In Sefer Nechemiah (Chapter 2) we read of how Nechemiah, while employed as a servant to the Persian king, heard about the dire conditions suffered by the Jews of Eretz Yisrael and felt very distraught.
Nechemiah states that he had never before shown any sorrow or uneasiness in the king’s presence. On this occasion, however, when he served the king after hearing about the plight of his brethren in the Land of Israel, he looked broken. The king asked him, “Why do you look distraught? You are not sick — this can only signify [that there is] evil [in your] heart!”
Nechemiah then relates, “I became very frightened.” Serving the king with a drawn, mournful appearance was considered a grave offense. Nechemiah proceeded to explain to the king that he meant no disrespect, but was rather distressed because of the news he had heard about the Jews’ situation in Eretz Yisrael.
This incident conveys a vital lesson relevant to our service to the One, true King. When one serves a king, he must do so in a state of joy and excitement. He should feel so privileged and fortunate to serve the king that nothing else should matter, and no minor problems or disappointments should weigh on his mind.
On Shabbos, we are in the presence of the King; He comes to visit us in our homes. We therefore recite in our Shabbos prayers, yismechu b’malchus’cha shomrei Shabbos — those who observe Shabbos spend the day basking in the radiance of the King, and therefore they are exuberant throughout the day. If we appreciate what Shabbos is, then nothing upsets us on this day. The very fact that we are in Hashem’s presence brings us immense joy that cannot be shaken by all the petty, trivial “problems” that would normally upset us.
It is told that Franz Joseph I (1830-1916), the Emperor of Austria, made a three-day visit to Cracow starting on 25 Elul in the year 1880. Among the throngs of people who came to greet the Emperor at the train station was the Orthodox Jewish community of Cracow, led by their Rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Sofer (1820-1883), who was the son of the renowned Chasam Sofer, and who documented this event. Rabbi Sofer writes that he recited a berachah upon seeing the monarch, and later had a meeting with him. He recounts that the local anti-Semites were disturbed by the respect the city’s Jews were accorded by the king, and wanted to implicate the Jews. In the middle of the night, a group of anti-Semites secretly removed the pictures of Emperor Franz Joseph from the lobby of the synagogue and other Jewish sites. By law, every public area had to feature a picture of the Emperor, and by removing the Emperor’s pictures, these anti-Semites hoped to arouse the Emperor’s ire against the Jews of the city. They even made a point of informing government officials that the Jews did not display pictures of the Emperor as they did not hold him in esteem.
When the Emperor met with Rabbi Shimon Sofer, he asked why his picture was not displayed in the Jewish buildings.
In order to placate the Emperor, the Rabbi said, “The truth is that we always have the picture prominently displayed, but they were apparently taken down in advance of the Emperor’s visit. We Jews wear tefillin every day as a symbol of our loyalty to our G-d, our King. On Shabbos, however, we are not allowed to wear tefillin, because on Shabbos we do not need a symbol of our allegiance. G-d comes to be with us on Shabbos, and therefore if we wore tefillin as a reminder of our loyalty to Him, it would be disrespectful. Similarly, when the Emperor comes to visit us, it would be disrespectful to have a symbolic reminder of our loyalty to him. He’s right here with us — there is no need whatsoever for any reminder.”
In his response to the Emperor, Rabbi Shimon Sofer teaches us something very important about Shabbos: it is the time when our King visits. Hashem is with us in our homes on Shabbos, and this requires us to be in a state of joy and excitement. If we allow ourselves to be disturbed by trivial problems and inconveniences, we are showing that being in G-d’s presence is not of foremost importance to us.
David HaMelech states that he feared no harm because he knew Hashem was with him (Tehillim 23:4). At first glance, this means that David felt no reason to fear because of his confidence that Hashem would protect him from harm.
Rabbi Bloch, however, explained differently, drawing an analogy to a man who was traveling by train on business. During the train ride, he carefully watched his wallet to make sure it would not be lost or stolen. His trip was successful, and so on the way home, he was more concerned about the significant sum of money he had just made than about the few coins in his wallet. When a person realizes that Hashem is with him, he realizes that he has the most precious and valuable gift imaginable, and thus nothing troubles or worries him.
This is the feeling we should have on Shabbos, the day that commemorates the special relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty. According to halachah, it is forbidden for a non-Jew to observe Shabbos. Just as no one may enter the private royal chamber when the king and queen are together, likewise, no one is permitted to intrude upon our private “meeting” with Hashem on Shabbos. This awareness, that we are enjoying an intimate, private encounter with Hashem, should be a source of great joy and should suffice to ensure that nothing causes us to become upset throughout Shabbos.
Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.