The Gemara acknowledges that Avraham observed the entire Torah, not only the Written Law but the Oral Law as well, as it states: "Avraham listened to my voice and kept my charges, my commandments, my statutes and my laws ( toros)." " Toros," plural, refers to Torah Shebikesav, the Written Law, and Torah Shebaal Peh, the Oral Law.
Avraham's observance raises all kinds of questions regarding his status. Although he is the father of the Jewish people, the first Patriarch, Avraham was not a Jew technically, since the Jewish nation first came into existence centuries later at Sinai.
How are we to understand the spiritual status of our forefathers? Were the Patriarchs and their descendents expected to live lives based on Torah principles, or were they restricted only by the sheva mitzvos benei Noach, the seven Noahide laws?
Furthermore, the Gemara rules that it is a capital crime for a non-Jew to observe the Shabbos. For this reason, candidates for conversion to Judaism, who are taught the mitzvos and begin to observe them, are nevertheless careful to turn on a light on Shabbos or to violate the Shabbos in some other way until they are actually converted.
This being so, how could generations prior to mattan Torah observe the Shabbos, when they were not considered Jewish?
This principle also presents a practical problem, which was posed to Rav Soloveitchik, zt"l. Each year a number of babies are, Rachmana litzlon, abandoned and left as wards of the state. In which religion are they to be raised?
The Rav maintained that children found in Jewish neighborhoods should be considered Jews, and children found in non-Jewish neighborhoods should be considered non-Jews.
But what of children who are found in neighborhoods where Jews and non-Jews live side by side? The Rav argued that the restrictions of both Jew and non-Jew be placed upon the child.
Where, then, does that leave the child in relation to Shabbos? Does such a child observe Shabbos as a Jew, or, as a possible non-Jew, must he violate the Shabbos?
There are several ways around the problem. One solution, cited by the Binyan Tzion, is based on the fact that the non-Jews follow a solar schedule while the Jewish nation follows a lunar schedule. Thus, the Jewish Shabbos begins Friday night and ends Saturday night.
Non-Jews, who are tied to a solar calendar, can refrain from melachah on the Jewish Shabbos and still violate the seventh day -- their sevenths day -- by working on Saturday night.
The Minchas Chinuch offers another solution. The Torah gives certain measurements necessary in order for a violation of Shabbos to occur. For example, a Jew who cooks on Shabbos is only culpable if he cooked something the size of an olive or greater. Anything less is not considered cooking.
But the Rambam maintains that these measurements do not apply to non-Jews. Thus, a non-Jew who cooked even one grain of rice on Shabbos has violated it. Accordingly, one could desecrate the Shabbos as a non-Jew, while simultaneously upholding it as a Jew.
The special status of Shabbos prevents it from being celebrated by the rest of the world. Shabbos belongs solely to Am Yisrael, "a sign between [G-d] and the children of Israel."
Through our observance of Shabbos, our special tefillot on Shabbos, and our added opportunities to study Torah on Shabbos, we proclaim that special sign that separates our nation from the nations of the world.
Rabbi Leo Landman
Rabbi Landman is Rabbi of Congregation Talmud Torah of Flatbush, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Today Marks Ten Years in Captivity for Israeli Airman Captain Ron Arad.
Please Click Here To Sign a Petition for His Immediate Release.
OU Torah Insights 5757 Parasha Index
OU Torah Insights 5756 Parasha Index