by Rabbi Shimon Mordechai Cohen
What is just about the worst sin that a Jew can commit? Avodah Zarah, or idol worship. To ignore our ever-present Creator and worship any other spiritual force, real (e.g. angels) or imagined, is an unforgivable affront.
As Jews, Hashem is more than our Creator (as if that was not enough.) There is a deep bond of love between us, stretching back to the Avos, the Exodus and Sinai. It is as if Hashem is the husband, and we are His wife. Ramban explains that the sin of idolatry breaches this relationship like no other sin can.
In that case, if there is a mitzvah whose performance is capable of wiping away the sin of idolatry, you know you’re on to a pretty big one. That is precisely what the Sages say about Shabbas. “One who keeps Shabbas like the Halacha – even if he worships idols like the generation of Enosh, he is forgiven.” (Shabbas 118b.)
Even an arch-idol worshipper who keeps Shabbas according to its laws must be heading away from sin
Enosh was the grandson of Adam and Chavah, and the people in his time invented the idea of idol worship. So we’re talking about someone who is so far into idolatry that he could have been the one to start off the whole idea – and that’s a very, very bad thing to do. And this guy, without even a second thought about what he’s doing, just has to keep Shabbas according to its laws – granted, that can be complex – and that’s all it takes for all to be forgiven! Where’s the justice in that?
Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Beis Yosef, addresses this question. His answer reveals the true beauty of Shabbas. Writing in the beginning of the laws of Shabbas, Beis Yosef says that Judaism stands on three major principles:
Keeping Shabbas is not some kind of backdoor way of getting away with sin. On the contrary, says the Beis Yosef, even an arch-idol worshipper who keeps Shabbas according to its laws must be heading away from sin. He has acknowledged the Principles of Faith, which leave no room for the kind of nonsense he’s been involved in. It’s just a matter of time till he mends his ways. Hashem judges according to the direction you’re going in. Keep Shabbas. It’s the signpost that points the way back to Hashem.
Rabbi Shimon Mordechai Cohen is a graduate of Gateshead Yeshiva and Kollel Zichron Shaul, Gateshead. He is the author of The Majesty of Rosh HaShanah (Mosaica Press) and a regular contributor of Torah articles to the London Jewish Tribune.