By Rabbi Moshe Travitsky
This week we read Parshas Emor. In Parshas Emor, the Torah tells us of the obligation to observe all the holidays. However, when the Torah introduces the holidays, it proceeds telling us about them with a strange line: “Tell the Jewish people, these are the holidays of Hashem. Six days you should work, and on the seventh day you shall rest…” (Leviticus 23:3). The obvious question is, why would the Torah introduce telling us of the holidays, by telling us about the Shabbos first? Isn’t the topic of Shabbos a separate topic, to be discussed in its time and place? Why would it be spoken about now, as the Holidays are to be discussed? We also find in this week’s Parsha the prohibition of Chilul Hashem, of doing things that desecrate the honor of Hashem. This is situated right before the commandment of Shabbos, always suggesting to us some connection between the two commandments.
The commentaries offer various explanations. I would like to offer a simple thought, based on an incident that just occurred here in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Every year, our township celebrates a very large fall festival called Bensalem pride day, on the first Saturday of October. This is a large festival, described by the township in the following words: “Bensalem Fall Festival is considered one of the “Best of Bucks” community celebrations, in which we host all day entertainment on the TD Bank Amphitheater Stage and our beautiful Central Park grounds, along with amusements, food vendors, street vendors and car show. The day ends with a fabulous concert and then some of the best fireworks on the East Coast.”
This year, of course, in a rare occurrence, the first Saturday of October coincides with Yom Kippur. When it was found out that the township festival would be on Yom Kippur, several Jewish residents were up in arms. They called upon the Mayor to change the date of the event, to another Saturday, at all cost. When he apologized for the oversight, (It is very rare for Yom Kippur to come out on the first Shabbos of October), but explained that at this point it would cost the township thousands of dollars to make a change, he was accused of being an anti-Semite, and subjected to all sorts of pressure.
Of course, our Roman Catholic Mayor of Italian descent, Joe DiGirolamo, reached out to us, the Orthodox part of Bensalem, being the most noticeably Jewish residents of the town. I assured the Mayor, that it was irrelevant to any Jew whether the festival was on the first Saturday in October, the last Saturday in September, or a different Saturday in October. The reality is that Saturday always comes out on Shabbos. This has been the case since the first week of Creation, and will be so until the end of time. To any Jew, participating in any festival on the Sabbath would be unthinkable, unless they break the Shabbos, which is even more sever a prohibition than breaking Yom Kippur. There was (and still is) no reason for the township to change the date of the festival. No good purpose of observing Jewish law could come out of such a change. I even wrote a letter to this effect to the mayor which was read out loud at a township committee meeting that was discussing the crisis.
The township committee meeting took place, but the protests didn’t stop. Apparently, to some Jews, Shabbos just didn’t have any relevance. As long as the festival is not on Yom Kippur, they feel free to attend. And if the township would not understand their feelings, whether or not they had any validity in Jewish law, the township was being insensitive, not respecting their Jewish “religion” and should not be allowed to proceed.
When the Torah introduced the festivals to the Jewish people, perhaps it first talked about Shabbos just to try to prevent such a terrible attitude. Many Jews identify with the holidays. They will get matzah on Passover, find an Esrog or Succah on Sukkos, and try to hear a shofar on Rosh Hashanah. They will certainly make it to synagogue on Yom Kippur. These few times a year, their Jewish identity comes out in a beautiful and commendable way. But somehow Shabbos, which comes every week, which has been the badge of honor and glory of the Jewish people throughout our history, which is precious enough to be called the sign of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people – somehow Shabbos just gets lost. The Torah precedes the festivals by instructing about the Shabbos – to tell us – it’s not enough to just be Jews on the festivals! Keep the Shabbos! Mark this special day of rest with holiness, with a day to spend with the family, with a day to shut off from the mundane world and connect with your Creator! Then, after you have the weekly bond that will make you a Jew who is connected to the A-mighty, then proceed ahead and mark special additional days to deepen that relation several times a year.
Perhaps there is relevance here for the connection of the concept of kiddush Hashem – sanctifying Hashem’s name, and Chillul Hashem – desecrating His name. When we stick to real Judaism, do what is really right, keep the Shabbos as we should, and the festivals as we should, we sanctify Hashem’s name. We show the world a people that is dedicated to doing the will of its Creator, throughout the year. We show the world a people that adjusts its life to live the way Hashem has told us to. However, when we don’t want to keep the Shabbos, we only want to do some rituals that show our Jewish identity, but we blatantly transgress the most basic commandments of Judaism, we show the world that Judaism has no more relevance to us than being a social way of life. As long as we have bagels and cream cheese, and go to Synagogue on Yom Kippur, we are good Jews. This is a desecration of Hashem’s name. This makes a mockery of any real commitment to Hashem.
It is this attitude is what is being picked up in the recent Pew report. It is this attitude that thousands and even millions of Jewish kids pick up and reject when they decide that there is no reason for them to avoid intermarriage – after all, they are not committed to a “Jewish social club”. Hopefully, it is this attitude that we will overcome as more Jews discover true Judaism, and make it really be part of their lives.