A few days before this year’s Shabbos Project I participated in a Skype interview conducted by Ynet, one of Israel’s largest news internet sites. With me in the interview was the famous Israeli singer, Shlomie Shabbat, who is a widely admired celebrity in Israeli society. He joined me on the interview because he was due to play at The Shabbos Project Havdalah concert in Paris and the interviewer questioned him on why he wanted to be part of the project, given the fact that he is not known as ‘dati’.
Shlomie 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, and that is would he sing in a concert on Shabbat? When she asked him this question I was worried that, despite his proclamation of the centrality of Shabbos to the Jewish people, he would himself perform on Shabbat, given how important Friday night concerts are to the music industry. I was so pleased that my concerns were unfounded when Shlomie answered that he, as a matter of principle, would never perform on Shabbat.
It was a moment when I realised once again the power of Shabbos to connect to all of Am Yisrael, the entire Jewish people. We can never underestimate that. And that is what The Shabbos Project has shown. I realised the full extent of what this means when I received an e-mail from Faisal Benkhald, a Jew who lives in Karachi, Pakistan, saying that he intends to join The Shabbos Project together with the rest of the world. I felt such a sense of awe and respect for his bravery and determination in a very hostile environment to connect that I called Faisal, and he told me that he would be keeping the Shabbos completely on his own, and that he had heard about the project on Twitter. Here is a Jew, deep in Pakistan, living without a Jewish community, and hearing the word “Shabbos” on Twitter and deciding to connect to it.
I received another e-mail from Daniel, who lives in a remote Swedish village, called Kopparberg, where no other Jews live. He is a doctor and 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 in Conway, Arkansas, Abir Schweizer, 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. This is the power of Shabbos and its spiritual energy to connect with 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. It took months of deliberation, but then ten days before The Shabbos Project I received communication from the IDF to say 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 the Shabbos, Lech Lecha, of The Shabbos Project, they should discuss with their troops the importance of Shabbos, and the importance of Jewish unity and of what is happening around the world with The Shabbos Project; how it is bringing together Jews in all of these countries in a spirit of unity to celebrate our common heritage. In fact, on any Shabbos, no chilul Shabbos is allowed in public on any IDF base, and the commander makes Kiddush for his troops. 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 the most remarkable coalition of Jews in 94 countries, in 1152 cities, across 10 languages. We have been working together with more than 70 000 volunteers around the world. What holds this vast coalition together? What connects a lone Jew in Pakistan and another in Sweden, and a family in Conway, Arkansas and the IDF and a celebrity singer in Israel, and Jews in New York, Melbourne, Moscow and Paris? The answer in one word is: Shabbos. Shabbos touches on the very essence of our being. Shabbos is 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 Gemora says that all of Klal Yisroel keeping Shabbos has the power to bring redemption to the world. The Bavli says two Shabboses and 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 Gemora? 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 Telzer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch in the 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 Yisroel, the way to do so is through Shabbos. Shabbos has the power of redemption. Redemption is the transformation of negativity into positivity; it is the transformation of the world from a situation of pain and exile to one of joy and freedom; it is about transforming the emotional and physical state of Klal Yisroel. Our Sages are teaching us that Shabbos has the power to transform our lives and to transform the Jewish people. 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 moment the world was created, and it was given to us in the desert even before matan Torah at Har Sinai. It has accompanied us on our journeys across the continents and throughout historical eras. It has always been there for us and held us together. It is a mitzvah which the Gemora 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.