I have heard people say that The Shabbos Project has relevance only for Jews who are not yet keeping Shabbos. This is a mistake. Keeping Shabbos is not binary – either you do or you don’t. Even when we are keeping it, there are so many ways to deepen our experience, so many ways to improve our shemiras Shabbos by learning more of the halachic details, which the Chofetz Chaim so strongly encourages in his introduction to Hilchos Shabbos of his Mishna Berura.
And then there is, of course, the kedusha of the day. Do we truly view Shabbos as a day of kedusha and spiritual elevation? Or is it just an enjoyable day off? Let us devote this Shabbos of The Shabbos Project to genuinely getting in touch with the kedusha of the day – and to really growing from that kedusha.
The truth is, on Shabbos, we should not be the same person as we are during the week – we must be elevated and transformed by the kedusha of the day. The midrash says that the sanctity of Shabbos is reflected in “the shining face of a person” , and that “the light of a person’s face on Shabbos cannot be compared with that of the week” (Bereishis Rabbah 11:2).
Unlike animals, no two human beings have the same face. The Talmud says that each person’s unique face is an expression of that person’s unique personality. The face is the window to the soul (Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 20:11), which is why, when a person dies and the soul departs, the face becomes ashen. The unique glow of a human face – a reflection of the Divine essence of every human being reflects the light of the soul. This spiritual light emerges with special intensity on Shabbos. When the world goes quiet on Shabbos, the soul shines through. We become who we truly are.
Just as a human being has a body and soul, the universe comprises both a physical and a spiritual dimension. Both dimensions emanate from Hashem. “The world was created with ten statements,” Pirkei Avos (5:1) teaches us. Hashem created the physical universe by means of ten utterances: “Let there be light” (Bereishis 1:3); “The earth shall sprout vegetation” (Bereishis 1:11); “The waters shall teem with living creatures”(Bereishis 1:20); and so on. Similarly, when Hashem revealed a glimpse of the spiritual and moral underpinnings of the universe, He did so by means of the Aseres HaDibros – literally, “The Ten Statements”. Words create worlds – physical and spiritual.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner explains (Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos, Maamar 1) that the ten statements of creation paved the way for the ten statements at Sinai. This is because the world and everything in it was created as the arena for us to give expression to His commandments.
In truth, though, we can easily become confused by which world – physical or spiritual, body or soul – is the purpose, and which is the means to fulfil that purpose. If we see the world in purely physical terms, it is so tempting to miss the very purpose for which it was created. Our task, then, is to see past the distractions of the material world to discover the hidden, spiritual reality of the world, the underlying Divine purpose of the physical creation.
How do we accomplish this? Rav Hutner explains that this is the very purpose of Shabbos. On Shabbos, the ten statements with which the physical world was created, recede. Hashem stopped creating, and so the physical world becomes less dominant, allowing the spiritual fabric of the universe to come into view. It is a day when we pull back from our own creativity in order to reveal the real purpose of Creation.
It’s like blocking out background noise in order to hear what someone is saying. During the week, the cacophony of human activity can be so loud and unremitting that it drowns out who we are and what our ultimate purpose is. Therefore, Hashem created Shabbos, the one day a week when the noise ceases. Hashem stopped creating and so do we; we refrain from any of the thirty-nine categories of work prohibited on Shabbos. Once these noisy distractions are gone, the hidden, spiritual reality of the world can be heard and felt.
And the same happens with a person. Like the universe, we too are body and soul. And when the commotion and overbearing physicality of the world recedes on Shabbos, our souls shine through; we feel more spiritual, more human. Shabbos is a signpost, our weekly reminder that Hashem created the world with a purpose, and that our lives have meaning. Shabbos enables us to relocate our inner sense of self; to look past the physical externalities and re-engage with our souls.
We see a beautiful expression of this idea at a chasuna. Under the chuppah, and then again at the reception, we recite sheva berachos. We then repeat these blessings at each festive meal in the week following the wedding, but only if there is a “new face” present – a person who was not at the wedding. Because the berachos were already recited at the wedding, we repeat them only if there is someone new with whom to share the joy of the newlyweds. Shabbos offers an exception to this rule – on Shabbos, we do not need a new person present in order to recite sheva berachos. Shabbos itself brings a “new face” to the festivities (Kesubos 7b).
Let’s understand this.
The Talmud teaches that when we marry, we are “reborn” as new human beings (Yevamos 63b based on the Gur Aryeh, Bereishis 36:3). The berachos uttered at a chasuna are blessings of thanksgiving for the creation of a new person, a composite of bride and groom (Kesubos 8a). This is why chazal instituted the requirement of panim chadoshos at the meal – we are celebrating the creation of a new person.
But on Shabbos we don’t have such a requirement. Shabbos gives everyone at the table a “new face”. It changes us, and it changes the world. It enables our true selves, and the true reality of the world, to shine forth in all its glory. It reconnects us with our spiritual essence, and with the world’s spiritual essence, allowing us to emerge as new people − refreshed and ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of the week ahead.
This Shabbos, more Jews than ever have an opportunity to do just that. The Shabbos Project will be happening in more than 1 500 cities and 109 countries around the world. Every year, it brings together Jews of all ages and backgrounds and nationalities to keep one Shabbos together. This year, the call of the project is to “Bring Shabbos Home”. With the coronavirus continuing to upend daily life, we have pivoted from the big city-wide events to a more intimate home-based experience. In this way, we hope to encourage even more participants to keep Shabbos in full for the first time.
But The Shabbos Project is for all of us. We can all be mechazek our shmiras Shabbos. The Shabbos Project is an opportunity for all of us, no matter how many Shabbosim we have experienced, to deepen our appreciation of this special gift.
Shabbos is the only mitzvah referred to as a matonah – a gift, and is described as “mekor haberacha” (Lecha Dodi). May our renewed appreciation of the gift of Shabbos be a source of blessing for all of Klal Yisroel.
The author is the chief rabbi of South Africa, and the founder of the International Shabbos Project, which will be taking place in more than 1 600 cities around the world on 6-7 November 2020. Visit www.theshabbosproject.com to find out more.