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The Severity Of Transgressing Shabbat In Public

The Gemara in Eruvin (69) discusses the status of a Mumar Le'chilul Shabbat, a person who knowingly violates the Shabbat, and records one view that likens Shabbat desecration to Avoda Zara (idolatry). Meaning, violating Shabbat is tantamount to the complete abandonment of the religion. The obvious question arises, why should this be the case? Why should the violation of Shabbat be treated with the same severity as Avoda Zara – a complete rejection of the Jewish faith?

The Chafetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, Poland, 1839-1933) suggested an explanation by way of an analogy to a shopkeeper who leaves on vacation and leaves a sign on the door informing his customers that he has left temporarily. People seeing this sign will realize that the store has not gone out of business, and is rather closed for a brief period. But when people come to the store and find it closed without any sign on the door, they will know that the store has gone out of business and will not reopen.

Shabbat observance, the Chafetz Chayim explained, functions very similarly to the shopkeeper's sign. The Torah describes Shabbat as "an eternal sign" that the Almighty created the earth in six days and ceased His work of creation on the seventh. A Jew's observance of Shabbat serves as a sign that he is still "in business," that he is within the fold. Even if he might temporarily "leave," when he does not observe the Mitzvot as he should, his Shabbat observance expresses the fact that he still remains loyal to the covenant with G-d. But desecrating Shabbat is tantamount to removing the sign, it signifies that the individual has "gone out of business," has left the faith, and not merely "gone on vacation." This transgression, therefore, is understandably equated with idolatry.

This notion should drive us to reinforce our commitment to the study of the laws of Shabbat. Without the knowledge of these laws, one is very likely to transgress Shabbat, albeit unknowingly. Realizing the unique importance of this Mitzva, its function as a "sign" of our overall devotion, we must ensure to familiarize ourselves with the intricate laws of Shabbat so that we can observe them meticulously, down to the very last detail.