It was November, 1977. Relations between Israel and Egypt were tense, but promising. Egyptian President, Anwar Sadat (a Muslim), was prepared to make a historic visit to Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was elated, but not willing to roll out the red carpet at just any time.
"What time does Shabbat end?" asked Begin, in an impatient voice. His aide flipped through his pocket calendar and said, "This coming Shabbat, November nineteenth, it ends at five twelve."
The prime minister's face became sunny. "So, that's fine ... You can tell your Cairo Embassy to tell the Egyptians eight o'clock is perfectly in order. It will give us enough time to prepare everything for President Sadat's arrival without our desecrating the Sabbath."
I was reading The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative Of Israeli Leadership yesterday when I came across this incident. Fascinating! Despite the unprecedented nature of the visit, the Israeli Prime Minister was not willing to compromise the Word of God. The nation would rest.
A week after the Sadat visit, Begin addressed the Knesset to summarize the visit and explain why the hour of eight o'clock was chosen as the time to land:
President Sadat indicated he wished to come to us on Saturday evening. I decided that an appropriate hour would be eight o'clock, well after the termination of the Shabbat. I decided on this hour in order that there would be no Shabbat desecration. Also, I wanted the whole world to know that ours is a Jewish State which honors the Sabbath day. I read again those eternal biblical verses: "Honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy," and was again deeply moved by their meaning. These words echo one of the most sanctified ideas in the history of mankind, and they remind us that once upon a time we were all slaves in Egypt. Mr. Speaker: We respect the Muslim day of rest -- Friday. We respect the Christian day of rest -- Sunday. We ask all nations to respect our day of rest – Shabbat. They will do so only if we respect it ourselves.
If world politics came to a screeching halt in order to obey God and to honor the Sabbath, cannot my world stop too? Why am I so quick to excuse my frantic and frenetic pace: "I'm sorry God, but I really have so much to do that I must carry on!"
What am I saying but, "God you are not big enough to handle my load." One premise of Sabbath rest is that God can do more in six days than I can do in seven. That is true, but I can't watch God do his work if I won't get out of the way.
If the Middle East peace process can stop for Shabbat, your life can slow down too. Shut it down this Sunday. Enjoy God's gift of rest.
- "What time does Shabbat end? ..." from The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner. New Milford, CT: The Toby Press LLC. 2010. Page 457.
- "President Sadat indicated he ..." from The Prime Ministers, page 471.