Vayakhel 5771 – Shabbos

Six days you shall do work, but the Seventh Day shall be holy to you, a Shabbos of Shabbos for Hashem. Anyone who does work on this day shall be put to death. Do not light a fire in all of your places on the Shabbos day. (Shemos 35:2-3)

I recently heard a story from Rav Paysach Krohn regarding the holiness of keeping Shabbos. One hundred years ago, in the year 1911, a woman in her late teens or early 20s moved away from her family, who lived in upstate New York, to live in New York City. She was looking for a husband and more importantly a place to work. She had an interview at a wonderful factory named Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was offering a nice salary. The only problem was the factory required her to work on Shabbos. The woman was born in Europe and had only been in America a short time. Her friends, who had lived in America for many years, told her in this country, Jews could not keep Shabbos anymore and she should just take the job. This woman decided not to take the job. That Shabbos was Parshas Vayakhel, which begins by stating a person should not light a fire on Shabbos, and because this woman decided not to “light a fire” on Shabbos, she remained alive. Exactly 100 years ago from this Shabbos afternoon, a terrible fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and over 100 women died. Because this woman kept Shabbos, she remained alive!

Why can’t we light a fire on Shabbos? If Shabbos is a day of rest, why can’t I turn on my television set and watch movies the whole day? Why can’t I even turn on a light switch? This takes so little energy to accomplish, so why can’t I do these activities?

Shabbos is more than a day of rest. Shabbos is the day when we rest our mind from the physical world and we can focus on what is really important in life. It is a day when we remember that no matter what we do, we are not in control – Hashem is. Although it takes very little energy to turn on a light switch, we refrain from doing it to remind ourselves that we do not create light. Our action of turning on a light switch does not make light appear – it is Hashem who makes light appear.

On Shabbos, there is a custom to eat fish. One of the reasons we eat fish is because of the lesson we learned when a fish is opened up. If a person opens up a large fish, he will find a small fish inside, but the small fish is facing the wrong direction. In the ocean, the big fish chases after small fish to eat them, so when the small fish is found inside the big fish, it should be facing the same way as the big fish. The heads and tails should be facing the same direction because they were swimming the same direction. The exact opposite is true though: the small fish is facing the opposite direction from the big fish. This means the big fish caught the small fish by basically opening its mouth and letting the small fish swim in. This teaches us an important lesson: the big fish chases after its food, but the one he gets is the one that he did not even try for. The reason for this is because Hashem is telling us no matter how much effort we put in to obtaining our food (and livelihood), He is the one in control. He will make sure we survive. This is the lesson of Shabbos! (NOTE: this does not mean we should not go to work. We need to put in an effort, but in the end, need to realize that Hashem will provide us what we need.)

Shabbos is the day to remember that Hashem created the world and continues to care for us today. He takes care of all of our needs. 100 years ago, a woman wondered how she would survive unless she worked in a factory on Shabbos. In the end, she remembered that Hashem is in control and because she remembered this, she survived and her offspring are still alive today. Shabbos is our weekly reminder of who is really in charge.

Good Shabbos!
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to see previous Divrei Simcha on the Parsha, please go to OR > Torah Study

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