The Shabbat Project – Redefined

Thousands of years before the Pew Report analyzed the problems with the modern Jewish community, the failings of monotheistic religions were already apparent. As king Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun or what will happen already happened. In the Torah portion of Lech Lecha it states: And Abraham took on his journey, his wife, nephew, property and the souls that they made in Charan. The rabbis explain that the word “souls” refers to the converts who decided to embrace the theology of Abraham. And Rashi notes that due to the number of people wanting to embrace monotheism, Abraham only had time to deal with the men while his wife Sarah dealt with the conversions of all women. (Of course in the rabbinical courts in Israel today, Sarah’s involvement in conversions would be deemed heretical and totally unacceptable.)

However, of greater concern than the act of conversion is what happened to the myriad of people who converted? We don’t find any reference to their children attending yeshivot, or of all the shuls built to accommodate these new Jews. The Alexander Rebbe explains that upon the death of Abraham the converts were unable to accept the leadership of his son Isaac. The theology of the Abrahamic doctrine was imbued with warmth, kindness and hospitality, while Isaac’s predominant attribute was gevurah – strength.  Thus they were willing to follow the ways of Abraham but were unwilling to tolerate the heavy handed dogma required by Isaac. As a consequence, en mass they severed their relationship with monotheism and no longer wanted to be associated with the fledgling Jewish community.

I remember attending a High Holiday service during which the rabbi announced the times for next year’s holidays prior to blowing the shofar to mark the end of Yom Kippur. In his unique fashion he was chastising his parishioners for their failure to regularly attend services. What he failed to realize is that attendance is dependent on the welcoming environment permeating within the synagogue’s walls. By being harsh and condemning, or by focusing on the negatives, congregants are more likely to feel discontented and withdraw.

This weekend Jews throughout the world are celebrating a special Shabbat. Some communities are demanding rigidity and focusing more on the rules and prohibitions than the joy and serenity. While there are many restrictions that should be heeded, that’s not where the beauty of Shabbat is found. The restrictions are a culmination of understanding that the more finely tuned the instrument, the clearer the sound. The more we reduce outside elements the greater the ability to focus on the inner beauty and joy. Shabbat is not a typical day of rest; it is a day when we rest from doing those things that we ordinarily do. It’s a day when we refocus and reflect. It’s a day dedicated to slowing down and smelling the roses. It’s a day where we try to remember that roses grow in bushes and not in florist shops.  It’s a day where we are content to eat and enjoy, rather than slaving over a hot stove to ensure the enjoyment of others.

As Ahad Ha’am wrote “More than the Jewish People have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Shabbat touches on the need for nurturing relationships; it asks of its adherents to take a step back from their constant forward pursuit.  It’s not about the food or the drink. It’s not about the Shabbat (shloff) afternoon rest. It’s certainly is not about ripping toilet paper or switching on light bulbs. It’s not even about being green, although observing Shabbat does reduce fossil fuel by 14%.  Shabbat is about all these things and more. It’s about spending time with your family and friends. It’s allowing yourself time to revitalize and reconnect. It’s about realizing that your dreams, goals and aspirations may have already been reached, if you only stop long enough to notice. It’s about realizing that success may mean doing nothing at all.  But Shabbat is something far deeper; it is the one day in the week when God has a unique relationship with us. Many religions celebrate a sabbath and have a day of rest, but only the Jew has Shabbat. If we learn how to share the joy and harness the tranquility, then it may not be too late to address the Pew Report by being an Or Lagoyim– a light not unto other nations, but a light that is desperately needed to allow our brothers and sisters to better perceive the beauty found within the sacred halls of Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack Engel

PS: Our shul is raising funds to purchase a Polaris mini ambulance which is able to navigate the alleyways and roads in times of tragedy. The cost is $21,000 and we have already raised over $6,000.

This is not a fund raiser; it is way for those living in the diaspora to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Israel. It is family helping family and doing our small part to help ease their daily burden.

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