This past Shabbos, while most of the Jews in New York and Israel were experiencing the tranquility and holiness of the day, a group of some 169 shomrei Shabbos Yidden en route to Tel Aviv aboard El Al flight 002 fretted over arriving at their destination after its onset. The disturbance that ensued, along with the accusations and counter-accusations, will take some time to sort out.
As the dust begins to settle and the heated tone abates, we shomrei Shabbos should use this opportunity for introspection as to our own reverence for Shabbos and adjust our behavior accordingly.
A survey of the stores and streets of many frum neighborhoods on a typical Erev Shabbos give us pause. On the average Friday afternoon, one finds lines of last-minute shoppers perusing the aisles of local stores in search of some last-minute ingredient or delight to enhance their Shabbos meal. Similarly, as the sun sinks lower in the sky, the stream of people returning from work, exiting the subway turnstiles and rushing to grab a shower before the zman is troubling. Those people may even stop off and buy a bouquet of flowers to beautify their Shabbos table. All this, of course, is done lichvod Shabbos kodesh.
But let us examine what the true honor of Shabbos entails. The Rambam in Hilchos Shabbos (30:1-2) begins by saying there are four obligations concerning Shabbos: zachor (remembering), shamor (guarding), kavod (honoring) and oneg (enjoying). “What is kavod…it is a mitzvah for a person to wash his face, hands and feet with warm water on Erev Shabbos…and sit with deference anticipating to greet the Shabbos as one goes out towards a king. The early scholars would gather their students on Erev Shabbos, and enwrap themselves [in their garments] and declare, ‘Let us go out towards the Shabbos King’.”
Recently, there have been several projects focused on expanding the knowledge of Hilchos Shabbos among youth and adults alike. These programs are laudable, as they bring a better understanding of our obligations in the realm of halachah. In the terms laid down by the Rambam, this probably falls in the category of shamor, guarding to avoid chillul Shabbos.
A recent community-wide project encouraged families to invite unaffiliated Jews to join them in their Shabbos experience, thereby sharing the radiance of this holy day with Jews who are unfamiliar with its warmth. Certainly, the delicacies prepared in anticipation of those guests enhanced the oneg aspect of the Shabbos.
Yet there is a lesser-known, ongoing, program in a local shul which encourages men and young boys to practice kvod Shabbos in a different way. During the summer months, when Friday afternoons are extended and Motzoei Shabbosos are short, the Rav administers an Avos Ubanim on Friday, before Shabbos begins. To qualify for any reward, the children must be dressed in their Shabbos finery.
A visit to this beis medrash during this learning period will leave you awestruck. Certainly, the sound of some seventy-five children raising their voices in the song of Torah is impressive. Yet seeing them all dressed for Shabbos several hours before sunset is truly inspiring. This display of kvod Shabbos, often lacking in the busy lives of adults, is on full display with these youngsters.
How can we increase our own reverence for Shabbos? Perhaps the key to unlocking the honor of Shabbos is anticipation. Do we look forward with reverence to the arrival of Shabbos, as the Rambam suggests? Or do we fall into it? With some contemplation and reflection, and a good dose of caution on Erev Shabbos, the kavod of Shabbos will certainly be enhanced.