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Story for Shabbat

The Magic of Shabbat – A Signal from Heaven

A powerful story about standing up for what is right! Another classic from Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser

The Magic of Shabbat – A Signal from Heaven
The Chatam Sofer tells us that if one is asked to perform a chesed (kindness) or a mitzvah it is a signal from heaven that one has the capacity and the talent to accomplish it.  
 
A number of years ago I was very surprised to receive a call before the summer season to spend Shabbos in a Federation camp.  The contact person was very enthusiastic about the concept and importuned me to accept the invitation. 
 
This was a very large camp of over 500 young people from diverse Jewish backgrounds.  For many, their only affiliation with Judaism was through birth, and this would be a unique opportunity for me to reach out and kindle that innate spark of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness).  
 
To say the least, I was skeptical, and hesitant to respond in the affirmative.  There were many considerations to take into account.  What type of Shabbos would this be?  What was the ambiance in the camp?  Who could give assurance about the kashrut of the food?  What kind of davening (prayer services) could I anticipate?
 
After the third or fourth call encouraging me to participate in this innovative plan for a Federation camp, my resistance was worn down.  The administration sincerely wanted to create an authentic Shabbos experience in the camp, and believed that my visit would have a great impact on the lives of all concerned.  I agreed to be their Shabbos guest.  
 
The camp driver picked me up early Friday morning.  On the way he gave me some more information about the culture and the environment of the camp.  He elaborated on the camp’s activities and the facilities that were available.  Special preparations had been made to accommodate me, in deference to specific requests that I had made.
 
We began Friday night with an unprecedented gathering for davening.  For many this was their first exposure to praying with a minyan.  Although attendance was not mandatory, the administration was shocked when every staff member and camper came to the minyan. 
The setup in the area designated for the service was not adequate, and the services had to be moved outdoors.  In fact, most of the participants had to sit on the grass as it was not a practical idea to begin shlepping benches from the dining room which was some distance away.
 
Those who were familiar with the prayers began to raise their voices in heartfelt unison, singing the familiar niggunim(melodies) and responding to the baal tefillah’s (one who leads the prayer service) intonations.  An aura of reverence and admiration pervaded the air as each participant joined in his own way. 
 
It would be difficult to sufficiently describe the special Shabbos spirit that was created that weekend.   After the Friday night meal, I conducted a “tisch”, lasting late into the night, exclusively for the staff members, to imbue them with Shabbos “dessert” and to draw them closer.   
 
Before I sat down at the tisch, I went into the kitchen to thank the staff for preparing such a beautiful Shabbos meal and attention to detail.
 
When I walked in, some of the kitchen staff were “schmoozing,” and I noticed that one young man looked familiar.  I recalled that he had attended a Jewish day school in my neighborhood.  Just then, he turned towards the commercial dishwasher at his side, and his hand reached out to flip on the switch.  I instinctively shouted, “Wait!  You can’t do that!  It’s Shabbos!”
 
He looked up at me in disbelief, and said that he was on kitchen duty, and it was his job to make sure that all the dishes were clean.  It was a yeoman task and he had to take care of it immediately, he insisted.
 
“But you can’t do it,” I said.
“Why not?” he angrily demanded.
“Because it’s Shabbos,” I gently explained.
He told me he was not religious so it made no difference to him.
“It makes no difference,” I told him.
“This is my job,” he belligerently asserted, “and I have every intention of doing it.”
“You can’t,” I said again.
“Tell me again why not,” he challenged.
“Because if you will wash the dishes it will affect the kashrut of the dishes,” I said.
He looked at me dubiously and said, “So you’re telling me that I’m not allowed to do my job.”
“Not right now,” I answered.
 
After a few tense moments, he removed his apron, threw it down on top of the table and left.  The silence that overwhelmed the kitchen was deafening, as I stood there stunned.
 
I spent much time ruminating about the conversation that had taken place in the kitchen.  Obviously, there was no way I could refrain from speaking up against the destined chilul Shabbos (desecration of the Sabbath)Notwithstanding the Rambam’s instruction that if one sees his fellow man doing a transgression he should admonish him (hochei’ach tochi’ach es amisecha), I nevertheless regretted the ill-fated interaction. 
 
Although I kept an eye out for the young man, I didn’t see him again the entire Shabbos.  On Motzoei Shabbos, I once again spent an inspirational evening with the staff at a seudas Melave Malka of Torah thoughts and inspiration.  It was a most memorable occasion.
 
The hour was getting late, and as we were beginning to wind down, I requested some volunteers to help me out in the kitchen.  Within one minute I had twenty volunteers.  The staff immediately got to work.  The dishwasher was turned on, the pots were scrubbed and put away, and the counters were wiped clean.  When the last load was finished, every piece of cutlery and every dish was quickly put in its proper place.  Within a short time, the kitchen was immaculate. 
 
Just as we were shutting the lights, the young man in charge of the kitchen walked in.  He looked around, noted the spotlessly clean kitchen, and wordlessly walked out.  
 
Before I left the next morning, I once again tried to find the young man.  I had the deepest desire to placate him so that there were no hard feelings between us.  Unfortunately, no one seemed to know his whereabouts. 
 
For a long time I was troubled by the thought that my words may have negatively affected any possible reconnection with Yiddishkeit on his part.  I really wanted to have the opportunity to explain what had happened a little more clearly and to ask for his forgivenessI tried to find him, but he seemed to have disappeared into thin air. 
 
Time passed and, every once in a while, I would recall the incident and wonder if there was any possibility, chas v’shalom, that I might have been instrumental in pushing him further away from Judaism.  
 
Years later I was invited to address a large gathering in Passaic on behalf of Bonei Olam. When I entered the building, some people were milling around in the front. Suddenly a man approached me and said, “Rabbi Goldwasser, I am sure you don’t recognize me.  I was the individual at the Federation camp who was about to turn on the dishwasher on Friday night in the kitchen.  I want you to know how strongly your gentle words affected me.  No one had ever stopped me from pursuing my weekday activities on Shabbos until you came along. There was something in your tone, your words, your sincerity, your care and concern that made a tremendous impact.  You stood up for what is right.  Little by little, I began my journey back to Torah observance.  It is thanks to you that I am here today with my eishes chayil (wife of valor). She is a true Bais Yaakov girl.” 
 
We read in Koheles that “for everything there is a time … a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7). The Yismach Yisroel notes that this certainly does not refer to engaging in forbidden speech or idle chatter.  One is commanded to always refrain from such speech.  Rather, Shlomo HaMelech is telling us that even when it is necessary to verbalize or express certain thoughts -- such as mussar (rebuke) that may be harsh – there is a time to be silent.  Sometimes it is preferable that an individual opt not to speak his mind, for it may not be an opportune moment.