Shabbat: Worth the Effort

Rabbi David Sutton April 26, 2018

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The more we appreciate the value and importance of Shabbos, the more eager we will be to invest time and effort into preparing for it each and every week. I once heard a relative of Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz tell of an experience that Rabbi Kalmanowitz had which gives us a greater appreciation for the merit of Shabbos observance.


Rabbi Kalmanowitz was once at a meeting to raise funds for the yeshivos in Poland, and the Chafetz Chaim, who was by then an elderly man, was also present. A man came into the meeting and approached the Chafetz Chaim. His wife was in labor, and he wanted to receive a blessing from the great sage on her behalf. “We are now talking about raising money for yeshivos,” the Chafetz Chaim told the man. “Why don’t you make a donation, and this should be a merit for your wife?”


A half-hour later, the man came back and told the Chafetz Chaim that there were complications, and the situation is serious.


“The Mishnah teaches that there are three reasons why women do not survive childbirth,” the Chafet Chaim told the man. “They are because of negligence regarding the mitzvos of challah, family purity, and Shabbos candlelighting. Nowadays, the mitzvah of challah outside the Land of Israel is not required on the level of Torah obligation; it is required only by the enactment of the Sages. Family purity is something that people are very careful to observe. But the third mitzvah — Shabbos — is an area regarding which many people are not as careful as they should be. Many people are unaware of the many halachic details of Shabbos, and thus unknowingly violate the laws. For example, if a person gets a small stain on his shirt and rubs it off, this could constitute a Torah violation. If your wife is experiencing difficulty during childbirth, it could be this is because of laxity in this third area.”


The man accepted the sage’s words, and said that he would commit himself to studying the laws of Shabbos so he and his wife can observe Shabbos properly henceforth.


“This is a time of danger,” the Chafetz Chaim added. “Your wife’s life is at risk, and committing yourself to learn in the future might not be enough of a merit.” He turned to Rabbi Kalmanowitz, who was standing next to him, and recalled that recently they — the Chafetz Chaim and Rabbi Kalmanowitz — had gone together to a nearby town to speak to the barber, who had been closing his shop on Friday evening after the onset of Shabbos. Friday was a busy time in his shop, and he succumbed to the temptation of making extra money by leaving his shop open into the evening hours.


The Chafetz Chaim and Rabbi Kalmanowitz succeeded in persuading the barber to close his shop before the onset of Shabbos. “You have great merit for accomplishing this,” the Chafetz Chaim told Rabbi Kalmanowitz. “You have the merit of Shabbos observance. I want you to make a legal transaction — with a handkerchief — to transfer that merit to this man’s wife, and this will help her during childbirth.”


“But I was not the only one there,” Rabbi Kalmanowitz said. “Maybe you should give your merit.” “I’m already an old man,” the Chafetz Chaim said. “I need my merits for myself. But you are still young and have many opportunities ahead of you.” Rabbi Kalmanowitz agreed, and he and the man made a kinyan — a formal legal acquisition — transferring Rabbi Kalmanowitz’s merit of Shabbos to the man.


Soon thereafter, the man returned and jubilantly reported that his wife had delivered a healthy baby boy. He asked the Chafetz Chaim if he could serve as sandak at the bris. The Chafetz Chaim refused, insisting that Rabbi Kalmanowitz should be given this honor, as it was through the transfer of his merit that the delivery was successful.


After this incident, Rabbi Kalmanowitz was bothered by a question. At the time this occurred, his wife was also sick. He gave his great merit of Shabbos to a complete stranger at a time when his wife desperately needed merits. Why, he wondered, did the Chafetz Chaim urge him to transfer his merit to this stranger, instead of keeping them for his own wife?


Rabbi Kalmanowitz went to Vilna and proceeded directly to the home of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky to resolve this. He told Rabbi Chaim Ozer what had happened at the meeting with the Chafetz Chaim. Rabbi Chaim Ozer replied that two things amazed him. First, he was amazed by how real the Chafetz Chaim’s perception of the merit of Shabbos was. For the Chafetz Chaim, this merit was a real, tangible asset that could be legally transacted.


Secondly, Rabbi Chaim Ozer said, this incident made it clear to him just how brilliant a man the Chafetz Chaim was. He could have told Rabbi Avraham to keep his merits for the sake of his wife. Instead, he did something better. By giving his merits to a stranger, he earned even greater merit. Handing over his merit to someone he did not know was a great act of selfless kindness, and in this way he earned immense merit through which his wife could be saved. And thus the Chafetz Chaim managed to find the merits to save the wives of both men.


The merit of Shabbos observance is something real. It is an invaluable asset. Once we recognize the immense value and importance of Shabbos, we will recognize the value and importance of preparing for it extensively and having it on our minds all week long.



Reproduced from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton

ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.