Israeli journalist, Sivan Rahav-Meir recently wrote about a group of Israeli teenagers who were finalists in an international competition of robotics in Houston, Texas. Their team consisted of students from the Amit High School in Modi’in and had succeeded in reaching the final stage of the competition which was held on Shabbat.
They wrote a letter in which they explained that they observed Shabbat and were not willing to compromise their values for the sake of the competition. In their unmanned booth, they left Shabbat candles, challah, a Kiddush cup, and an Israeli flag, together with a short explanation of what the holy day of Shabbat is all about.
The announcer at the competition read their letter in front of all the other competitors and then something amazing happened. Students from all over the world stood up and applauded. The announcer then said the following: “Thank you for the reminder that there are other things outside the world of robotics that are also important.”
Another report: ESPN recently featured a documentary on Oliver Ferber, a 16-year-old junior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland who had chosen to stand on the sidelines of Maryland’s cross-country state championship meet.
It was not because Oliver was not an injury that prevented him from running, rather, it was because the event was being held on Shabbos that he opted to abstain from the gruel of running, which was not in the spirit of the laws of Shabbos. He stated, “The joy and pleasure of winning a state championship wouldn’t change the fact that running hard is difficult and painful.”
Oliver was raised in a family whose religious observance was more cultural than ritualized. That changed for Oliver in 2020. During the early days of the pandemic, Oliver found himself gravitating more and more toward his Judaism. He began praying more. He began connecting with other Jews who were more observant through youth groups. He began taking a stricter approach to the holiness of Shabbat.
While Oliver’s loved ones might have been a little confused by his change in religious rigor, they largely accommodated him.
By the time the 2021 season approached, Oliver couldn’t stop thinking about the state championship race, which had always been held on a Saturday morning. This stood in conflict with him being a Shomer Shabbos.
When Oliver told his teammates that he was not running, he saw shock and hurt in their faces.
On the day of the race, Oliver walked to the course from his grandparents’ house, where he’d stayed the night before because it was close by.
When his teammates at JDS pulled an upset and won a state title by three points, he clapped and smiled as his teammates jumped and celebrated together. He didn’t leap in with them; he couldn’t. They competed and he did not, so he just stood to the side, alone.
After the race, Oliver thought about running his senior season, but assumed nothing would be different.
Oliver’s coach, who had tried over the years to get the race moved from Shabbat but was never successful,
encouraged Oliver to write a letter to Greg Dunston, the director of the state championship race, and Oliver did. Oliver sent the note having little expectation of producing results. Only it did! Mr. Dunston responded that the state championship race would be now held on a Sunday.
On the morning of Nov. 13, 2022, Oliver ran with his teammates and JDS won the state title. The scene from a year earlier played out again. They all celebrated, except this time Oliver was at the heart of it!
ESPN ran this story for it is most impressive when a star stands up for his beliefs.
The first of this week’s two portions features the following verse, “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live – I am G-d.” Rashi quotes the Medrash that focuses on the words V’Chai Bahem – he shall live. Well, one does not live forever. So it therefore means that when one fulfills G-d’s will, his soul will merit to live on forever in the World to Come – Olam Habah.
Interestingly, the Vilna Goan explains the reward of, he shall live is actually in this world. This begs the question, how does the Vilna Goan reconcile his interpretation with Rashi’s reasoning that one does not live forever?
My father in his Sefer – the book he authored – explains as follows: When one honestly contemplates the purpose of life, he will realize that while all the attractions, interests, accumulations and pursuits are pleasurable during their duration, at the end of one’s life, his wealth and his acquisitions do not physically accompany him in his final resting place.
The Torah tells us that a Jew truly lives during his lifetime when he observes G-d’s decrees and laws. Making a living and spending by integrating it with the precepts of G-d’s laws, is living a true, meaningful and purposeful life. Yes, one does not live forever, however a life based on a Torah model gives the person the ultimate life and of course it translates into accumulating the spiritual merits to live forever in the World to Come.
Finally, my father quotes the Chidushai Harim o.b.m. who homiletically explains V’Chai Behem – he shall live with them, refers to the type of attitude a person has when doing a Mitzvah. The greatest benefit one has is when the Mitzvah he performs is infused with life – enthusiasm, excitement and spirit!