Sinai Today: On the eve of making history together

What holds together the vast and burgeoning coalition of Shabbat Project Jews across six continents?

The Shabbos Project, Miami  (photo credit: PR)
The Shabbos Project, Miami
(photo credit: PR)
We are on the eve of an historic moment. Under the banner of the Shabbat Project, Jewish communities in 460 cities and 64 countries are preparing with anticipation and inspiration to welcome in this Shabbat in unprecedented numbers.
Four hundred sixty cities. Step back and reflect what that means. It means that there are Jews in every corner of the globe – in Jerusalem and Johannesburg, London and Los Angeles, Melbourne and Moscow, Buenos Aires and Berlin, Tel Aviv and Toronto, Mexico City and Miami, Cape Town and Calgary, Atlanta and Ashkelon, Vilna and Venice, Sao Paulo and Seattle – uniting to keep a complete Shabbat together.
The Shabbat Project will be taking place in cities as diverse as Las Vegas, Leipzig, Memphis, Gibraltar, Tokyo, Montevideo, Tucson, Rome, Milan, Vienna, Cincinnati, Caracas and Abuja. It seems that wherever there are Jews, there is The Shabbat Project.
Perhaps most remarkable is the breadth and diversity of this burgeoning coalition of Shabbat Project Jews spread across six continents separated by geography, by culture, by language. The toolkit and guidebook – the educational content of this project – have been published in eight languages: English, French, Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, German and Italian. This is a coalition made of Jews of vastly different levels of observance. There are participants who have been keeping Shabbat their whole lives, and who are very committed to every last detail of Halacha. And then there are those who’ve never kept Shabbat before, and even those who have almost no connection to Jewish practice. And all levels in between.
What holds together this vast and energetic movement of the people? What is at the heart of it all? Shabbat. This is what the Shabbat Project is about – bringing Jews together in a spirit of unity around Shabbat.
Why is it about Shabbat that unites Jews? The answer is that Shabbat has always been there with us, from the beginning of time, at the dawn of creation – the seventh day on which G-d himself “rested.” According to the Midrash, each of the days of Creation are connected to one other. The first and second days are a pair, as are the third and fourth, and the fifth and sixth. But there is an odd number. Shabbat, the seventh day, is on its own. The Midrash explains that G-d decreed right from the beginning of time that Shabbat would be the trusted companion, the zug, of the Jewish People. At the birth of the Jewish People, soon after we left Egypt, one of the very first mitzvot we were given – even before arriving at Mount Sinai – was Shabbat.
Since the very beginnings of our world and those of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, Shabbat has been there as our beloved, G-d-given friend. It has accompanied us on every step of our journey, through all of the eras in history and in all of the various places we’ve been over these thousands of years. Shabbat has always been there, it’s the constant. There’s no week that goes by without it. We’re always just a few days away from Shabbat. And throughout these journeys and throughout the ups and downs of Jewish history, Shabbat has always been there as the source of everything that we are. In fact it’s described by our sages as the mekor habracha, “the source of blessing.” And it has always been our source of blessing – our source of comfort, strength and faith. It has been the source of our moral clarity and spiritual vision, of who we are and why we are here: It has been the source of our inspiration and it has carried us on every step of our long and remarkable and momentous journey through history. The rhythms of Shabbat unite Jewish life in a very real way: We all read the same weekly Torah portion, light candles, recite Kiddush, abstain from the same acts of work, enjoy the same festivities, say the same prayers and sit together around the table as families.
When we keep Shabbat, we are not alone in the world. We are connected to Hashem, to the Jewish People, to our families and to ourselves. It grants us belonging and togetherness in a world of fragmentation. It has been our mainstay, guiding us throughout our journeys across continents, eras, political upheavals and amid an ever-fluctuating world. We have worn it as a badge of honor and it has rewarded us with countless blessings.
As Jews gather around the world, on the eve of this historic moment, to welcome this great Shabbat in a spirit of unity and anticipation, it’s no mystery why it is Shabbat of all things that is keeping us together. It has always been this way. May Hashem bless us all in the merit of the source of all blessing.
The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa.