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Parshas Vayeishev (5772)

To Be A "Shomer Shabbos" Jew

The term Shomer Shabbos is derived from the wording of one of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy (5:14-15), which instructs the Jewish people to "observe" the Sabbath day and sanctify it.

Interestingly, while the Torah refers to “observing the Shabbos” in many places (see, for example, Exodus 31:14,16 and Isaiah 56:2,6), the term “Shomer Shabbos” as a label for a fully observant Jew has only become popular during the last 100 or so years.

Although most Bible commentators translate the word shomer to mean “observe” – hence the title “observant Jew” – the Or HaChaim in Parshas Ki Sisa (Exodus 31:16) offers two additional interpretations, one of them based on a verse in this week’s Torah portion, that teach us powerful lessons about Shabbos and about mitzvah observance in general.

Our weekly Torah portion, Parshas Vayeishev, begins with Joseph’s dreams in which he aspires to one day rule over his family. This causes his brothers to be jealous of him and to conspire against him, eventually selling him into slavery (kids, don’t try this at home!).

Joseph’s father, the patriarch Jacob, has an entirely different reaction to his son’s fanciful dreams. The Torah tells us that “v’aviv ‘shamar’ es hadavar – but his father waited for the matter” (see Genesis 37:11). Rashi there comments, based on verses in Isaiah and Job, that the word shomer can be taken to mean “waiting and eagerly anticipating something”, so that Jacob was waiting and looking forward to when the dreams would come true.

Based on this verse, the Or HaChaim explains what the Torah means when it commands us to be Shomer Shabbos. It is simply not enough to “observe” the laws of Shabbos. Rather, one should be shomer the Shabbos, i.e. waiting for and eagerly anticipating the coming of Shabbos.

In fact, it is for this reason that we have the mitzvah of Tosefes Shabbos, which is to start Shabbos early in order to incorporate a small part of the weekday into Shabbos. [The standard custom for most Jewish women in the Diaspora is to bring in the Shabbos with the lighting of the Shabbos candles 18 minutes before sunset. In Jerusalem, the sirens sound at 40 minutes before sunset, and that is when the women light the candles and the Shabbos is brought in. Men traditionally accept Shabbos upon themselves a few minutes before sunset.]

You remember the old phrase T.G.I.F. (Thank G-d it’s Friday)? Well, we Jews have our own phrase – T.G.I.F.N. – Thank G-d it’s Friday Night! The Shabbos has always been something exciting to look forward to from the beginning of the workweek – and it has literally kept us going in the most difficult of times – since we always knew that Shabbos was only six days away.

Which bring us to the other interpretation of the word shomer – as explained by the Or HaChaim. He writes that the word can also mean to “guard” and “protect”. One might say that it is enough that I am observing the Shabbos, and it is not at all my concern if the Shabbos is not observed by others. To this end, the Torah enjoins us to “guard” the Shabbos as one were to guard his orchard, i.e. we are to protect the Shabbos and make sure that it survives and thrives as an institution to be kept by all Jews.

This is because Shabbos is not merely a 24-hour period of rest, feasting and family time – although it’s worth observing Shabbos for that alone. Our observance of Shabbos is a weekly testimony that we believe that a purposeful Creator created this world and that our lives have meaning and purpose. Without Shabbos and all that it represents, the Jewish people would fall apart. It is therefore of the utmost importance that Shabbos be protected at all costs.

[Obviously, we are not supposed to “force” our fellow Jews to observe the Shabbos – and those few Jews in Israel who yell and throw stones at cars driving through their neighborhoods on Shabbos are misguided and are making a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s Name. At the same time, it is incumbent upon anyone who considers himself a true “Shomer” Shabbos to safeguard the institution of Shabbos and to ensure that it is kept front and center in the consciousness of the Jewish People. Part of being Shomer Shabbos also includes inviting non-observant Jews into our homes to show them the incredible beauty of a traditional Shabbos and what they are missing out on every single week.]

May we all merit to observe, look forward to, and guard the Shabbos each and every week!

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