It was during the last days of the life of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, when that revered leader of Klal Yisrael learned that a factory in the town of Lida (some 12 kilometers from his hometown of Radin), that employed several hundred Jews, operated on Shabbos. The local Rav had protested the flagrant chillul Shabbos, but to no avail.
The Chofetz Chaim sent a messenger to Lida requesting that the factory owners come to Radin, for he wished to speak with them. The messenger was only able to locate one of the partners who owned the factory, whom he brought back with him to Radin.
“I am, baruch Hashem, old,” the Chofetz Chaim told the owner. “I am prepared in the coming days to stand before the Beis Din shel Maalah. I will certainly be asked, since I am an elderly lamdan, how I kept silent about the fearful chillul Shabbos of several hundred people in my area.”
The Chofetz Chaim then requested that the Jewish employees be given off on Shabbos and they would make up the difference by adding hours the rest of the week.
The owner argued that the factory was based on the American factory model. The use of production lines caused each worker to be dependent on the others. Therefore, in order to give the Jewish workers the day off, the entire factory would have to be shut down on this day.
It soon became clear that the only solution the owner had in mind was to dismiss all the Jewish workers and hire non-Jews in their stead.
The Chofetz Chaim became very upset, and instructed him that he must not send away any Jewish workers, but instead must find a way to change the way the factory operated to ensure that Shabbos is kept.
The Chofetz Chaim then proceeded to quote from this week’s parashah that the punishment for not keeping Shabbos is the death penalty. “Perhaps the evil inclination will try to sway you into thinking that the punishment of the Torah will not occur,” the Chofetz Chaim added. “Remember a similar occurrence with Chavah and the snake [when she told him that Hashem said that whoever will eat from the Eitz Hadaas will die and the snake replied by saying that ‘You won’t die’]. What went on to happen is known …” the Chofetz Chaim concluded.
His words pierced the conscience of the factory owner, who left the room shattered and shaken, and sought a way to sell his share in the factory.
* * *
We live in a tragic era when the majority of Jews, through no fault of their own, have never experienced the beauty of Shabbos. Unlike the Jews of yesteryear, they grew up in totally assimilated homes, and therefore have the status of a tinok shenishbah, who isn’t held responsible for what s/he has no knowledge about.
Yet those of us who have been blessed to know that Shabbos is an eternal sign between Hashem and Am Yisrael have a sacred responsibility towards our less fortunate brethren.
Clearly, being actively involved in kiruv efforts and supporting them are an integral part of our obligations.
But there is another aspect to consider as well.
One Shabbos Hagaon Harav Elazar Schach, zt”l, was walking on a street on the outskirts of Bnei Brak. Suddenly he turned to the talmid who was accompanying him and asked, “Why on this street are there cars traveling on Shabbos, while over on that street there are none? Who sets the boundary where the cars may and may not drive?”
“Here [on the street in which cars are not traveling] is Bnei Brak, while the other street is in Ramat Gan,” the talmid explained.
“That is not the reason,” Harav Schach told him. “The reason is that the influence of the shemiras Shabbos of the chareidim reaches up to this point, until this street. Were we to strengthen ourselves more in shemiras Shabbos, then its influence would extend further and cars would not travel on the other road, either. Harav Yisrael Salanter, zt”l, said that if a Jew converts in France, R”l, it is due to Yidden in Kovna being negligent in avodas Hashem.”
Harav Schach added, “The Brisker Rav once said that the reason even irreligious Jews keep Yom Kippur is not because Yom Kippur is important to them, but because we keep Yom Kippur in such a holy and elevated way.”
The more we value the great gift of Shabbos; the greater the emphasis we place on observing the sanctity of this holy day in our actions, our words, and our thoughts; the greater the influence we will have on our brethren who are yet to become shomrei Shabbos.