The Shabbos Project, Miami .
(photo credit: PR)
‘It is not in the heavens… nor is it across the oceans... for rather this matter is very close to you.’
Yom Kippur is the most optimistic day of the year.
It is the day that Hashem declares His faith in us, in our ability and power to change, to improve and even achieve greatness. This optimistic faith is rooted in the fact that the calling to become better Jews is not beyond our reach; it is in fact a journey back to our true selves. At such a time of hope and promise we cannot feel intimidated or daunted by the challenge to realize the inspiring ideals of the Torah. These ideals are not too difficult for us and are not beyond our capability.
G-d Himself gives us direct words of encouragement when He says to us in His Torah (Deuteronomy 30:11-14): “For this commandment that I command you today is not hidden from you, nor is it far away. It is not in the heavens... nor is it across the oceans... for rather this matter is very close to you in your mouth and in your heart to do.”
There is no mitzva beyond us and nothing which we cannot attain. We often take refuge in the excuse that keeping the mitzvot is for the angels and a handful of dedicated souls, but not for everybody. But through these verses G-d is telling us something else. We are capable of achieving greatness. We are much stronger and more resourceful than we can ever imagine; and most important – the mitzvot are accessible, doable and close to our hearts.
It is this optimistic spirit that has been the driving force behind The Shabbat Project from its dramatic birth in South Africa last year. At the time it was first announced there were many voices of skepticism who said that to call on all Jews to keep one complete Shabbat together was asking too much, that it was beyond the reach of most and that it should rather begin with a much diluted form of Shabbat. And yet, the electric response from across the widest range of South African Jews defied all of the pessimistic voices, with its remarkable depth and breadth of support. This year’s International Shabbat Project has seen the wave of support continue throughout the world as momentum gathers in more than 350 cities in different parts of the globe, where people are actively working on bringing The Shabbat Project to their communities.
The message of The Shabbat Project is that Shabbat is not in the heavens and not across the oceans; it is not a mitzva beyond the reach of any Jew; it does not stretch into the strange and unknown but takes us back to whom we really are. The Shabbat Project is rooted in a deep and profound optimism and faith in the Jewish people, and in our deep and natural connection to our Torah heritage in general, and to the mitzva of Shabbat in particular. We always talk about faith in G-d, but He has faith in us, and so too do we need to have faith in ourselves.
And this applies also to our role and mission as the Jewish People. The optimistic verses of encouragement referred to above are preceded in the very same chapter by G-d’s promise of ultimate return and redemption: “You will take to heart among the nations where the L-rd your G-d has dispersed you there and you will return to the L-rd your G-d... and He will return and gather you from among the nations.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).
These words give us strength and faith in Jewish destiny.
We are living through momentous times. It can feel as if the mission and calling to be a Jew seems beyond the strength we have been granted, and as we peer into the future, there seem to be so many challenges, problems and threats gathering on the horizon. The State of Israel is surrounded by military and political enemies on all sides, and anti-Semitism continues to rise throughout the world. But Jewish destiny has been a journey of faith and optimism in the future of the Jewish people under G-d’s loving and watchful guidance. What greater act of optimism and faith could there be than to reestablish with G-d’s blessings Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel barely three years after the awful Holocaust? It is that spirit of faith and optimism in the future of the Jewish people that defines who we are.
And it is that spirit of faith and optimism that drives The Shabbat Project as it becomes an international movement that has captured the hearts and minds of Jews across the world. To fulfill our individual roles within the unfolding story of Jewish destiny, and to do our mitzvot are callings which can be answered with pride, confidence and optimism. No matter how far away we may drift, we are always close to G-d and His Torah, because “this matter is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do.”
And so, as we prepare for this Yom Kippur, let all of Am Yisrael – the Jewish people – gather in unity throughout the world and dedicate ourselves to embracing The Shabbat Project, to fulfill the optimistic vision of these verses and of our eternal destiny and to reciprocate G-d’s great faith and optimism in our future. Together we can do it.
Together we can complete one Shabbat together; together we can reach higher and become better, for it is not in the heavens and it is not across the oceans; it is within us.
The Shabbat Project will take place on October 24-25.
For more visit theshabbatproject.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.