Thursday, August 15, 2019



As you know, my wife is a little behind me when it comes to religious observance. One thing she challenged me on and I didn't have an answer. Last week I forgot to leave the light on in the bathroom before Shabbos. She wanted to turn it on, but I said to leave it.  So she asked, What is the big deal if I switch on a light on Shabbos? It isn't such hard work to flick a switch. Will the day of rest be totally disturbed by by me turning a light on? I wasn't sure what to say....
Here's something I think your wife will relate to:
You are out for a romantic dinner, just the two of you. You make a reservation at a fancy restaurant, a quiet table for two in the corner. Gentle music is playing, lights are dimmed, and the ambiance is just perfect for an evening of romance. 
You resolve not to talk about work, not to talk about the kids, rather to take the time to really connect and enjoy each other's company. You laugh together, chit chat, and give one another complete focus and attention. 
Then suddenly you say, "Oh, I just remembered something." You take out your phone and call your business partner to remind him to send a report you are waiting for. It all took no more than fifteen seconds. You quickly put your phone away and smile at your wife. 
But she's not smiling. You just ruined the moment. You destroyed the atmosphere. Until now it was all about the two of you. As soon as you took out your phone, the ambiance was shattered. You brought the outside world into your intimate space. 
You could try explaining that it was just a little phone call and is really no big deal. Good luck with that. If you think you can make a business call on a date night, you just don't get what it means to create an intimate ambiance. 
The Shabbos laws are all about creating an ambiance of rest, a moment of spiritual intimacy, when we appreciate G-d's creation as it is without trying to change it. The state of the world when Shabbos comes in is the way it remains, and we do not interfere. If the light was off, it stays off. The flick of a switch, as insignificant as it may seem, would change the ambiance and ruin the moment. 
Someone who has never fully kept Shabbos may find this hard to understand. But if you've tasted the profound sense of restfulness that Shabbos can bring, you know how even a slight interruption can make a difference. 
We all need date nights and we all need Shabbos. And we need to protect the intimacy of these sacred moments. 
Rabbi Aaron Moss[1] 

          At the beginning of Parshas Vaeschanan, Moshe Rabbeinu relates how he beseeched Hashem to allow him to enter the Promised Land. “And I davened to Hashem at that time saying: My Master, G-d, You have begun to show your servant Your greatness and Your strong Hand... Please let me cross over and I will see the good land…”[2]
      Rashi explains that the ‘greatness’ of Hashem refers to His goodness. Zohar notes that gadulah (greatness) refers to chesed. What’s the connection between greatness and goodness/kindness?
      Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l[3] explained that real greatness is achieved when natural limitations are traversed. For example, if a thirty-foot giant effortlessly uproots a twenty-five-foot tree we would unquestionably agree that he is strong. But that act is not in the realm of ‘greatness’, because for someone so large such an act is expected. However, if that giant was somehow able to press himself into an ant hole in the ground, that would be an act of greatness. Natural law dictates that something so large cannot conceivably fit into something so miniscule. The ability to do so transcends normal limitations and, therefore, is considered greatness. 
      The incredible world and the miracles of nature do not demonstrate the ‘greatness’ of Hashem, as it were. Rather, it is the fact that despite the fact that Hashem is so great and powerful, He hearkens to our every prayer and notes our every action, despite our relative insignificance. The fact that Hashem loves every one of us and cares for every facet of our lives is tantamount to the giant who sticks himself into an ant-hole. It defies normal limitations and boundaries, and therefore is demonstrative of true greatness.

          In the Mussaf Shemone Esrei on Shabbos, we describe and extol the virtue of Shabbos. One of the clauses we recite is “and those who love its words, have chosen greatness.”
          What does it mean to love the “words of Shabbos” and what does it mean that those who do so have chosen greatness?
          When discussing the reward for observing Shabbos properly, the prophet Yeshaya[4] states: “If you refrain from trampling the Shabbos, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbos a delight, G-d’s holy day an honor, and if you honor it by not doing your routine, or finding your affairs, nor speaking its words, then your delight will be upon Hashem...”
          The Gemara[5] explains that “not speaking it’s words” refers to the law that one’s speech on Shabbos not be like one’s speech during the week. One should not speak about mundane business and weekly affairs during the holy Shabbos.
          Most people don’t give much thought to what they say before saying it. Their speech is commonly “OTM OTM - out the mind; out the mouth”. We all know that words can build and words can destroy. Still, it is the rare person who is careful with his words and thinks carefully before speaking to ensure that no one will be hurt or offended by what he is about to say.
          The world likes to say that “talk is cheap”. It is a great untruth. The reality is that talk is easy, but it’s anything but cheap. Our whole ability to communicate and convey our thoughts and feelings is through the medium of speech.
          A high-ranking politician, or a member of a royal family has to always be wary of public statements he/she makes. One wrong statement, or even one comment taken out of context, can come back to haunt him or even destroy his career.
          On Shabbos one is obligated to think twice before he speaks, to ensure that what he is saying is in tandem with the spirit of the holy day. There are individuals who dutifully adhere to the law, albeit with a sense of annoyance about the halachic restriction. But then there are those who embrace the verbal restrictions of Shabbos. He is like a prince who is proud to be royalty, despite the fact that it entails certain restrictive behaviors. Being that the average person speaks freely without forethought, one who does restrict his speech has chosen a path of greatness. Thus, those who love the words of Shabbos - they love the restrictive speech of Shabbos - because it is “the cost” of regality of Shabbos, have chosen greatness.

          Truthfully, whenever one performs an altruistic act of kindness for another, it is a measure of greatness. By nature, man is self-centered caring primarily for his own interests and gratification. When one is willing to put aside his own agenda in order to care for someone else that transcends normal behavior. Therefore, it is an act of greatness.
      It is such acts of altruistic greatness which serve as a consolation for us in exile, for they remind us that there is hope for our eventual unification under the banner of Moshiach. 

          “You have begun to show your servant Your greatness”
          “Those who love its words, have chosen greatness”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Rabbi Moss is a rabbi in Sydney, Australia. He sends out a weekly question with his shul announcements. I added myself to his mailing list when I came across some of his writings. His replies are always sharp, concise, and on the mark. This article is from March21 2019. To be added to his email list, send him an email at
[2] Devorim 3:24
[3] Tiferes Shimshon
[4] 58:13
[5] Shabbos 113b


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