| Second Thoughts |

Wounds of the Body, Wounds of the Soul

Just as communal tragedies are a religious wake-up call, so also is communal abandonment of Torah norms


The radio and TV ads and the huge billboards make it very clear: The new online supermarket that promises deliveries all over Jerusalem is “Open on Shabbat and on Yom Tov.” The timing, during the Sefirah season, was most unfortunate, adding only to the intense sadness of this period. Israel had just suffered 45 killed in the Lag B’omer tragedy, and innocents killed and wounded from thousands of Hamas rockets. In the midst of all this, it was especially distressing to learn about this blatant public desecration of the holy Shabbos, especially while Jews around the world were anticipating Shavuos, the Giving of the Commandments at Sinai.

The timing was unfortunate for another reason. One would think that with thousands of enemy rockets raining down on our heads, coupled with tragedies like Meron, this would not be the most propitious time to thumb one’s nose at the Fourth of the Ten Commandments and its Author, and that even nonobservant Israelis would search for behaviors that might find favor in the upper reaches of Heaven.

In truth, in our times we are no longer taken aback by public desecration of Shabbos, even in Israel. But the flouting here is especially painful, because there is a world of difference between an establishment passively remaining open on Shabbat, and one that shamelessly boasts about it. In halachah, there is a huge contrast between violations b’tzin’ah (in private), and those b’farhesiah (in public); between violating because I can’t help myself and succumbed to temptation and about which I am not proud, and open public defiance.

A private violation is just a violation, a public violation is rebellion. Public violations tear away at the fabric of the law, weaken communal observance of the law, declare publicly that the ways of Torah and halachah and Jewish tradition do not in the least matter: We do as we please. In this case, the offense was intensified in their print ads by the lampooning of sacred Jewish maxims — which would be insulting were they not so crude.

What would motivate a business establishment openly to proclaim its violations of Shabbos and Yom Tov? Obviously, it believes that it has a clientele anxious to shop on these holy days, obviously it is appealing to a totally secular customer base, for whom Shabbos and Yom Tov mean nothing. None of this is encouraging. But just as obviously, it points to the failure of the national school system to instill elementary respect for Jewish tradition, while also pointing to the ineffectiveness of the observant community in imparting the joys and beauties of Shabbos.

How should an observant Jew react to this? Outrage is natural, as is deep pain: How can Jews be so brazen as to publicly declare that the Fourth of the Ten Commandments means nothing to them? How can a Jew descend to mocking Jewish precepts?

Such reactions are understandable. But we should bear in mind that this is not so much a rebellion against Torah law or against G-d, but a rebellion against what they consider restrictions imposed on them by the Torah-observant population. These public violators are not thinking about G-d or Torah or the Ten Commandments. Chances are that they fast on Yom Kippur, eat matzos on Pesach, probably believe in a Creator, and might even have prayed to Him in times of deep distress. They violate Shabbos not necessarily out of an antireligious world view, but because of personal convenience or for economic considerations. (“Freedom to choose” is one of their slogans.) Ironically, though they would loudly profess their belief in G-d, they are not aware that Shabbos is not merely a day of cessation from work, but primarily a testimony to the existence of a Creator.

But the most effective reaction in the long run is introspection. Just as communal tragedies are a religious wake-up call (Rambam, Hilchos Taanios I:1), so also is communal abandonment of Torah norms. Perhaps it is time to reexamine our own commitment to Torah in general and Shabbos in particular, with special emphasis on bein adam l’chaveiro, interpersonal relationships, because all Jews are, after all, irrevocably intertwined.

Only a benevolent G-d can heal the wounds of the physical tragedies of Meron and of the war. As for the wounds inflicted by ignorant and insensitive fellow Jews, these call for our pity, our prayers and, above all, definition and intensification of our personal Jewishness. Religious casualness leads to religious casualties.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 864)

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