Shabbat is such a pillar of Jewish life, that when we talk about those who are ‘religious’ or ‘observant’ (both complex and problematic terms themselves) we tend to rely on the Hebrew descriptor of Shomrei Shabbat– those who guard Shabbat. Clearly that instruction is embedded from the very root of our tradition in the Tanakh, where repeated appeals to the observance of Shabbat can be found in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings alike.
Yet for many of us, Shabbat may feel more like a burden than a gift. The prospect of meticulously keeping the intricate halakhot around Shabbat mean that it is often a daunting prospect for the vast majority of Jews. Thus, it is imperative that we try and make Shabbat accessible; try and make it a practice and a custom to which the barriers to entry are low and limited.
In that spirit, it is eminently appropriate that Shabbat UK should be this week, coinciding with parashat Vayakhel– a week in which we begin our parashah with a firm and unquestionable endorsement of Shabbat. Moreover, the project of Shabbat UK, the project of making Shabbat accessible to more Jews, is not one unique to the Orthodox world. I suspect that many non-Orthodox communities shy away from Shabbat UK, yet it would be a shame to ignore this central aspect of our shared religious value– this communal calendrical wonder which has bound together all Jews historically and binds us all together today.
I have learned a great deal from the writings of R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel (z”l), but none more than the intergenerational, interdenominational power of Shabbat. He compared Shabbat to our version of a cathedral– an edifice of holiness built in time rather than in space:
“Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. . . . Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate.”
May this Shabbat UK and every one after, enable all of us– orthodox and not, engaged and not, current guardians of Shabbat and future ones– the opportunity to experience the solace and sanctuary of a sanctified Shabbat.