Rabbi David Ozeri of Yad Yosef Torah Center told of a Jewish immigrant who came to the United States from Europe in the 1920s and refused to work on Shabbos. Each week, he informed his boss on Friday that he would not be coming to work on Saturday, and the boss warned him that, if he did not come in on Saturday, he should not come on Monday or ever again.
He would thus begin each week looking for a new job, and this is how he lived, until one point when several months passed without a job. The man was unable to pay his rent, and he and his family were evicted from their apartment.
As he, his wife and his children were leaving their dwelling, the building’s custodian saw them and felt bad for them. He told them that there was a coal room near the heating system in the basement where they could live until their situation improved. Having no other choice, the family moved into the coal room and lived there.
One day, the children were playing outside the building, with their faces covered with soot from the coal room. A wealthy Jewish man passed by, and when he saw them, he assumed they were African-American children, as their faces were black. But as he drew closer, he heard them speaking Yiddish, and was intrigued.
He began speaking to them, and they explained to him that they lived in the basement of the building. The man was curious, and asked the children to bring him inside. He spoke with the parents, who told him their story. The man was very moved, and pulled out his checkbook, asked the couple how much they needed to get set up in a new apartment, and wrote out a check.
But then the wife turned to the man and asked if he kept the mitzvos.
“Not really,” the man confessed.
“Are you shomer Shabbos?” she asked.
“I used to be,” the man said, “but after I came to this country and starting earning money, I gave up Shabbos.”
“Then I cannot take your money,” the woman said.
“What?” the man asked. “What do you mean?”
“We are sacrificing for the sake of Shabbos,” she explained. “We got ourselves into this situation because we refused to work on Shabbos. We will not take money from somebody who works on Shabbos.”
The man went home and told his wife what had transpired. She became very upset and said, “Remember, when we first married we, too, observed Shabbos. But then we became wealthy and gave it up. I want to keep Shabbos again. If you don’t go along, I am going to leave you.”
The man, realizing the wisdom of his wife’s words, agreed to again observe Shabbos. He returned to the couple, told them that he would now be keeping Shabbos, and not only gave them a check, but hired the husband to work in his business. The husband accepted and went on to become financially successful.
Years later, the grandchildren of these two couples ended up marrying one another. While he did not wish to give names, Rabbi Ozeri said that these people are now well-known supporters of Torah institutions.
This is a beautiful example of how Hashem rewards those who sacrifice for the sake of Shabbos observance, and gives them many times more than the amount they sacrificed.
Another story about the rewards for sacrificing for Shabbos is told by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in his book Around the Maggid’s Table. Rabbi Krohn heard the story from Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Emek Halachah.
During World War II, when Rabbi Tuvia was a yeshivah student in Russia, he and his classmates were forced by the Russians to work in a labor camp that manufactured ammunition for the Russian army.
At first, they did not have to work on Shabbos, but as the war intensified, they were forced to work seven days a week. One Shabbos, the field director ordered the boys to clear a certain wooded area. They needed to chop down trees and remove all branches and twigs. He said he would return in a few hours to check their progress.
After he left, the boys decided they would take a number of measures to avoid violating Torah prohibitions. For example, they would carry the branches and twigs in pairs of two, as one does not transgress the Torah prohibition of carrying on Shabbos by carrying with another person something that can be carried alone. This is absolutely forbidden, but it does not violate a severe Biblical prohibition.
Secondly, they decided they would carry the wood less than four amos (approximately 6-8 feet) at a time, which is also forbidden, but is not a Biblical violation. And so they did their work by carrying everything in pairs, and stopping every four feet.
Little did they know, the field director was observing them from a hiding place, and he thought they were playing games. That evening, after the boys had returned to their barracks and gone to sleep, the field director came, woke them up, and conducted a mock trial.
He brought in a judge, excoriated them for their conduct, and threatened to court-marshal the whole group. Just then, while this “trial” was being held, six Russian officers in uniform came to check the camp. This was very unusual, as inspections were never conducted at night.
The six officers observed the proceedings, and one of them appeared very somber as he looked on. He went to the judge, whispered something in his ear and received permission to take the boys aside.
When he was alone with them, he spoke to them in Yiddish. He told them to sit, and then wished them a gutte voch, a good week. “I am Jewish,” he said, “and I became a Communist. My mother died several years ago, and on her deathbed she begged me to promise that even though I was a Communist, I would do something to help religious Jews. She said that she would die in peace knowing that I made this promise, and I agreed. We never visit the labor camps at night. We are here only because our car broke down nearby. If it happened that I arrived here at this time, I should fulfill my promise to my mother and help you.”
He then asked the boys where they had been learning, and they told him they had studied under Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz from Slutzk.
The officer had relatives in Slutzk, and so he spoke to them about the town. He then went to the field director and convinced him that they were very loyal laborers and should be treated well. He also noted that while other laborers received 800 grams of bread a day, these boys were receiving only 400 grams, and the field director agreed to double their rations.
In reward for the boys’ sacrifice for Shabbos, Hashem arranged that this officer’s car would break down and he would remember the promise he had made to his mother. And just as Bnei Yisrael received a double portion of manna before Shabbos, these boys’ portions were doubled in reward for their devotion to Shabbos.
These two stories underscore the immense value of Shabbos observance, and how even when we make great sacrifices for Shabbos, we are only gaining, and not losing anything.
Reprinted from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton with permission from Artscroll Mesorah.