This Shabbat, I will celebrate with a Kiddush, the birth of a daughter, Batsheva Chana, my seventh child, who was born two days before Rosh Hashanah. As a community, we will also celebrate the worldwide Shabbat Project, in which the community will gather together to observe and celebrate Shabbat at each of our congregations and then come together for a community-wide Havdallah service at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
Rabbi Howard Finkelstein of Congregation Beth Tikvah invited Ottawa’s Jewish community to participate in this program through such activities as communal challah-baking, meals and observance, as a showing of communal solidarity, and as a merit for Rabbi Yehuda Simes. A beautiful initiative indeed!
It is interesting that, on Friday night, when we recite the Kiddush, we mention that one of the reasons for observing Shabbat is Zikaron L’maaseh Bereshit, to remember that God created the world.
But, how does observing Shabbat remind us that God created the world? The answer is really quite simple. We, citizens of the modern and enlightened 21st century, take it for granted that the idea of having a “day of rest” is natural and obvious. Of course, a person needs a day off. However, many of our parents and most of our grandparents were faced with the difficult choice of observing Shabbat properly or losing their jobs. Not too long ago, there was no such thing as a “day of rest.” If you didn’t show up for work on Saturday, there was nothing to come in for on Sunday.
History has shown that we are capable of a seven-day work week; yes, at a physical and emotional cost, but capable nonetheless. A “day of rest” is truly a modern-day innovation in Western society, and is still not observed worldwide. Judaism, alone, stands as a beacon of light in this dark area. While we have struggled in the past with society around us to observe Shabbat, the concept, for us, is eternal.
Now, while some are wont to believe that Jewish values have somehow always been ahead of the times, we know that it’s not happenstance. When we observe Shabbat, we are testifying and proudly proclaiming in the Kiddush prayer that there is a creator of this world who in his infinite wisdom mandated a day of rest, an opportunity to stop, reflect and enjoy the fruits of our labour.
Even though there are many fringe benefits to Shabbat observance – like spending time with the family, taking a break from one’s routine, and rest and relaxation – the bottom line is that we observe Shabbat because it is a mitzvah. That much of society has bought into the fringe benefits of Shabbat does not add or detract from the essence of the mitzvah. Shabbat reminds us that God created the world and continues to run the world.
Witnessing the miracle of birth is also a marvellous reminder of God’s personal involvement in our daily lives. The Talmud teaches that whoever saves a life saves a world. All the more so, when creating life, is a world created.
So, if observance of Shabbat reminds us of God who created the world, and God calls upon us to be partners in building that world and populating it with mini-worlds, what better way could there be to safeguard all those worlds than the observance of Shabbat?
May our city wide celebration of Shabbat truly be a merit to the world of Rabbi Simes.