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The Soul of Shabbat and the Big Shabbat Dinner

Picture of past Big Shabbat dinner taken by non-Jewish freelance photographer

Here is the d'var Torah I shared at the service before the dinner (to only 200 people, by the time 1000 young adults were there schmoozing it was impossible to share anything with all the attendees):

A number of years ago my wife Shifra had a company retreat in Hawaii on the Big Island (with a +1, me in tow) over the weekend, and so we spent Shabbat there. The Big Island is the eastern-most Jewish community in the world before you hit the international date line. So we were one of the last people on the globe to bring in Shabbat. We truly felt the global scope of Shabbat, Jews observing Shabbat all across the globe in all time zones.

Tonight is the Shabbat Project, when Jews are celebrating Shabbat all across the world. According to the website, there are one million Jews celebrating in 1500 cities tonight. And here in greater Tel Aviv, the largest concentration of Jewish in the world, White City Shabbat is running the Big Shabbat, This is the largest Shabbat dinner of the Shabbat project with 1000 attendees. Tonight we really feel the global reach of Shabbat, because many of you are originally from all over the world, and you are now living in Tel Aviv, But what is the Shabbat Project and Shabbat really about? The goal is not just to bring Jews together and create a mega-event.

There is a powerful saying attributed to Ahad Haam, an early Hebrew writer and Zionist. He said: “More than the Jewish people keep the Shabbat, the Shabbat keeps the Jewish people.”

How does the Shabbat keep us? Maybe it keeps us Jewish? Outside of Israel it certainly does, but here in Israel that is less of an issue. It keeps us well and prosperous, for we say in the Kabbalah Shabbat service: ‘it (the Shabbat) is the source of all blessing’. Shabbat also keeps us sane. We are given the opportunity to pull out from our everyday world so we can experience something deeper. We unplug, clear our heads, and connect in a deeper way. Today we need a digital detox more than ever. How often do we have the opportunity to have a dinner with others, without the distractions of people pulling out their devices?

The room is ready to go

This week was the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. He has a beautiful teaching about Shabbat. In the Kiddush we say: Ubayom Hashivi Shabbat Vainafash. “G-d created the world in six days and on the seventh it was Shabbat and He rested.” What a sad translation says Rav Shlomo! Shabbat is about so much more than resting. Nefesh is the soul, so what it really means is on the seventh day G-d gave the world its soul, He infused into the physical world a deeper dimension. This means that on Shabbat we can tap into that deeper level. In fact we are told that on Shabbat we are also infused with an expanded soul, a neshamah yeteirah, we are more spiritually sensitive and connected. So this Shabbat, let’s connect to our deeper selves, let’s have a deeper connection to those around us, to the beauty of G-d’s world, and to the Shabbat.

I will end with a story, a few years ago a friend and student was having a party, but he wanted people to connect to each other and not be on their devices. He lived in Crown Heights, on the hipster side, and so he went to an antique store and asked if they had a nice wooden box. When they asked him what it was for, he told them it was for people to put their phones in when they arrived at the party, so they would so they would not be distracted. The owners of the store were Shomer Shabbat Jews and told him ‘we do that every week for 25 hours, it’s called the Shabbat.’ This Shabbat, which is a global Shabbat, I challenge us to put away our devices and truly connect with those around us, to connect with the world on a deeper level, and to connect with ourselves. Let’s create a global movement, and in doing so maybe we will be changing the world and changing ourselves in a meaningful way. Shabbat Shalom.

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