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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Parshas Emor–Fly the Flag

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By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin

This week’s parsha, Emor, tells us about HaShem’s eternal gift to Bnei Yisroel. The gift of Shabbos.

“Sheishes yomim tay’aseh melacha, Six days you shall do work, u’vayom ha’shvii Shabbos Shabboson mikra kodesh, and the seventh day, a day of complete rest, a holy day…. Shabbos hu l’HaShem b’chol moshvoseichem, a Shabbos for HaShem, in all your dwellings.” (Vayikra 23:3)

Six days we are busy with the daily grind of living. Work, appointments, keeping up with our emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, etc. Come Shabbos, we put it all to rest. We have one day a week to elevate ourselves, to envelope ourselves in spirituality, to connect to HaShem.

Shabbos is spelled shin-beis-tuff. Within the word Shabbos, we find the word “shov – shin, beis”, to return. A message to us. With Shabbos comes the opportunity for the neshama to soar, to reach the heavens, to return and reconnect to HaShem. A bond that fuels us all week long.

Achad Ha’am is famously quoted as saying, “More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jew.” The late Senator Joseph Lieberman was once asked, “How can you be a senator and still keep Shabbos?” to which he replied, “I don’t think I could be a senator and not keep Shabbos.”

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l teaches that we prepare for Shabbos as if we are welcoming royalty into our home. We set a beautiful table, dress in special Shabbos clothes, and serve the finest foods. Our discussions are elevated, and we sing heartwarming z’miros. We bless our children, and encourage them to share the Torah teachings of the past week. It’s not just about doing for Shabbos; it’s also about breaking away from the mundane and giving our minds a twenty-four hour rest from the pressures of our week.

All for the seventh day. All for Shabbos.

We even speak as if Shabbos itself is our guest. We’re shopping, cooking, preparing “for Shabbos”. For on Shabbos, we welcome the Shabbos Queen.

Leil Shabbos. Friday night. Time for Kabbolas Shabbos, welcoming the Shabbos. We sing the words of Lecha Dodi, Come my Beloved. Likras Shabbos l’chu v’neilcha, To welcome Shabbos, come, let us go. Kee hee m’kor ha’bracha, For it is the source of blessing.

At the Shabbos daytime seudah, many sing the tune Kee eshmerah Shabbos, If I guard and protect Shabbos, Keil yishmereinee, HaShem will protect me. Shabbos not only elevates us, but protects us.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin understood this message well. It was May 3, 1982. While still in pain from a recent hip surgery, the Prime Minister made his way to Knesset, prepared to deliver a powerful message. A message that cemented a new policy that remains to this day. A message that brought the entire nation to understand the importance and holiness of Shabbos. A message about El Al, the national airline of Israel.

“Forty years ago, I returned from exile to Eretz Yisroel,” he said. “Engraved in my memory are the lives of millions of Jews, simple, ordinary folk, eking out a livelihood in that forlorn Diaspora, where the storms of anti-Semitism raged. They were not permitted to work on the Christian day of rest, and they refused to work on their day of rest. For they lived by the commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.’ Each week, they forswore two whole days of hard-won bread. This meant destitution for many. But they would not desecrate the Sabbath day.”

Despite the hissing and jeering from secular opposition members of the Knesset, and many in the public gallery, Begin was not deterred. He continued, “Shabbat is one of the loftiest values in all of humanity. It originated with us. It is all sours. No other civilization in history knew of a day of rest. Ancient Egypt had a great culture whose treasures are on view to this day, yet the Egypt of antiquity did not know a day of rest. The Greeks of old excelled in philosophy and the arts, yet they did not know of a day of rest. Rome established mighty empires, and instituted a system of law still relevant to this day, yet they did not know of a day of rest. Neither did the civilizations of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, India, China – none of them knew of a day of rest. One nation alone sanctified the Shabbat. A small nation, the nation that heard the voice at Sinai. Ours was the nation that enthroned Shabbat as our sovereign Queen.”

The jeering intensified, but the approving voices of those who were about to make history overtook them. Begin’s voice reached a crescendo, and he was not going to be intimidated from delivering his message. He was a man on a sacred mission, about to drop the gauntlet. “So, are we, in our own Jewish state, to allow our blue and white El Al planes to fly about, broadcasting to the world that there is no Shabbat in Israel? Should we now deliver a message to all, through our blue and white El Al planes – ‘No, don’t remember the Shabbat! Forget the Shabbat! Desecrate the Shabbat!’ I shudder at the thought.”

“Know this,” Begin told his audience, “We cannot assess the religious, national, social, historical and ethical values of Shabbat by the yardstick of financial loss or gain. In our revived Jewish state, we cannot engage in such calculations when dealing with an eternal and cardinal value of the Jewish people – Shabbat – for which our ancestors were ready to give their lives.”

Begin ended with an enduring statement. “One thing more. One need not to be a pious Jew to accept this principle. One need only to be a proud Jew.”

The Prime Minister’s motion was put to a vote. The tally was 58 in favor, 54 opposed. Menachem Begin breathed a sigh of relief, as he limped his way out of Knesset. He had made history. El Al would no longer fly on the Shabbos and Yomim Tovim.

My mother, the Rebbetzin a”h had the privilege of meeting with Prime Minister Begin on several occasions. At one such meeting he said to her: “Kavod HaRabbanit,” I want to share my most personal tefilla (prayer) with you. When I daven to Hashem in my most serious moments, I always make sure to use the words of Tehillim, asking and beseeching the Master of the world with the prayer, ‘V’ruach kadshecha al tikach mimeni.’ Pease do not remove the spirit of Your holiness from me.’ ” This prayer was certainly on the Prime Minister’s lips as he delivered the powerful “El Al speech” on that historic day.

El Al has recently introduced a new slogan: Fly the Flag. Prime Minister Begin foresaw this over forty years ago, when he declared that the flag of the Jewish nation would not be in the skies on Shabbos.

Yehi zichro boruch. May his memory be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom!

Chaya Sora

Chaya Sora can be reached at [email protected]

This article was written L’zecher Nishmas /In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l

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