Once there was an extremely wealthy man who lived quite close to his synagogue. Although he could have easily walked the short distance, he would choose to ride on his very expensive mount to the Beit Knesset, since he felt it befitted his distinguished stature. Someone pointed out to this man that it may be preferable to walk the distance. The wealthy man enjoyed riding to synagogue but he wanted to go the best way according to halachah, so he consulted with the Ben Ish Chai, zt”l.
“It is better to go on foot,” the Ben Ish Chai ruled. “We see this in Sotah 22. The gemara there recounts that a certain widow used to pray in Rav Yochanan’s beis medrash even though she lived closer to a different beis medrash. When Rav Yochanan asked her why she went out of her way to come to her shul, she replied, ‘I come here to receive reward for each step!’ This implies that the reward for going out of one’s way is only if one troubles himself to walk on his own two feet, not if one rides!
The Ben Ish Chai continued, “We see this in Chagigah as well. A small child is not obligated to be olah l’regel because he can’t walk to the Beis Hamikdash himself. Beis Hillel rule that a child is not obligated until he is old enough to hold his father’s hand and walk on his own two feet from Yerushalayim to Har Habayis. Although those who were very distant from Yerushalayim would surely ride, clearly one should walk as much as possible, as implied on Chagigah 3… For the above reasons, you should walk to synagogue on your own two feet, regardless of your honor and status!”
Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
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“Reward for Every Step”
Shulcham Aruch Siman 151 Seif 5
Although the vast majority of Christians worship on Sunday, it isn’t really a “Sabbath” in the Jewish sense of the term. We don’t really rest because of the “freedom of Christ.” Grace not only allows us to mow the lawn, shop for groceries, pay the bills, and watch the news on Sunday, it fairly demands that we do, in order to “prove” that we’re not “under the Law.” Saturday, for most Christians, has nothing to do with God. Neither does Friday night. There is no candle lighting just before sundown. There are no hymns or prayers sung to welcome God into our homes on this special, holy day. We do not allow ourselves to rest from the mundane chores of life while partaking of an extra portion of the holiness in the Almighty. The church acts as one body for maybe a couple of hours on Sunday morning, but that’s about it for most of us. Then it’s business as usual.
But we’re free, unlike those poor Jewish people who can’t do hardly anything from Friday night until Saturday night. Poor people who are under the Law.
I say all of this with a sense of irony of course, because I believe it’s not the Jews who should be pitied in this instance, but the Christians. We have allowed ourselves to be robbed of one day of peace out of seven, where we can actually permit ourselves to stop in our wild pursuit of the “rat race,” crawl out of our mazes, and actually enjoy the freedom of worshiping God, not only in church, but in our homes, on our streets, in our parks, anywhere we are. But we don’t do that because we are “free.” We don’t do that because only those people who are “enslaved” to the Torah allow themselves to be confined with God within the walls of His holiness for a full 24+ hours.
Oh how awful for them.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. According to the sages, a non-Jew is forbidden from observing the Shabbat in the manner of the Jews. Part of this has to do with something I read just last Shabbat.
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. –Exodus 20:8-11 (JPS Tanakh)
The Shabbat is considered a special commemoration of the deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt…something we non-Jews did not experience. It’s a special part of the Sinai covenant relationship between God and the Jews, even to this day. Yet, I “miss” it, not that I have ever fully been able to rest on the Shabbat. Even at my very best, there was always a number of ways I could have rested better. I rationalized my behavior saying that I had to drive to my place of worship, heat my coffee in the morning, edit the lesson I was going to teach, check my email in case someone needed some help with something right before services. It’s the diaspora, not Israel.
But then, I’m not Jewish, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
But I wonder. If resting and honoring God for a full day is good for Jews, why isn’t it good for Christians? If we are forbidden by the Rabbis from remembering and observing the Shabbat in a traditionally Jewish manner (not that most Christians acknowledge any authority of the Rabbinic sages over the life of a believer), can we not choose to still offer our rest and our worship in some manner or fashion? The Shabbat not only commemorates the freedom Jews enjoy from the bondage of Egypt, it acknowledges that God is Creator over all.
On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done. –Genesis 2:2-3 (JPS Tanakh)
It is said that a Jew who does not observe the Shabbat is denying God’s sovereign claim over Creation. But Creation exists for the Gentile and the Jew. The sun shines as much on us as it does them. The rain waters our fields as well as a Jew’s fields. The breeze cools both Jew and Gentile in the summer, and we both experience heat, and cold, and wind, and all the manifestations of Creation. The stars look just as beautiful to us, and the moon rises and sets for us, too. Can the Gentile not acknowledge Creator and Creation along with the Jew? Should not the Gentile also acknowledge Creator and Creation along with the Jew?
I’m not suggesting that Christians everywhere should suddenly start donning kippot and singing in Hebrew every Friday night as they light Shabbos candles, but I am suggesting that some sort of observance wouldn’t be out of line, either. Why were we in the church taught that it’s a bad thing to give honor to God because He created the Universe? I know the answer, of course. But the answer isn’t a valid one. In separating ourselves from Judaism early in the history of the church, we didn’t just hurt our Jewish mentors, ignore the Jewish Apostles, and dishonor our Jewish Jesus, we hurt and dishonored ourselves. The Jews rest on Shabbat and are free to honor God. We work, both on the Christian “Shabbat” and on the Jewish Shabbos and we call ourselves free. Then we work Monday through Friday as well. So who’s free and who’s a slave?
We’ve come to expect instant results. Perhaps the speed of today’s latest “on demand” technology or the abundance of resources in our global community have trained us to feel this way, but it’s become natural to assume that most problems will be solved within 24 hours or less. This expectation obviously leads to disappointments, and we’re forced to learn the art of patience even when the answers seem but a click away.
One of the laws in the construction of the Holy Temple’s altar is that the ascent to the top must be upon a ramp and not a staircase “so that your nakedness will not be revealed on it” (Exodus 20:23). Unlike a staircase, a ramp’s incline is small and gradual, forcing a more gentle ascent for the Temple priest.
Personal growth follows the same pattern. When we’re inspired to change, we might expect a decision to change to be instantly transformational. Taking leaps and bounds towards the new behavior, we seem like new men. Then the “nakedness” is “revealed,” the surprising reality that change is not overnight, and we’re often discouraged and revert to the old habits. Often the result is that we become more deeply entrenched in our destructive patterns.
Inspiration to grow, to ascend the altar, is what starts the engine, but when going forward — beware of your speed limit!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Watch Your Speed Limit”
Would it be such a bad thing for a Christian to slow down once a week and learn to really appreciate what God has done for us?