Afew days before this year’s Shabbos Project I participated in a Skype interview conducted by Ynet one of Israel’s largest news websites. With me in the interview was the famous Israeli singer Shlomi Shabat who is a widely admired celebrity in Israeli society. He joined me in the interview because he was due to play at the Shabbos Project Havdalah concert in Paris and the interviewer asked him why he wanted to be part of the project given that he is not known as dati.
Shlomi answered that Shabbos was very important to him and to the Jewish People and that he therefore felt an emotional connection to the project. The interviewer wasn’t satisfied and probed further asking him a very pointed question: Would he sing in a concert on Shabbat? When she posed this question I was worried that Shlomi would answer that despite his proclamation of the centrality of Shabbos to the Jewish People he would perform on Shabbat given how important Friday night concerts are to the music industry. Thankfully my concern proved unfounded when Shlomi answered that as a matter of principle he would never perform on Shabbat.
At that moment I realized once again the power of Shabbos to connect all of Am Yisrael. We can never underestimate that. And that is what the Shabbos Project has shown. The full extent of what this means became apparent to me when I received an email from Faisal Benkhald a Jew who lives inKarachiPakistan saying that he intends to join the Shabbos Project together with the rest of the world. I felt such awe and respect for Faisal’s bravery and determination in keeping Shabbos in a very hostile environment that I decided to call him. He told me that he had heard about the project on Twitter and that he would be keeping the Shabbos completely on his own.
Here is a Jew living deep inPakistan without a Jewish community and deciding to connect to Shabbos after hearing about it on Twitter.
I received another e-mail from Daniel a doctor who lives in a remote Swedish village called Kopparberg where no other Jews live. He said that when he got home after his shift and brought in Shabbos “It felt like having Shabbat with a very big family!”
After the first international Shabbos Project I received an e-mail from a Jew named Abir Schweizer inConwayArkansas saying that his family were the only Jews in the city keeping Shabbat but that they did not feel alone because when you are keeping Shabbos you are never alone in the world. Shabbos has the power and the spiritual energy to connect Jews no matter where they are.
This also explains another remarkable experience in the great journey that has been the Shabbos Project. A few months ago I met some of the heads of personnel in the IDF to discuss the army’s involvement in the Shabbos Project. After months of deliberation ten days before the Shabbos Project I received communication from the IDF saying that they would happily join the Shabbos Project.
What this meant in practice was that an order was given to all of the base commanders across Israel that over Shabbos Parshas Lech Lecha the week of the Shabbos Project they would discuss with their troops the importance of Shabbos the importance of Jewish unity and how the Shabbos Project is bringing together Jews around the world in a spirit of unity to celebrate our common heritage. They also agreed to be part of the communication campaign with Jews around the world wishing Shabbat Shalom from the IDF to Jews in different communities and receiving Shabbos greetings in return.
And so the Shabbos Project has assembled a most remarkable coalition of Jews in 1152 cities spanning 94 countries and ten languages. We have been working with more than 70000 volunteers around the world. What holds this vast coalition together? What connects a lone Jew inPakistan another inSweden a family inConway Arkansas the IDF and a celebrity singer inIsraelwith Jews inNew York Melbourne Moscow andParis? The answer in one word is: Shabbos.
Shabbos touches the very core of our being. It’s a part of who we are as Jews. When you say the word “Shabbos” to a Jew it awakens his or her very deepest emotional and spiritual essence. We can never underestimate the power of Shabbos which is why the campaign message of the Shabbos Project has been “Shabbat can do that.” Shabbos has the power to change the world. It has the power to reach each and every Jew.
The Gemara says that all of Klal Yisrael keeping Shabbos has the power to bring redemption to the world. The Bavli says that two Shabbosos are required while the Yerushalmi says one Shabbos. Some learn that the Bavli means the two dimensions of one Shabbos. What practical steps do we learn from this Gemara? I don’t believe that our Sages are giving us a clue on how to bring Mashiach and instructing us do so through our own efforts. The Telshe rosh yeshivah Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch in Shiurei Daas says that matters of the Final Redemption are in the hands of Hashem alone. We cannot get involved in such things he explains.
Rather I think that our Sages are conveying to us that if we want to transform Klal Yisrael the way to do so is through Shabbos. Shabbos has the power of redemption. Redemption is the transformation of negativity into positivity the transformation of the world from a situation of pain and exile to one of joy and freedom. Our Sages are teaching us that Shabbos has the power to change our lives and to transform the emotional and physical state of Klal Yisrael. The Shabbos Project has shown this so graphically in such a grand way across the world. It has shown the true power of Shabbos.
Shabbos has been with Klal Yisrael since the dawn of our birth as a people. It is a mitzvah so important that it was present from the time of Creation and was given to us in the wilderness even before Matan Torah at Har Sinai. It has accompanied us on our journeys across the continents and throughout historical eras. It is a mitzvah that the Gemara describes as a gift from Hashem. And it is indeed a gift that has the power to ignite and connect Jews around the world. Let us grasp the power of the gift of Shabbos to change the Jewish world.
(Originally featured in MIshpacha Issue 637)
Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and founder of The Shabbos Project. In his 11 years in office he has launched and led a number of revolutionary initiatives that have changed the landscape of both his own community and indeed world Jewry. Locally these include The Bill of Responsibilities which has been adopted by the Department of Education in schools nationwide CAP a radical crime-fighting initiative proactively protecting more than 150 000 South Africans and Sinai Indaba perhaps the largest annual Torah convention of its kind in the world. Two of his local projects have been embraced and implemented by world Jewry: Generation Sinai a quarterly Torah learning experience between parents and children and more recently The Shabbos Project which has united Jews in over 900 cities through the keeping of one Shabbat together.
A qualified Dayan Rabbi Goldstein has published several books including Sefer Mishpat Tzedek Defending the Human Spirit and The Legacy. The Chief Rabbi has a PhD in human rights and constitutional law and is a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post.