It is an established fact that Shabbat trumps almost every other commandment, custom and practice in Jewish life and law. Allowing circumcision on Shabbat is the exception and not the rule. Whether confronting the fast days or feast days, Shabbat takes precedence. It rules, by rabbinic decree, over shofar and lulav as well as over the mournful commemorations of personal and national grief, loss and tragedy. It seems fair to say that Shabbat is the linchpin of all Jewish observances and of Judaism itself.
Shabbat has two components to it: remembrance and observance. Both of these qualities are demanded of us in order that Shabbat may be experienced in its fullest holiness and beauty. Nevertheless, it is possible to observe the laws of Shabbat without retaining any of its spirituality or aura of unique holiness.
This is especially true in our time when technology allows us somehow to do almost anything on Shabbat without technically violating any of the proscribed “work” prohibitions of the day. It is also possible, though this is becoming increasingly more difficult in our society, to inject the remembrance of Shabbat in the house even though the observance of Shabbat is not really present any longer.
In most of the Diaspora, especially in North America, tragically, Shabbat is no longer remembered nor observed by millions of Jews. There are enclaves and neighborhoods that are populated by Orthodox Jews where the Shabbat can be felt by the large number of stores that are closed and streets that are empty of traffic.
This is a great achievement which reflects the resilience and renewed strength of Torah observance amongst certain sections of the Jewish people. However, again, this is the exception and not the rule in most Jewish societies. When I was a rabbi in Monsey New York, there was a non-Jew who lived in the midst of our otherwise completely Orthodox Jewish area. I remember that he was once asked why he remained living in such a neighborhood when all of his coreligionists had left. He replied: “I cannot give up the Saturday serenity that I experience here.” Even though he was not Jewish, he certainly understood what Judaism was about.
The supremacy of Shabbat over Tisha B’Av is a prime example of the priorities of Jewish values. The Jews built magnificent Temples and were a powerful nation in both First and Second Temple times. But none of this was permanent. It was always subject to destruction and decadence. However, the Jews believed, in the main, that God would not allow their sovereignty or Temples to be taken away from them and they treated them as permanent fixtures to which they were entitled in perpetuity.
But in disregarding the warnings of the prophets of Israel and their message, the Jews doomed these benefits to be temporary and not permanent. Tisha B’Av has come to represent the transient and temporary in Jewish life and history. However, the Shabbat, which has almost single-handedly enabled us as a people to survive all of the vicissitudes and tragedies of exile, remains permanent and dominant in our thoughts and lives. It is no wonder that Shabbat supersedes Tisha B’Av in observance and commemoration. It is axiomatic that the permanent will always dominate the temporary.
Here in Israel, the remembrance of Shabbat, if not quite yet the observance of Shabbat, has somehow become strengthened over the past few decades. In our neighborhood of Rechavia, which has a number of main thoroughfares running through it to get from one end of Jerusalem to the other, automobile traffic on Shabbat is noticeably less that it was more than twenty years ago when I first moved into the neighborhood.
Here in Israel it is almost impossible to forget that Shabbat exists. This is one of the main and perhaps most vital differences between living in Israel and living in the vast regions of the Jewish diaspora. And it is the Shabbat that not only dominates Tisha B’Av but it is also the mechanism that can weaken and destroy Tisha B’av completely.
We all pray for security and permanence in dwelling, for this our third attempt to do so in our ancient homeland. Permanence is achieved by associating with permanence. And it is the Shabbat above all else that can give to us a sense of permanence and serenity, both through its remembrance and observance. This coming Shabbat, which would otherwise be a day of morning and fasting, we should recall and internalize this concept of the permanent Shabbat and of its supremacy over all else.