Thursday, February 24, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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February 27, 2010

Changing Face in Poland: Skinhead Puts on Skullcap


WARSAW — When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,” said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. “When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for...

Pawel’s metamorphosis from baptized Catholic skinhead to Jew began in a bleak neighborhood of concrete tower blocks in Warsaw in the 1980s, where Pawel said he and his friends reacted to the gnawing uniformity of socialism by embracing anti-Semitism. They shaved their heads, carried knives and greeted one another with the raised right arm gesture of the Nazi salute…

Even as Pawel embraced the life of a neo-Nazi, he said that he had pangs that his identity was built on a lie. His churchgoing father seemed overly fond of quoting the Old Testament. His grandfather hinted about past family secrets.

Pawel joined the army and married a fellow skinhead at age 18. But his sense of self changed irrevocably at the age of 22, when his wife, Paulina, suspecting that she had Jewish roots, went to a genealogical institute and discovered Pawel’s maternal grandparents on a register of Warsaw Jews, along with her own grandparents.

When Pawel confronted his parents, he said, they broke down and told him the truth: his maternal grandmother was Jewish and had survived the war by being hidden in a monastery by a group of nuns. His paternal grandfather, also a Jew, had seven brother and sisters, most of whom had perished in the Holocaust…

Shaken by his own discovery, Pawel said he spent weeks of cloistered and tortured reflection but was finally overcome by a strong desire to become Jewish, even Orthodox…“When I asked a rabbi, ‘Why do I feel this way?’ he replied, ‘The sleeping souls of your ancestors are calling out to you.’…”

When Moshe gathered the nation to instruct them about the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels, he prefaced by repeating that the seventh day is Shabbos. Rashi explains that in doing so Moshe reiterated to the nation that as important as the Mishkan was, its construction was not an excuse to violate the Shabbos.

There are thirty-nine primary categories of forbidden ‘work’ on Shabbos, all of which were performed on a regular basis for various functions of the Mishkan Service. Perhaps the most intriguing is the prohibition of hotza’ah, transferring an object from a private domain to a public domain, or vice-versa.

After the nation enthusiastically responded to Moshe’s call for donations for the building of the Mishkan, the Torah states1, “Moshe commanded that they proclaim throughout the camp, saying, ‘Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift of the Sanctuary!’ and the people restrained from bringing”. The Gemara2 explains that Moshe was actually informing the nation that they were not permitted to carry from their private domains to the public domain on Shabbos.

It is noteworthy that unlike all of the other categories of forbidden work, the gemara dedicates numerous chapters to lengthy discussions regarding the prohibition of carrying3.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the common theme which underlies all of the categories of prohibitions on Shabbos is that they all demonstrate mankind’s mastery. The planting process, the creation of clothing, making a fire, building and destroying, etc. each demonstrates man’s dominion and supremacy over the physical world.

The prohibition of ‘carrying’ however involves, not man’s mastery over the physical world, but over the ‘social world’. The concept of community and social life involves living beyond one’s own personal confines. In order to further one’s interests he must expand into the public domain where responsibility is shared. The public domain symbolizes all of mankind, even those not subject to the laws of Shabbos, while the private domain symbolizes the ‘privacy’ of Shabbos, exclusive to Klal Yisroel4.

If other prohibitions demonstrate the subjugation of our physical mastery to the Will of G-d, then the prohibition of carrying demonstrates our willingness to subjugate our social life to the dictates of G-d.

Children often react aversively when they are instructed by their parents not to have social contact with certain ‘friends’ whom their parents feel exert negative influence on them. On Shabbos, in a certain sense, we are instructed to sever our social contact with the nations of the world, so that we can retreat into our ‘private domain’ - the domain of Shabbos observance. The prohibition of carrying between domains, symbolizes that on the holy day of Shabbos our focus is exclusive to our people who comprise our ‘private domain’.

Rabbi Hirsch explains that this is why the Torah relates dual roles that Shabbos plays. In the first set of Luchos, the Torah states that Shabbos commemorates the creation of heaven and earth, while in the second set of Luchos it states that Shabbos commemorates the exodus from Egypt.

Creation symbolizes G-d’s mastery over the entire universe. The fact that we refrain from thirty-eight forbidden labors demonstrates our faith in that truth. The exodus from Egypt was the beginning of the process of our becoming the Chosen Nation. By not carrying on Shabbos – the thirty-ninth forbidden labor - we demonstrate G-d’s mastery over state-life. The prohibition of carrying on Shabbos symbolizes our greatness as a people, which we achieved at the time of the exodus from Egypt.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan notes that by not carrying we also relinquish our ownership over everything in the world. One of the chief signs of ownership is that one is able to take his possessions wherever he pleases. On Shabbos, when one leaves his home, he may take nothing with him except for the clothes on his back. Shabbos observance symbolizes that the world belongs to G-d, as well as everything contained in His world.

There is therefore tremendous significance that lies behind the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos. That is why there is much discussion devoted to its laws and understanding. When we refrain from carrying on Shabbos we are connecting ourselves to an exclusive ‘private domain’, the domain of the Chosen People. The prohibition of carrying is not just another of the thirty-nine forbidden labors, for it represents an additional symbolism of Shabbos. The other thirty-eight symbolize the holiness of Shabbos, but this final one symbolizes that the holiness of Shabbos is endemic only to the Holy Nation.

“The people restrained from bringing”

“The sleeping souls of your ancestors are calling out to you”

1 Shemos 36:6
2 Shabbos 96b
3 Tractate Shabbos has many chapters, aside from Tractate Eiruvin which is entirely dedicated to the laws of carrying on Shabbos.
4 Gemara compares a non-Jew who observes Shabbos to a peasant who interrupts the kings private meal with his governess. Such a brazen act warrants the death penalty.


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