“On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest, sanctified to God” Exodus 35:2


Shabbat is such a pillar of Jewish life that when we talk about those who are “religious” or “observant” (both complex 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 Tanach, 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 halachot around Shabbat means 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 Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), 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. 

In that spirit, 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.

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