go
and tell them.'" [Talmud Beitzah 16a]
Just this week, I had the opportunity to counsel a family whose daughter
is seriously considering an intermarriage. They were up in arms, to put it
mildly, arguing with her and telling her not to marry her non-Jewish beau.
I pointed out to them that in this sort of situation, a direct
confrontation may not be the most productive course. Rather than arguing
against a non-Jewish partner, their daughter needs to see enough positive
Judaism in her life to discover that much of what she values and wants
will not be possible in an intermarriage relationship. And at that point,
my first suggestion was that they make a Sabbath dinner as a family.
It is very common for people to look at Sabbath observance and imagine
that it is profoundly restrictive. One cannot drive, or even use the
phone, in anything less than a life-threatening situation. Then those same
people finally take the plunge, "for better or for worse." And a year
later, they say that they don't understand how they survived without it!
The busier a person is, the more pressing his or her other obligations,
the more profound and positive the effect of a Sabbath day of rest. It
forces us to realize that we have other priorities, that our work is not
We have an unfortunate tendency to define who we are by what we do: I am a
doctor, a storeowner, an engineer, etc. In the Book of Yonah, the prophet
rejects these as peripheral to who we truly are. When the sailors cast
lots to see who was causing the storm threatening the ship, and the lot
fell to Yonah, they asked him: "what is your work, and where do you come
from? What is your land, and from what nation are you?"
He answered simply: "Ivri anochi," I am a Hebrew, "and HaShem G-d of the
Heavens I fear, Who made the sea and the dry land." Everything you asked
me is unimportant. Who am I? I am a Jew.
And what is the sign of the Jew? The Sabbath is that eternal sign. Rabbi
Yisrael Mayer Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim, compares it to a craftsman's sign:
the barber's pole, the horseshoe outside the blacksmith's. As long as
people saw those signs, they knew that the craftsman was in business. Even
if he went away for a few days, everyone expected him to return to work.
But if the sign came down, it indicated that the craftsman had moved away.
The Sabbath is the sign of the Jewish home. We find this homiletically in
the Hebrew word for "throughout their generations," written in our verse
such that it could be read "throughout their dwellings." A prepared house,
a set table, candles lit and ready -- these impart a unique character to
that home in which they are found.
The Sabbath changes the way that families interact. Parents sit down with
their children for meals, uninterrupted by telephone calls and without the
distraction of waiters or other diners (other than guests sharing the
experience). The office, looming deadlines, and telemarketers cannot
interfere. No one who experiences this environment emerges unaffected.
In too many homes, the sign has come down. Jews dwell therein, but the
sign is gone -- and to some, Judaism seems to be going out of business.
A Sabbath meal is something every one of us can do. No generation needs a
weekly vacation more than ours of cell phones and instant messengers. No
generation needs to instill positive Judaism in its children more than
Try it for a few weeks. Post the sign, and surprising profits are
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
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