The Rewards for Abstaining From Commercial Activity on Shabbos
The Chafetz Chaim made continued efforts to persuade non-observant Jews to be Shomer Shabbos. Once, while the Chafetz Chaim was in the Russian city of Czernikov, he heard that a Jewish-owned factory stayed open on the holy Shabbos. The Chafetz Chaim visited the owner and spoke with him at length, pleading with him to put an end to his Shabbos desecration. But the man wouldn’t budge.
“I earn four thousand rubles a day,” he said. “Do you expect me to lose four thousand rubles every week?!”
“Listen to me,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “The Torah tells us, ‘Six days work shall be done, and on the seventh day there shall be holiness for you, a Shabbos of resting for G-d.’ The intent of this verse is to forbid Shabbos desecration. Why then does the Torah begin by telling us to work on the other six days? Obviously, the Torah is making a direct connection. If you observe the Shabbos you will be able to work the other six days. Otherwise, you will not.”
The man laughed scornfully. “Do you expect a verse in the Torah to bring my factory to a stop?”
The Chafetz Chaim saw he could not move the man, and with great sadness, he left.
A short while later, the Bolshevik Revolution swept over Russia, the factory was confiscated by the government and the Jewish owner just barely managed to escape with his family. He was left completely destitute. Belatedly coming to his senses, he wrote to the Chafetz Chaim, “Now I see that your words were true. A verse in the Torah could indeed bring my factory to a stop!”
We know that Hashem’s measure of good is much greater than His measure of affliction (Avos d’Rav Nosson, Chapter 30). We have seen how a “pasuk” could bring a factory to a stop; it can likewise bring blessing and revitalize a business.
Baron Anshel Rothschild was a leading European banker who was also a proud Jew. Despite all the business dealings in which he was involved, he brought everything to a halt when Shabbos began, and spent Shabbos as if he had no commercial responsibilities at all. Once, there was a certain large financial institution that was on the verge of collapse and needed to be rescued. Baron Rothschild was regarded as the perfect candidate. The firm sent a telegram on Friday night offering to sell the institution to him for 2.5 million pounds sterling. Although this was far less than the company’s true value, it was still a significant price. Baron Rothschild never opened the telegram, which arrived on Shabbos, and the company’s director assumed that he ignored their message because the price was too steep.
On Shabbos morning, they sent another telegram offering him the company for 2.2 million, and then later, in desperation, they sent a third message offering the company for 1.7 million. This final message arrived on Motza’ei Shabbos, and Baron Rothschild sent back a message expressing his approval of this price. He publicized what occurred, in order to teach the vital lesson of the immense power of Shabbos observance, whose benefits we reap both in this world and the next.
Another story was told to me by Rabbi Shaul Semah, who learned in kollel in Lakewood for many years and then opened a retail furniture store in a shopping center not far from Lakewood, in order to support his family. Every week, Rabbi Semah closed his shop at 2 p.m. so he could return home and get ready for Shabbos. One Friday, at noon, a prosperous-looking, Middle Eastern man entered the store and inquired about the high-end merchandise — kitchen sets, bedroom sets, and so on. This fellow was a native of Saudi Arabia and had gone to school in Chicago. He married an American Christian woman, had two children, and was hired by Exxon.
After a couple of years, a number of fellow Saudis convinced him that he should return to his homeland and work from there. The idea appealed to him, but his wife would never agree to live in Saudi Arabia. The marriage was dissolved and he relocated, building a mansion in Saudi Arabia. He was now looking for furniture to fill his new residence.
At 2 p.m., Rabbi Semah told the man that he was closing the store, as his Sabbath would soon begin. “But I need more time to make decisions,” the man said. “I’m not going to rush into anything.”
“Look, it was nice meeting you, but I am true to my religion, and I need to close the store and return home.”
“But you’re going to lose my business if you do that,” the man said.
“So be it,” Rabbi Semah replied.
He closed the store, went home for Shabbos, and then returned on Sunday morning. To his surprise, he found the Saudi man waiting for him outside.
“I looked elsewhere,” he said, “but I was concerned that perhaps they won’t ship the precise merchandise I order. If you’re willing to close on Shabbos and lose lots of business, then I know you’re honest and can be trusted.” He placed an order for $150,000 worth of merchandise, and paid him $20,000 on the spot as a deposit.
When the time came to ship the container, the customer told Rabbi Semah that he would write the line of credit and the money would be transferred into his account as soon as the ship docks. Rabbi Semah explained that this wouldn’t work. “I am not a bank,” he explained, and requested that the payment be made before the goods are shipped.
“Ok, I trust you,” the customer said, and wired the money. The payment went into Rabbi Semah’s account even before the merchandise left the port.
By committing ourselves to observe Shabbos even when this entails financial sacrifice, we become worthy of great rewards. Although we do not always see the rewards immediately, stories such as these remind us that the rewards will come at some point, and our devotion to Shabbos will be repaid in full.
Reprinted from Living Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton with permission from Artscroll Mesorah.