MISHPATIM (Exodus, 21:1-24:18) — “We Wish You a Merry Shabbos???”

Some Mitzvahs have “made it” into acceptance by the masses.  Others seem to be reserved only for the “very religious.”

Certain commandments and certain violations are more “culturally correct” than others.  Most Jews would never think of bowing down to a statue in a Buddhist temple or eating the limb of a living animal.  Many, if not most, Jews eat Matzah on Passover.

Most Jews don’t check their clothes for Shaatnez (mixtures of linen and wool) or put on Tefillin.  Most Jews don’t refrain from watching television on the Sabbath.

Sabbath observance is the “gold standard” of fidelity to Jewish Law.  When measuring the extent of a Jew’s religiosity, we will often base our determination upon whether or not he is a “Shomer Shabbos.”  It is preferable that a Minyan consist of ten men who observe the Sabbath.  In order to be a valid witness in a Jewish court or in matters of Jewish status (marriage, divorce, etc.) one must be a Sabbath observer.  Technically speaking, Sabbath violation is a capital crime.  (See “A Capital Idea”.)

Most of our People these days do not see Sabbath observance as imperative.  They do not see Shabbos as the be-all and end-all of Jewish life.  Naturally, idol worship is unthinkable to your average secular Jew.  He would never knowingly articulate a blatant rejection of Judaism.  At the same time, Shabbos is very far from his mind.  He sees no connection between the two.

G-d disagrees:

Six days you will accomplish your activities, and on the seventh day you will rest…Be careful regarding everything I have said to you.  Do not mention the names of strange gods, nor shall your mouth cause them to be heard.  (Exodus, 23:12-13)

The juxtaposition of Sabbath and strange gods is no coincidence.  The Talmud (Shabbos, 119) states that if a person properly observes the Sabbath, even if he worships idols, he will be forgiven.  Conversely, a person who desecrates the Sabbath is considered comparable to an idol worshipper.

Isn’t that a bit of a stretch?  Just because a Jew chooses not to be strictly observant of the Sabbath isn’t it a bit much to call him an idolater?

Yes, it is.  The Torah is not calling him an idolater.  Rather, it is pointing out a CONNECTION between the two transgressions.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains the connection.  The Torah says “on the seventh day you will rest …  Do not mention the names of strange gods…”  Rabbi Sorotzkin explains that IF  “… on the seventh day you will rest…” you insure that you will“… not mention the names of strange gods.”

When a Jew refrains from working on Shabbos, he implants within himself a pure unadulterated faith in G-d.  As a result, even if he has worshipped idols in the past, he will be inspired to return to G-d and repent his former ways.

Shabbos is the day when we show our belief in G-d as our Creator.  He spent that first Sunday through Friday creating the world and then He rested on the Sabbath.  He controls the world and determines how much success we will have during our own work week.  We rest on the Sabbath to demonstrate our trust in Him.

On the other hand, we can see how Shabbos desecration can, in a sense, be compared to idol worship.  If I choose to work on Saturday I am basically showing that I don’t trust G-d to provide my needs.  Is that really all that far from totally rejecting G-d and bowing down to His “competition”?


Rabbi Sorotzkin dealt with this concept in his own community.  Synagogue attendance was on the decline due to the fact that a number of people in the community began to open their stores on Shabbos.  One Shabbos, he walked into shul and found it to be packed.   It was explained to him that the reason for the overflow of attendance was due to the fact that it was a non-Jewish holiday.  Since stores were legally required to be closed, the otherwise-Sabbath violators took advantage of the opportunity to come to shul, along with their children.

Rabbi Sorotzkin was not one to “preach to the choir.”  He took advantage of the presence of the Sabbath workers to tell them what they needed to hear.

“No doubt,” said the rabbi, “your children must have asked you, ‘Why is this Shabbos different from all the other Shabboses of the year?’

“And you must have answered, ‘This Shabbos is greater than every other Sabbath because today is the birthday of the founder of another religion.’

“Could there be a greater desecration of G-d’s name?!   The Torah warned us ‘on the seventh day you will rest … Do not mention the names of strange gods…’  We must rest and guard it because of ‘… everything I have said to you….’ Don’t associate the holiness of Shabbos with ‘the names of strange gods… nor shall your mouth cause them to be heard.’”


Rabbi Sorotzkin did not mention in his book as to whether or not any members of his community accepted his rebuke.  But WE should.

Shabbos is our connection to G-d.  Let’s do it right.

Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

“Voting ‘Against’ G-d, or, “Whose Torah IS This Anyway?!” (2010)

… The Talmud records a fascinating dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues…

Rabbi Eliezer presented logical argument after logical argument to support his view, but to no avail. The Rabbis disagreed. Rabbi Eliezer, a holy man, decided to miraculously defy nature in order to bring home his point. … Finally, Rabbi Eliezer pulled his “Heaven Card.” “If I am right, let the Heavens prove it!”

A heavenly voice boomed in reprimand of the Sages: “Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, when the Law, in fact, is always in accordance with his opinion?!” …

They wouldn’t budge. Rabbi Joshua stood up and quoted from Deuteronomy (30:12) “It (the Torah) is not in Heaven!”… Pretty gutsy, no? …

Read more.
“We Wish You a Merry Shabbos???” (2009)

… One Shabbos, he walked into shul and found it to be packed. …it was a non-Jewish holiday. Since stores were legally required to be closed, the otherwise-Sabbath violators took advantage of the opportunity to come to shul, along with their children…

“No doubt,” said the rabbi, “your children must have asked you, ‘Why is this Shabbos different from all the other Shabboses of the year?’

“And you must have answered, ‘This Shabbos is greater than every other Sabbath because today is the birthday of the founder of another religion…’”

Read more.
“Let’s Make a Deal” (2007)

Okay, I admit it! I am a criminal. I am a lawbreaker. I have confessed in open court. I have thrown myself on the mercy of the court and pled guilty to violating the law…

I got to watch some criminal proceedings too. The prosecutor, lawyers, and judge all played their parts professionally. As each one recited his scripted line, the others nodded and scribbled little notes on their legal pads in their legal folders. One young man was accused of breaking and entering. The prosecutor offered to reduce the charge to a less severe one. Scribble, scribble. The judge agreed. Scribble, scribble. Then the judge said, “According to the statutes, you have to give a valid reason for this type of reduction.” Scribble, scribble.

The prosecutor’s response?

“In the interest of Justice.” Scribble, scribble.


Read more.
“A Capital Idea” (2005)

Regardless of your position on capital punishment, it seems possible to find support from the Torah.

This week’s Torah Portion is replete with prohibitions for which the death penalty applies …

On the other hand, we find in the Talmud that the Sages went to great pains to avoid carrying out the death penalty … Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of Blessed Memory… wrote in 1982 to “Sar Hamedina” — “The Prince of the State.” (I assume that refers to President Reagan or New York Governor Hugh Carey). Rabbi Feinstein was responding to a question as to the Torah’s view on capital punishment…

Read more.
“Oh Say, Can you Sue?!” (2004)

…Jack and Jill lived up the hill.

Each of these two neighbors owned an ox. Jill’s ox was out in the field one day, calmly grazing on grass. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jack’s ox charged, ramming his horns into his unsuspecting neighbor. To Jill’s utter shock, her ox lay there in the field, and bled to death…

Jill hired Johnnie Cochran, who told the jury how Jill’s life had been shattered by the loss of her livelihood. By the time the trial was over… Jack was ruined, and Jill bought a condo in Boca. 

Now, let’s change the scenario a bit.

Jack and Jill are now Yaakov and Yocheved. Instead of going to court, Yocheved, a religious woman, went to … a rabbinic tribunal for justice… She was dismayed by the response…

Yesterday, Yocheved owned $1000 worth of ox. Today she has $500 cash and $50 worth of dead ox. So much for the condo in Boca. …

Read more.
“Double Trouble” (2003)

What is the best way to discourage theft? … The Torah has a very unique way of punishing someone for stealing. … the Torah makes sure that his efforts will backfire…

 Read more.
“Your Ivory Tower Is Blocking My Driveway!” (2002)

When we overly involve ourselves in the sublime, we run the risk of ignoring the mundane…  How do we explain the occasional unfortunate situation of a religious person who is  dishonest? 

Read more.
“Human Rights: Body Piercing and Slavery” (2001)

Jews have always been known for their spirit of social consciousness. We have always been at the forefront in calling out for fairness to all people. We marched with Martin Luther King in Selma… After all we’ve been through, we know what it’s like to be deprived of civil liberties. We would never want to see anyone subjugated or oppressed in any way.

… Where is the outrage?! Where is the J.C.L.U. (Jewish Civil Liberties Union)? Where is the hue and cry from the AFL/CIO, protesting the cruel and unusual treatment of a worker? Is this why G-d took us out of Egypt, so we could be subjected to harsh working conditions and forced body piercing?!!…

Read more.

 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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