We are now just a week away from Rosh Hashanah, which will begin next Wednesday night please G-d. This is an important time for our community and, of course, for Jewish communities around the world.
Our Sages teach us that the Aseret Y’mey Teshuva – the Ten Days of Repentance, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and culminating with Yom Kippur – are a time for introspection. It’s an opportunity to step back from life and assess where we can improve, a time to think about how we can become better people.
And so, as we approach these awesome days, I would like to present an exciting community-wide project: “The Shabbos Project – Keeping It Together.” Beginning at sunset on Friday October 11th through to Saturday night October 12th, thousands of Jews across South Africa are, please G-d, going to keep Shabbos together. The tagline of the Shabbos Project – “Keeping it Together” – captures what this project is about: the fact that we are all keeping this Shabbos together; the fact that Shabbos holds us, our families and our community together; and the fact that Shabbos holds our lives together and gives us a sense of coherence and purpose.
This project, which was initially launched at the end of Sinai Indaba, will be driven in our shuls over the next few weeks, specifically on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so that we can all work together on this great mitzvah. On Rosh Hashanah you will find guide books in your shuls, which set out in detail all the practicalities of how to keep Shabbos and how to make it easy. For someone who has never kept Shabbos before, it may seem rather daunting. But it’s actually much easier than you think; it can be done.
The Shabbos Project Manifesto
We have also drawn up the Shabbos Project Manifesto, an eight-point document which sets out the philosophy and vision of this project. It states:
Together we will keep the Shabbat of 11/12 October from sundown to stars out.
2. We will endeavour to keep it in its entirety, in all of its detail and splendour as set out in the Code of Jewish Law.
Its rhythm will unite us with each other, with Jews around the world and throughout the ages.
On this day we will create a warm and loving space, holding our families together.
On this day we will lay down the burdens, distractions, demands and pressures of daily life.
On this day we will renew ourselves, emerging spiritually, emotionally and physically invigorated.
On this day we will own our precious heritage, wearing it as a badge of pride and honour.
Together we embark on this great adventure to rediscover our G-d-given gift of Shabbos.
These eight points capture the essence of this project. For those who have never kept Shabbos before, keeping this one Shabbos can be an amazing step forward; for those who keep it on a regular basis, this is an opportunity to do so as part of a unified community, thereby enhancing and uplifting the Shabbos experience.
We have also set up a website, TheShabbosProject.org, to guide everyone through this exciting initiative. On the website you will find lots of information, including a section called Shabbos 101, with articles and talks by speakers and thinkers across the world. Many of our Sinai Indaba speakers from the last few years have expressed great excitement about this project and have sent in articles and talks which will be posted on the site for you to enjoy. You will also find articles and talks from our local rabbis, with lots of wonderful ideas about the philosophy behind keeping Shabbos and the practicalities thereof.
There is also a section for the “Toolkit”, where you will find a set of flashcards to accompany you through the process of keeping Shabbos. These cards contain instructions on what to do and how to do it – for example, ideas for discussion at the Shabbos table, and the text of the Kiddush along with an explanation as to why we say it. We are also printing these flashcards and anyone who signs up for the project will get a free set.
Many of our shuls are offering special shiurim on the topic of Shabbos during the weeks leading up to the Shabbos Project. Please visit the website for information about shiurim in your area. Additionally, if you would like someone to coach you through the process or host your for Shabbos, you can submit your details online; those who wish to host or to coach people through the process can also submit their details on the site. The idea is to make it manageable and doable, something that each and every one of us can participate in so that it can be a truly unifying experience.
There is also a dedication page on the site, where you can dedicate your Shabbos in memory of a loved one, in the merit of someone who needs healing, or perhaps just to a friend or someone you wish to honour.
On the site you will find information about the various community organizations that are joining in this project. Of course, all of our shuls are key partners; the rabbis of our communities, with whom I discussed this project at great length and brainstormed together at our recent Rabbinical Conference, are at the forefront of this project. Other community organisations that have partnered with us are the Jewish day schools – King David and Herzlia, among other schools; and many more, making this a truly unifying event for the community.
The website will be launched fully on September 1st, with all of these resources I have mentioned. For now, those who wish to sign up can do so on the landing page, at www.TheShabbosProject.org.
Reclaiming our heritage
Shabbos has been the heart and soul of Judaism. It is the mitzvah that has held Jews together for generations. As Ahad Ha’am, the well-known Jewish thinker and writer aptly put it, “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Shabbos has held our people together, on our journeys across continents and throughout history. Shabbos has been a constant presence throughout the ages, and that is what this project is about; as stated in the manifesto, we are committed to reclaiming our amazing heritage and wearing it as a badge of honour.
Not only has Shabbos held the Jewish people together throughout the ages, but it also holds us together in our day-to-day lives. It is a day free of the distractions and burdens of our turbulent, hectic world. Shabbos is our opportunity to reconnect with Hashem, our spouse, parents, children, siblings, friends, and communities. It gives us a sense of connection, which is so sorely lacking in our modern world.
Since launching this project at Sinai Indaba, I have spoken with Jews all around the country, in different environments and from completely different backgrounds, from the secular to the most religious, and whenever I start talking about this project their eyes light up. They are excited about it, and want to participate. People have been calling my office to volunteer to help with it. There is great anticipation that this is going to be a special experience for all of us.
The Gemara (Shabbat 119a) records an interesting conversation between the Caesar of Rome and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, one of the great Talmudic scholars. The Caesar commented on how delicious the food smelled and he asked, what is the incredible spice that you put into your food?
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya answered that the special spice is Shabbos. The Caesar said he would like to have it put into his food as well. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya said, I can’t give it to you. You have to experience Shabbos in order to taste it.
Shabbos brings flavour to life and uplifts everything we do. But the only way that we can actually taste it is by experiencing it. All the booklets and explanations are there to guide us, certainly; but what is really powerful about the Shabbos Project is the experience of it – and not just experiencing it but experiencing it together.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the days in between are a time of introspection. What better way to begin the New Year than to join the entire South African Jewish community on this great adventure to rediscover our G-d-given gift of Shabbos?
This is indeed an opportune time for us to come together as a community and commit to keeping this mitzvah. In the merit of this may Hashem write and seal us all for a shana tova umetuka, a good and sweet year, for our entire community and for everyone around the world.
G-d bless you. Have a good Yom Tov and wonderful good, sweet New Year.