Friday, January 25, 2008

The Sanctity of Shabbos

When the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, stayed in Riga during the winter of 5672 (1912), he was appalled to find that many Jews there were desecrating the Shabbos publicly. Storekeepers would keep their businesses open into Shabbos, and this had been going on for years in the town. Riga’s market was full of Jewish stores that were open for business as usual on Shabbos!

The Chofetz Chaim convened an emergency meeting of all the shomrei Shabbos of the city to come up with some plan of action to change the situation. After long and intense debate, the only practical solution that seemed viable was the gadol’s suggestion: on that very Friday, the shomrei Shabbos were to form small groups and go to all of the Shabbos-desecrating stores near candle-lighting time. They were not, under any circumstances, to argue or debate or even to raise their voices. They were only told to gently remind the shopkeeper: “Now is the time to close because it’s Shabbos.” After this, they were to move on to another store and repeat their reminder.

The Chofetz Chaim stressed that the only way they could be successful was through peaceful action. And the dividends of this simple suggestion were astronomical—almost every store closed. A city that had once been a den of chilul Shabbos was transformed through the simple advice of the gadol. The simple reminder of the sanctity of Shabbos!

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