Ah, ye of little faith.
No, I am not referring to those who took umbrage at my last column and thought the other shoe would never drop. The "ye of little faith" here is literal. It refers to those who see Shabbat as a man-created observance from a far distant age that has no place in our lives today (which is pretty much how they misguidedly view the entire Torah).
Being good and doing good are far more important than observing mitzvot, it seems. It is more important to be a part of and show concern for this world. That is how we do God’s work.
Besides, Saturday is the only day to get all the errands done, not to mention those one-day sales.
So many Jews think (way too many, by every study’s statistics). And they run those errands and get to those sales how? By walking? Taking public transportation? Going bumper to bumper on the roadways with all the other errand-runners?
No, I am neither advocating nor condoning Shabbat shopping in Short Hills if you can get there on foot (or any other way). I am suggesting, however, that people who think this way need to think again.
Of course Shabbat is ancient — but from the moment of its creation to this very day, Shabbat has had relevance pouring out of it.
Consider the words of Exodus ‘0:8-11: "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements…."
Now consider the world in which this commandment was given. No, forget that world; it is much too far back in time. Think America 150 years ago. Think Riyadh today. Think sweat shops in China. Here is a commandment from God, written 3,500 years ago, that says to the man who has everything: "One day out of every seven, you must admit that everyone and everything — people and animals — share the same basic rights as you do. And you will demonstrate that by giving them a day of rest. And regardless of whether you want one for yourself, you must grant it to them — person or beast."
A misinterpretation of the text, you say? The Torah anticipated that. Thus, it offers the plain and unambiguous iteration of the commandment in Exodus ‘3:1’: "Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed."
To be socially relevant and "with it," then, may properly involve not buying clothing or footwear manufactured by child labor in the Third World, but it starts with not buying any clothing or footwear on Shabbat (or anything else, for that matter). It starts with observing Shabbat.
Global warming, of course, is now a major topic with us who want to be good and do good. Even if we did not see the movie, we do feel the weather — and we are keenly aware of the weird patterns of the last few years. (Some of the flora around our home recently began sprouting buds in confusion.)
The Torah makes it clear in a variety of ways that humankind does not have absolute power over the environment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the notion that even the land is entitled to a "Shabbat" of rest. Thus, the Torah tells us in Leviticus ‘5:1-19: "And the Lord spoke to Moses in Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Shabbat to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year shall be a Shabbat of rest to the land, a Shabbat for the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor prune your vineyard…. Therefore you shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and you shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell in it in safety."
Then there is Deuteronomy ‘0:19-‘0: "When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced."
These two verses (as noted so often in this column) led to a halachic principle known as "bal tashchit," or wanton destruction. Nothing, not even a tree that does not yield food of any kind, may be destroyed if there is no legitimate exigent circumstance — not even a mustard seed, in the words of the 14th-century scholar Rabbi Aharon Halevy of Barcelona.
Thus, by observing Shabbat (meaning by not cooking meals; keeping away from computers, video games, and the like; staying away from the malls; not driving at all or limiting driving strictly to going to and from synagogue; etc.), one engages in surely the most environmentally and ecologically responsible activity ever devised. That is not antiquated and outdated. That is as relevant as tomorrow.
Besides, truly observing allows us to devise meaningful activities with our families (like slowly eating meals together and, gulp, talking to each other). Nothing could be more relevant.