This week’s Parsha discusses the story of the מקושש עצים, the person who gathered wood on Shabbos in the desert. Rashi comments that this is a degrading story to the Jewish people. The Ber Yosef asks why this is degrading to the Jewish people as they did everything possible to avoid desecrating Shabbos.
To the extent that, as the Sifri explains, Moshe Rabbeinu had placed guards throughout the camp to prevent the desecration of Shabbos. The one person who violated Shabbos was warned and then killed. Why is this incident degrading to the Jewish people?
The Ber Yosef writes that we are familiar with the idea that the first and second luchos had discrepancies. One of the more well-known of these is that in the first luchos, the pasuk reads זכור את יום השבת – remember the day of Shabbos, and in the second luchos the pasuk reads שמור את יום השבת – guard the day of Shabbos.
He explains that because of this, Shabbos is different from all other mitzvos. With regard to every mitzvah, a person who does not protest when witnessing someone committing a sin will be punished; however, the actual sin is only ascribed to the person who committed the sin. The individual who did not protest is punished only for the sin of not protesting. With regard to Shabbos, the Torah uses the word שמור – to guard, which is defined as guarding the Shabbos to ensure it is not desecrated, whether by the person who is actually violating Shabbos or by a witness to the violation. Just as in the situation of someone being given an object to protect, the guard would be responsible for the safety of the object in all circumstances, regardless of who damaged it. This explains the Mishna in Shabbos that describes the bull of Reb Elazar ben Azarya that went out with a strap on its horn, which is a violation of Shabbos. The Gemara explains that it was not actually his bull but, rather, his neighbor’s. Since he did not stop it, the Gemara refers to the bull as his. This is because with regard to Shabbos, we are commanded to guard it from all desecration.
This concept explains why one person’s desecrating Shabbos in the desert is considered degrading to the entire Jewish people. The Jewish people had a mitzvah to guard the Shabbos to ensure that it would not be desecrated. Violating Shabbos was not merely a sin for the individual who did it, but also for everyone who had the opportunity to stop him but didn’t.
Every Shabbos we each have the opportunity to stop Shabbos desecration. Not in the classic sense of physically stopping someone from desecrating Shabbos, but by demonstrating the value that Shabbos has in our lives and the opportunity it provides us to connect to our spiritual side. People would be shocked to know the staggering number of “frum” youth in our city who do not fully keep Shabbos. To address this issue, I believe the first approach is to ask ourselves if we demonstrate a true excitement to enjoy Shabbos for what it is supposed to be: a time to feed our soul, not our physical self. As long as we view Shabbos as nothing more than a day off from work that has some restrictions associated with it, we will continue to see young people who do not see the value of the day.
As we approach the summer months with more daytime hours of Shabbos, we should keep in mind that this is a day designated to connect to our spiritual self. By modeling ways to take advantage of this opportunity, we can influence others. Through our fully and joyfully engaging in Shabbos as a day for spiritual growth and connection, we hope to not only remember the Shabbos, but to guard it as well.