David Bruce: Sabbath Anecdotes

• Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an Orthodox Jew, and he never traveled by automobile on the Sabbath. Once, he was late for a Sabbath “happening” at a temple in Los Angeles. Night was falling, and he told the group he was traveling with that he had to get out and start walking because the Sabbath was starting. He and his group pulled their two cars over, got out, and started what turned out to be a 27-mile walk to the temple. News of their walk traveled quickly — a deejay called the Night Owl even interviewed Rabbi Shlomo and broadcast the interview during the walk — and several people joined them. At 4:30 a.m., they arrived at the temple. Rabbi Shlomo prayed, held the Friday night service, told stories, and taught Torah, and finally at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, he and his group sat down to the Sabbath meal. A person who was there said later, “For as long as I live, I will never forget that Shabboswith Shlomo Carlebach. Everyone who did that walk was transformed. We were a bunch of kids who didn’t know anything about Shabbosuntil we took that walk, and this is how he taught us. After witnessing Shlomo Carlebach keeping Shabboswith such passion, devotion, and fervor … how could you not keep Shabbosafter that?”

• Rabbi Israel Salanter was once asked to eat the Sabbath meal with a former student. The student let Rabbi Salanter know that in between courses of the Sabbath meal, the participants engaged in Torah and Talmud discussions and sang Sabbath songs. Rabbi Salanter agreed to eat the Sabbath meal with the former student — but only on the condition that it be shorter than usual. The former student was surprised by the condition, but agreed to it. At the end of the Sabbath meal, the former student asked Rabbi Salanter why he had made the condition. The good Rabbi replied, “I’ll show you.” He then called the servant who had served the meal and apologized for making her work so much faster than usual. The woman smiled and replied, “On the contrary, I’m grateful to you. Friday night meals usually end very late, and I’m exhausted from the whole week’s work. Tonight, I’ll be able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.”

• The Rabbi of Vilna, R’ Yechezkal Faivel, became concerned when the price of fish rose so high that many Jews were unable to afford to buy it for the Sabbath. Therefore, he summoned the fishermen and warned them that unless they lowered the price, he would forbid the eating of fish. The fishermen ignored the warning and kept selling fish at high prices. True to his word, R’ Yechezkal Faivel forbade anyone to eat fish. The fishermen lost money and came to R’ Yechezkal Faivel to ask him to lift the ban against eating fish, but he refused. As the fishermen left him, R’ Yechezkal Faivel told them, “I want you to know that the prohibition against using fish applies to you as well. You and your families may not eat fish either.”

• Elijah, the Gaon of Wilna, was an outstanding rabbi. Once he urged a Jew of his community to undertake a journey on behalf of some fellow Jews who were facing persecution by the government. The Jew’s mission was a success, and he saved many Jews from persecution, but because of his mission he was unable to properly observe the Sabbath. Feeling guilty, he asked Rabbi Elijah what he should do for repentance. Rabbi Elijah told him, “Let’s make an exchange. I will give you the reward of a Sabbath that I properly observed if you will give me the reward of the Sabbath that you did not properly observe.”

• A poor Jew went to R’ Zvi Yaakov Oppenheim to ask if it were permitted for him to keep his shop open on the Sabbath and hire a non-Jew to work on that day for him. R’ Zvi Yaakov immediately replied that this practice was forbidden. The poor Jew then asked why the richest Jew in town engaged in this practice. R’ Zvi Yaakov replied, “He is very wealthy and has this world. He has decided that he will do without the World to Come. You, however, are a poor man, and don’t even have this world. Do you then want to lose the World to Come as well?”

• British actress Constance Benson (1860-1946) sometimes toured in Scotland, whose inhabitants took the Sabbath seriously. For example, when she checked into a rooming house on the Sabbath, she was locked in her room and warned not to raise the blinds, as the landlady didn’t want her neighbors to know that a “low play-actress” was staying in her house. Ms. Benson writes that the piano was locked up on the Sabbath, but “there was generally a cheerful aroma of whiskey about the house.”

• An emperor once asked Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah why Jewish food tasted so good on the Sabbath. Rabbi Joshua replied that the food tasted so good because the Jews used a special spice. When the emperor asked for some of the special spice, Rabbi Joshua answered, “This spice is available only to those who observe the day of rest, for the spice is the Sabbath itself.”

• According to an ancient Jewish tradition, a blessing must be chanted when the Sabbath candles are lit. A business woman was scrupulous about chanting the blessing, but one Friday she found that she would be unable to return home in time to observe the tradition. So the business woman called home and had her maid light the Sabbath candles, then hold the telephone receiver near the candles so she could chant the blessing.

• When her father died when she was 13, Alicia Marks took over for him. Among other things, such as making a living for the family through her dancing, she performed the male role at the ritual each Sabbath. (The Marks family was Jewish.) Alicia Marks was renamed Alicia Markova when she joined the dance troupe of Sergei Diaghilev.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore: Retellings of Classic Literature, Anecdote Collections, Discussion Guides for Teachers of Literature, Collections of Good Deed Accounts, etc. Some eBooks are free.

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