There are three kinds of reaction from people who break the Shabbat, when they happen to run into the local rabbi.
The first kind are sitting in their car they see the rabbi, they either duck to prevent themselves being seen or they pretend that they haven’t seen him.
Next there are the types who will stop and say Good Shabbos to the rabbi whilst they’re in the car.
Finally you have the third kind who will actually stop the car, wind down the window and say to the Rabbi.. “Good Shabbos Rabbi- you need a lift?”
One of my previous communities, I’m not saying where; most of the people were not Shomer Shabbat. Indeed most of the membership lived 5-10 miles from Shul, so I would have had to be very naïve indeed to believe that they had walked. Shul on Shabbat morning began late at 10 and went on to well after 12.45 Around 11 in the morning every Shabbat, I noticed a few members went out for a few minutes and then came back, and I wondered why, later I was to find out that it was to feed the meters.
So here I was, one bright Shabbat morning walking to Shul and one particular man who I knew well with his kippah serugah got out of his parked car and noticing me-came running over to me. He said the following:
“What do you think rabbi? Should my wife be lighting Shabbat candles, yet we are not observant? Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to be driving on Shabbat yet my wife lights up every week?”
I could have said the following: “You know what I think – your Judaism is entirely worthless because how could you be driving to Shul and doing other things on Shabbat which openly profane the Shabbat day? However, you want to be frum in other aspects!? What do you think- that Hashem sees certain things but He doesn’t see others?”
But that’s not what I said.
Instead I told him the following:
“The fact that you are lighting your Shabbat candles is not negated by the fact that you don’t keep Shabbat. In other words: you’ve done something positive by doing one mitzvah- and one mitzvah leads to another….The most important thing is that you are ascending; climbing up your own spiritual ladder.”
This very same man together with his entire family later on became totally observant, they now live in Israel, and I still keep a strong connection with him and his family. The moral is; you cannot write somebody off completely because they are not 100%. At any rate who is 100% any way? I am reminded of the words of King Solomon: There is no man under the sun who has never sinned.
Nobody is perfect
This morning’s Sedrah, is left over from last week on a cliff hanger. Moses had gone to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Jewish people go free. But Pharaoh tells him no way. Instead of making it easier for the Jews he makes it harder.
Moses, having been approached by representatives of the people who come to complain, then goes to G-d and says: “Why have You dealt so wickedly with this people and why have You not delivered them?”
Our Sedra opens with the response to Moshe from Hashem with the promise of freedom and redemption. Moses is now instructed by G-d to go back to the people and tell them everything that he has been told and that indeed the children of Israel will go free.
So Moses does as he has been ordered by Hashem. He tells them that it will be G-d who will take them out of Egypt.
The reaction of the Israelites was as follows:
“They did not listen to Moses because of [mi-kotzer ruach]-shortness of breath and [avodah kashah]- hard work.”
It’s easy to understand the avodah kashah, the hard work. Here are the Israelites and they’re suffering on a bad scale. So Moses is coming with this message of freedom. And their reaction is: Moses- you’ve got to be kidding!-We’re living a life of hard labour and you, Moshe are telling us that we’re going to go free?!!
But what is meant here by mi-kotzer ruach-shortness of breath? On a simple level you could explain it that their spirit had almost completely been crushed by the servitude of the Egyptians.
But I would like to suggest a novel explanation from the Yalkut Reuveni, a Kabbalistic work from the 17th century. He says that Kotzer Ruach means lacking in ruach- which means spirit or religiosity. They are saying: you know we just don’t have what it takes, we’re not good enough, we do not deserve redemption because we’re not on the level to deserve redemption.
I think there is a very profound message that each and every one of us can take out on our own level. There are people who reject a deeper or a greater involvement in Judaism because they have what I call the ALL OR NOTHING syndrome.
If I am not keeping Shabbat, How can I keep Kosher? Or, if I am not keeping Kosher, how can I have the chutzpah to walk into Shul. They fail to understand that sometimes I can excel in one aspect of Judaism but there are other aspects on which I need to work.
So does that make me a hypocrite if I am good at one mitzvah and not good in another?
I suppose there are Jews out there who would judge me unfavourably. They would say it’s an all or nothing approach, and if you’re not doing it all then you’re a nothing. But I don’t ascribe to that view.
First, there is no aspect of my life to which I apply the all or nothing approach. If I cannot make a million pounds it doesn’t mean that I give up and go on welfare. If I have a row with my wife, it doesn’t mean I give up and get divorced, because I know that life has its ups and downs and there’s a lot of grey in the middle.
Remember Yaakov’s dream. He has a vision of a ladder which is firmly planted in the ground and its top is reaching up to the heavens. The ladder represents our spiritual life. Each wrung of the ladder is another step up.
It’s not important to know which wrung of the ladder I am on at the moment because ultimately we do not know where we are. But it’s important to know that we’re on our way up.
Mitzvah goreret mitzvah- each mitzvah leads to another