I am so proud of the Herzlia Schools u14 soccer team. I want to tell you about their inspiring story on the eve of this Shabbat in particular. They were meant to play a game tomorrow but refused because of Shabbat. And not just any game.
They won their local league making it through to the regional playoffs. They then breezed through to the final of this 32-team knockout competition, which they subsequently won, and were crowned Cape Town champions. In doing so they qualified for the provincial final, and with it, the chance to become national champions.
The provincial finals are scheduled for tomorrow, Shabbat. Various pleas to the South African Football Association and the tournament organisers to move the match to another day were unsuccessful. So they are not playing because it is Shabbat.
In their discussions with SAFA and event organisers, Herzlia stood their ground, humbly, but firmly and insistently. With their dignified refusal to play on Shabbat, these young men and their school have, through their actions, delivered a powerful message to us – Shabbat is a pillar value of Jewish identity, as received from generations of Jews who came before us, going all the way back to Sinai, when Hashem gave us the gift of Shabbat as our eternal heritage.
Their principled stand reminds me of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s impassioned speech in the Knesset to motivate for a law to stop El Al planes from flying on Shabbat, even though this action came at significant cost to the national carrier:
“We cannot engage in profit-and-loss calculations when it comes to [Shabbat], the eternal heritage of the Jewish people. There is no way of assessing the religious, national, social, historical, and ethical values of the Sabbath day by the yardstick of loss or gain. If it were not for this Shabbat that restored the souls and revived the spiritual lives, week by week, of our long-suffering nation, our trials and our tribulations would pull us down to the lowest levels of materialism and moral and intellectual decay… it is not necessary to be an observant Jew to appreciate the full historic and sacred aura that enshrines this ‘perfect gift’ called Shabbat. Its prohibitions are not arbitrary. They provide insulation against corrosive everydayness, they build fences against invasions by the profane, and they enrich the soul by creating a space for sacred time. In a word, one need not be pious to accept the cherished principle of Shabbat. One merely needs to be a proud Jew.”
And this is exactly what these young Herzlia soccer players are: proud Jews who don’t play on Shabbat. Well done boys! I know this is not easy for you. But you have done so well, and we are all so proud of you. And well done Herzlia schools management and board.
What more powerful inspiration can there be to appreciate and protect the Divine gift of Shabbat as we enter the most auspicious Shabbat of the year, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – Shabbat Shuva.
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova!
Chief Rabbi Goldstein