There was a demonstration, today, in Toronto against Israel's actions in Gaza. I not only heard about it on the news tonight but I actually received an email, on Thursday, about such a demonstration being planned. This email, in response to this proposed demonstration, called upon Jews to counter-demonstrate -- yes, in downtown Toronto, at 2pm Saturday. Yes, I was being asked to join the counter-demonstration on Shabbat!
Many questions went through my mind. Was this counter-demonstrating actually assur, prohibited, specifically, on Shabbat? If it was a direct violation of Shabbat, was there any argument for a heter based on the circumstances? Even if it was not a direct violation, this demonstration was far away from the Jewish neighbourhoods in Toronto -- should one trek so far to counter-demonstrate? Was it in the spirit of Shabbat? What really hit me, though, were not the technical questions concerning Shabbat but what was being presented about the nature of this conflict. Is this fight just another nationalistic battle between two entities, each wanting nationalistic dominion, or does this fight have a dimension beyond that, of moral, ethical and Divine proportions? This call for a strong presence at this counter-demonstration seemed to come from someone with strong nationalistic feelings for Israel and for Jews -- but there wa something missing in not recognizing the significance of Shabbat within this scenario. Caring for Israel and for Jews is, of course, very important -- but it is not enough. There is a reason for the significance of the Jewish People and, by extension, a Jewish land -- and that is marked by Shabbat. Would a counter-demonstration be so significant that it would be worth the price of not properly marking Shabbat?
Of course, we are not to rely upon a miracle and are to act pursuant to derech hateva, the ways of reality. Of course, in regard to a military issue, one must act as necessary -- and if this counter-demonstration actually would make a difference in regard to Jewish lives, it would be mandatory to attend, not just possibly permissible to attend on Shabbat. The question for me, though, actually concerned what should be the focus of our Jewish fervour. I doubt that attendance at this counter-demonstration would actually make a signficant difference in what will be -- but the ones who wanted to have a successful counter-demonstration still felt it important. It, most likely, was important to them for the image of the Jewish people was under attack -- and they did not want that verbal attacks against Israel to go unanswered. This is, to a large extent, admirable. Yet on Shabbat itself something else it at stake -- what Jewishness is really all about. We cannot let the nationalistic fervour that makes us act on behalf of Israel like all strong nationalists act on behalf of their nation allow us to lose sight of the specialness of Israel and Jewishness. Just keeping Shabbat was, thus, in my opinion, more important.
Rabbi Ben Hecht