The following story was retold recently at a pidyon ha’ben by Rav Nissan Kaplan shlita, the well-known maggid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva, who was discussing the effect that kiddush Hashem has on a Jew, even a tiny baby. He recalled how on a recent trip to America during the summer, he was scheduled to return from Newark Airport on Thursday at 3:30 p.m., arriving Friday morning in Ben Gurion Airport at 7:00 a.m. It was the summer, and since sunset on Friday afternoon in Israel was at 7:15 p.m., he felt he had a reasonable amount of time to make it home before Shabbos.
Alas, things did not work out the way he hoped. The afternoon flight was delayed again and again, and it was unclear if the plane would depart at all. Finally, the airline announced that they were cleared for a final departure time from Newark at 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning with service arriving in Ben Gurion Airport at 6:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Rav Nissan was unconvinced. Since Shabbos was only 45 minutes later (and who knew if the flight would actually arrive by its scheduled arrival time), he couldn’t take a chance and felt he had no choice but to skip the flight. He was resolved to remain in America for Shabbos and book the next flight out after Shabbos. Those who were not Shabbos observers took the flight.
On the phone in the midst of his feverish arrangements, Rav Nissan saw a young lady approach him. When he got off the phone, she wished to ask the rabbi a question. She was running a group of 50 boys and girls from “Birthright” who were on this flight. (Birthright is an organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, aged 18-26. During their trip, participants, most of whom are not religious and visiting Israel for the first time, are encouraged to discover new meaning in their personal Jewish identity and connection to Jewish history and culture.) These young adults were not observant and had never kept Shabbos in their lives. They wouldn’t observe this one as well. They all wished to go on the flight even though the airline told them that they would arrive at 6:30 p.m. and it was unlikely they would make it to their hotel before candle-lighting. “What should we do?” asked the young lady. “Should we go on the flight or not?”
Rav Nissan asked that the entire group gather around him. When they all gathered, he introduced himself and announced, “I think we should take a vote. There is a great rabbi here in America named Rabbi Belsky. He is the Rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (the OU). He is very smart. Let’s call him and ask him your question and follow whatever he decides. But I’m only calling him if everyone is in agreement and votes to follow him.” Instantly, they took a vote and they unanimously agreed to follow Rabbi Belsky’s decision. Rav Nissan managed to get through and Rabbi Belsky told them not to go.
What happened then was incredible. The “Birthright” group was put up in a nearby Ramada Hotel, but they only agreed to go if the rabbi would accompany them for Shabbos. Rav Nissan agreed. He called a few of his students, who brought containers of food, wine, challah, and even a sefer Torah. They set up a makeshift synagogue, with a proper m’chitzah separating the boys and the girls. Friday night, Rav Nissan made a minyan and insisted that everyone be in attendance.
During davening, Rav Nissan spoke. He said, “When a person goes to another person’s house, he isn’t always sure if he’s welcome or not. He might come there and find the house locked. Even if it is unlocked, perhaps the other person doesn’t want to see him right then. But if he comes and someone is waiting for him outside, then he knows he’s welcome. My friends, Shabbos comes and sometimes the door is locked. Last week, for example, were you all waiting for Shabbos with open arms? Probably not. But if Shabbos comes and someone is waiting for her, she knows that she is welcome.”
Rav Nissan continued. “I don’t know if you will ever have another opportunity like this to tell Shabbos, ‘Not one hour, not two hours – but 24 hours (from Thursday) we waited for you and gave up a trip to Israel just for you!’ We are stuck in a place without any Jews around us, just to tell Shabbos, ‘We love you, Shabbos.’ Do you know how loved Shabbos feels this week? So maybe if Shabbos feels so loved by us, maybe we will try to keep the rules of Shabbos all together this week.”
What an amazing Shabbos it was. For the entire 24 hours, in the Ramada Hotel, there wasn’t the slightest chilul Shabbos from the entire group! Rav Nissan concluded, “This was a kiddush Hashem that just fell into my hands!”