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 This week’s parsha deals at its onset with the holiness of Shabbat. The Torah also emphasizes that this subject and concept was dealt with b’hakhel – publicly and nationally. We may derive an instructive lesson from this – a lesson that has much current relevance in our present society. There are two aspects of Shabbat – one public and one private.

The private Shabbat has a more active, positive nature attached to it. It is more in the nature of zachor – the remembrances of Shabbat: of kiddush wine, sumptuous meals and the leisurely rest combined with Torah study. But there is also a public aspect of Shabbat that the opening words of this week’s parsha represent.
It is the concept of a public day of rest - a day of shamor – a time of restraint and the absence of the everyday hustle and bustle of commercial and daily life. It is meant to mark what is absent on this day from what we are accustomed to seeing and experiencing. The blessings of public quiet, of shuttered shops and the serenity of Friday nights and Saturday afternoons are the hallmarks of the public Shabbat.
The public Shabbat – the shamor Shabbat, if you will – stands guard to protect the private Shabbat, safeguarding its observance and guaranteeing its survival and holiness. It is not for naught that the Talmud states that zachor and shamor were uttered at Sinai, so to speak, simultaneously in one sound breath. The success of Shabbat can only be realized when both the public and private Shabbat are present together.
For various reasons and differing causes, the public Shabbat has been drastically weakened in much of the Jewish world over the past century. Even those who claim to wish to preserve the private Shabbat, often desecrate the public Shabbat. The result of that error is clear to see today, for where there is no presence of a public Shabbat there will eventually be no private one either.
The fact that the stores in Jerusalem are closed on Shabbat and that the public busses and trains do not operate on that day is admittedly inconvenient to some or even to many. But the mere absence of these usual everyday factors in our lives creates for us at least the semblance of a public Shabbat and therefore has facilitated the slow but steady growth and strength of the private Shabbat.
The absence of the ordinary always reminds us of the extraordinary. A non-Jewish tourist asked for a freshly brewed cup of coffee at the Jerusalem hotel where she was staying on Shabbat morning. The solicitous Arab waiter explained to her that he could not comply with her wishes since it was Shabbat. She persisted in her request until the waiter told her in exasperation: “Madam, this is the holy city!”
It is the Shabbat, both public and private that reminds us where we are and what type of life we are bidden to follow while being privileged to live here. The Shabbat will continue to protect Jerusalem just as Jerusalem will continue to protect the Shabbat.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein

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