Dvar Torah by Mrs. Becky Avner – Rabbi Simes’ Sister

It’s not a coincidence that Yehuda ז”ל Yahrzeit (11 days in Shvat) falls on a שבת , שבת פרשת בשלח where the mitzvah of Shabbat first appears.
I remember Shabbatot at the Simes- both before and after the accident. Shabbat was always a very special time – preparation began on Thursday night – kids showered and clothes laid out for Shabbos, vegetables cut up for the chicken soup, cholent in the pot ready to go.
And Shabbat itself – with guests, and students stopping over in the afternoon, great food, homemade challah, special desserts. Even in the rehab-those Shabbatot were memorable. All the shabbos food and paraphernalia schlepped by Shaindel & crew to make very special Shabbatot in a place where Shabbat was unknown. And when Yehuda came home again – Shabbat was a major undertaking with his brachot for each and every child and his going to shul- where they removed the steps and lowered the bima making it accessible to Yehuda – all made Shabbat very special indeed.
One advantage in being a librarian is being able to see all the new books right off the press. I found the book by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks in Hebrew שיג ושיח – a translation of his book, Covenant and Conversation, which deals with his thoughts on the portions of the week. I opened it up to this week’s portion, פרשת בשלח , and found a wonderful piece about Shabbat. I’ll share with you some of his thoughts.
The first translation of the Bible into another language – Greek- was done in the 2nd century b.c. in Egypt. And is called תרגום השבעים – 70 scholars were put up to the task. They changed the text in a few places, in order to make it comprehendible to the Greeks. The Talmud in Ta’anit tells us that one of the changes made was to the verse: that we say in the davening on Shabbat and at Kiddush;

ויכל א-ם ביום השביעי מכל מלאכתו אשר עשה
They changed it to:: ויכל א-ם ביום השישי
Why the change? Why change the 7th day to the 6th? Simply, the Greeks didn’t understand how Shabbat could be a day of creation – G-d rested on that day! How could resting be considered creation? Well, it sounds logical, no? We see from the writings of Helenists from that period, that they ridicule and deride the Jews because they observed Shabbat. The Jews don’t work one day a week because they are lazy. The idea that the day of Shabbat has an internal value is incomprehensible to them.
A short time after, the Empire of Alexander the Great began to fall. This happens to cultures that have no day of rest in their schedule of things.
As Achad Haam once said (and I was surprised to see not chazal): יותר מששמרו ישראל את השבת, שמרה השבת על ישראל
(More than Israel kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept Israel)
Shabbat is one of the most important institutions that the world has known. It changed the idea of “time” for mankind. Man measured time by the sun – 365 days. Or by the moon- 30 day cycles. So, for the year or the month- they are based on nature. The week on the other hand, is not connected to natural causes. The week consisting of 7 days, was given to us by the Torah. And it became accepted by the Christians and the Moslems who just changed the day of rest. So, humanity has years because of the sun, months because of the moon and weeks because of the Jews. The Shabbat instigates in our lives a time that gives us true freedom. Freedom from pressure at work, free to be ourselves with those dear to us. This day of Shabbat had different implications in each generation. In the days of Moses,- it meant freedom from slavery, in the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century,- it meant freedom from long hours in the sweat shops, and in our days, it is freedom from email, smart phones, and from being available at all times. The spirit of man needs time to breathe, to grow.
Rabbi Sacks also talks about time management. The first rule in time management is to differentiate between things that are important and those things that are immediate. In times of stress, we put off the important things and deal with the immediate ones. Shabbat is the time that we see to the important things and not to the immediate ones – family, friends, community, experiencing holiness, prayer and thanks to Gd for all the good things in our lives.
And that is the strong message that Yehuda left for all of us- to look for and actively pursue the good things in our lives, especially when things look bleak, and to be thankful for them.
I would like to end with a personal note: a little more than 2 months ago, I was very moved to hear the name of our new grandson at his bris- Ori Yehuda. Shai, our son-in law, spoke beautifully about the strong impression Yehuda had made on him when Shaindel and Yehuda overcame insurmountable obstacles and actually made the trip to their wedding. His and our wishes for Ori Yehuda are for him to continue to spread the light that Yehuda brought into the world.
Shabbat Shalom


  1. Rabbi Baruch Lederman · · Reply

    This is a beautiful and quite appropriate Dvar Torah. You shared your thoughts in such a loving and personal way.

    Baruch Lederman

  2. Esther Hertz · · Reply

    Beautiful thoughts and another glimpse into the life of Rabbi Simes and his family.

    1. We now have 2 nephews named after Yehuda!

      1. Esther Hertz · ·


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