Originally appears on IsraelB.org 

As you are all aware, it’s The Shabbat Project this weekend, when thousands of Jews all over the world will keep Shabbat – #KeepingItTogether.

IsraelB featured 3 women reflecting on what Shabbat means to them – one of them, Gila Cohen Chitiz, is a participant in our Shalhevet training program for shlichim.

Yael Unterman:

Shabbat. I could barely live without it. In today’s insanely connected world, I need one precious day to peel my eyes away from screens and put them onto people, books, the sky… To reboot my fried brain. People all over the Western world are realizing the need for unplugging. They’re doing “analog weekends”, refreshing themselves before the week begins anew.

But Shabbat is hard for some populations – including people who are single or lonely inside a bad relationship. For them, unplugging, disconnecting, can mean feeling very alone. I offer an idea that I hope is more than pleasant words or a cheap bandage for a deep wound. And it is this: to make Shabbat one’s partner.

The midrash (Bereshit Rabba 8:11) says, “Now why did God bless [Shabbat]? R. Berekhia and R. Dostai said: Because it has no partner. The first day of the week has the second, the third has the fourth, the fifth has the sixth, but Shabbat has no partner… R. Simeon b. Yohai taught: Shabbat said before the Holy Blessed One, “All have a partner, while I have no partner!” God said to her, “The Community of Israel is your partner!”

Knesset Yisrael, the collective of Israel, is the marriage partner of Shabbat. “V’yanuchu bo kol Yisrael” – the national soul rests on Shabbat. The beauty of Kabalat Shabbat reaches its heights as communities sing Lecha Dodi in unison, greeting the beloved bride. We get ready for Shabbat, writes the Rebbe of Slonim, the Netivot Shalom, as we get ready for marriage. We speak about it, buy and prepare food in honor of it, spend time beforehand reviewing our deeds and cleansing ourselves in preparation. We do our best to make the day exciting and special – by learning Torah, sanctifying it, putting on lovely clothes, having festive meals.

To me, Shabbat has a real presence, she is there with me, palpably. When I know how to let her in and spend time with her, she fills me up and embraces me. She is there faithfully, week in, week out, through all the fluctuations of season, mood, and life. I might have a flesh-and-blood partner, or I might not… but by my very birthright, Shabbat IS my partner. And yours too.

Ariella Sevitz Pinsky:

When I think about Shabbat and what it means to me and to the Jewish people, a number of things come to mind. For some reason a lot of them happened when I was in high school. I went to a Jewish, secular high school, where out of 160 students, about 7 of us kept Shabbat. I remember coming into school one Monday morning close to the end of the year. We had a huge amount of projects and assignments and exams were around the corner.

I was talking to a friend about an English assignment we had due and she told me she had finished it over the weekend. “Oh,” I said, ” I didn’t manage to finish it because of Shabbat.” She looked at me with astonishment in her eyes and said, “I don’t know how you manage with Shabbat.” And I replied, “I don’t know how you manage without it.”
As life gets more complicated and stressful than it was in my high school days, every week I feel a newfound appreciation for Shabbat. It is a day in which we are forced to put aside the pressures of the weekday, our jobs, our children’s schools, our deadlines, and focus on the fundamentals of Jewish life; our relationship with Hakodesh Baruch Hu, our family, our friends and our communities.

One of the most meaningful things I have learned about Shabbat is brought by Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsh in his discussion of the builders of the Tower of Bavel in last week’s parsha. What was the sin of the men of Bavel, he asks, and answers that it was arrogance. This arrogance was expressed not in that they tried to build a tower to conquer the heavens, but rather that they continued to build it on Shabbat. Shabbat is the day on which we do not do creative works, melacha. The rest of the week we work on our mission of tikkun olam, taking the world that Hashem created for us and improving it, building on it, but on Shabbat we stop.

This act of stopping is a recognition of the fact that the world does not depend on us, but rather on Hashem, to function, and without us it will continue to function. This teaches us humility and our place in the world, and our place next to Hashem. By continuing to build their tower, the people of Bavel indicated that their work and creative acts were greater than Hashem’s. For this they were punished.

Shabbat teaches us to take a step back and gain some perspective. This is true both on a personal and on a national level – in Kiddush we note that Shabbat is “zecher l’yetziat mitzrayim” and an “ot”, a sign, between us and Hashem. Indeed the famous saying goes, “more than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” It is no surprise that Shabbat has remained a cornerstone of Jewish tradition and culture, no matter where on the spectrum one finds oneself.

Since that day in 11th grade, not a week has gone by when I haven’t breathed a small sigh of relief when I light Shabbat candles. A midrash says that Hashem comes to Moshe and tells him, “Moshe, I have a gift for you and Shabbat is it’s name.” Be’ezrat Hashem, through the success of the Shabbat Project and the mitzvah of keeping Shabbat, we should all begin to realize just how much of a gift it is.

Gila Cohen Chitiz:

When was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with someone without being interrupted by a Whatsapp message you just had to glance at, or a phone call that you just had to take?

When did you give yourself a minute to find an answer to a question on your own, by thinking about it or opening a book, instead of running to Google for instant answers?
Shabbat provides us with a day to truly connect with others and with ourselves, away from the distractions of technology. To truly live in the present, in the moment, to really connect with others and with yourself in a genuine way.

Shabbat is a time to put your phone aside and to reflect on yourself, on your surroundings, and on God.

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