Prof. Israel Aumann after announcement of Nobel Prize in Economics (Image credit: Moshe Milner/Government Press Office of Israel)
They came to his door.
The notables in the picturesque New England town came to his door, but he wasn't available. An honor guard including the mayor and chief of police came to invite and escort the town rabbi to take part in the town's annual Memorial Day Parade. It was certainly intended as a demonstration of respect to invite him. There was nothing to think about.
The Rabbi would not participate. When I asked the Rabbi, my dear Uncle Chaim, why couldn't he walk in the parade, he didn't answer me. He knew that I would not understand. It took me many many years to discern the depths of his silence. What I thought then in my youth would be an obvious demonstration of showing respect for Shabbat, truly was not the highest expression.
Yocheved was a distinguished academic with impressive credentials. A Doctorate in Languages from one of the world’s most prestigious universities, a Certified Psychologist (and rebbetzin of a prominent rabbinical dynasty). Among her accomplishments was a compensation program granted to children who were traumatized by their treatment during the Holocaust, which was conducted based on her research and documentation.
She was scheduled to receive a coveted award for this endeavor. The presentation was scheduled to take place Friday morning in Vatican City, in Rome. There were several delays in scheduling the presentation and it was requested that she come Friday afternoon - Yocheved skipped the presentation. It was too close to Shabbat and she didn't go. The most impressive credentials before and after her name did not deflect her from connecting to what was most important for her. Shabbat came before it all.
Professor Israel Aumann was scheduled to receive his Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden. The presentation was scheduled for Shabbat afternoon, and of course he did not go. In a breach of long standing protocol, the King of Sweden waited for Professor Aumann and made the presentation to him Saturday night after Shabbat. There are no words to describe the admiration and awe that enveloped the King of Sweden’s face as he enveloped Prof. Aumann’s hands in his own when he congratulated him. The wordless penetrating visage of the king as he stared deeply into Prof. Aumann’s face broadcasted his admiration of this man who he knew was truly the royal.
The mayor, the chief, the dignitaries, and the king all waited for these precious accomplished personalities who refused to chip away even an imperceptible, negligible sliver of Shabbat. Their egos were no match for the purity of their souls. They were loyal shomrim (guards) who stood guard for Shabbat. May our portion be with them.
Shabbat is not just about time. It encompasses a large essential component of space. When you need to space out - you do not have to travel miles to a distant location for an expensive impressive holiday. You can travel upwards every week and launch into a sacred space unencumbered by the race of chasing one’s tail. You don't need an expensive ticket that will put a nice dent on your credit card. Just an open mindset that is amenable to traversing new horizons and dimensions. You don't have to climb an actual mountain to get a taste of the elevating dimension of Shabbat - just beam up your soul without having to move even one step.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, previously appeared in Saltsman, Rosally & Meyerson, Robin (eds.), Celebrating Shabbos, 2017.