I know that ShabbatUK (or ShabbosUK as we don’t call it) has hardly registered round here but I for one can’t help being inspired by it. Shabbos is truly a gift that all can partake in. From the chosid who brings it in early on Thursday night with multiple helpings of tsholent and kugel and barely draws it to a close Sunday morning at 3am while seeing off the Shabbos Queen with the leftovers (some households serve it for Sunday supper too), to obsessed halachists fretting with the opening of fridge doors and unscrewing bottle tops, to the less observant who might celebrate Shabbos with a Friday night dinner and leave it at that.
One thing is certain: from the silent candlelighting by the woman of the house before sunset on Friday to the more raucous extinguishing of the fire by the man of the house after nightfall on Shabbos, Shabbos is a uniquely Jewish experience. In an age of slavery it introduced the concept of a universal day of rest for everyone from the master to the animals, and it remains no less relevant in our non-stop, 24/7 era. For as long as Shabbos lasts there is little but Shabbos and what surrounds it. Time to reflect, time to enjoy, time to reap the fruits of the week that was and time to rejuvenate for the week to come.
Let us not pretend that it is always easy and the long summer Shabbos afternoons can be a challenge even for the most faithful. But then this is after all religion and not the product of focus groups; one size fits all is in the nature of the beast. Yet nevertheless at its heart is a day of rest, a day of spiritual enhancement and physical enjoyment, a time for parents to enjoy their children and a time for children to get the attention of their parents. As the zmiros goes, Hashomer shabbos habein im habas, Shabbos is observed with the son and the daughter.
So how welcoming to see the new Chief Rabbi’s initiative in organising and promoting ShabbatUK when thousands will partake in the joy of Shabbos, and for many of who it may well be their first such experience. It is often humbling to see how others react to Shabbos when for us who were brought up with it it can sometimes come across as stale and boring. Unfortunately, I will not be hosting anyone or doing anything towards this special Shabbos and yet it is impossible to see and read the excitement about it and not get carried along. So here, dear readers, is my vort lekoved Shabbos Kodesh, ShabbatUK.
On Friday night we recite 3 times the words of Vayechilu hashomayim veho’oretz, which are the psukim for the 7th day of the Story of the Creation in Sefer Breishis. We say it once privately in the shmone esre, once publicly immediately after and a 3rd time over wine with our family at the start of Kiddush.
The words are:
ויכולו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם
ויכל אלקים ביום השביעי מלאכתו אשר עשה וישבות ביום השביעי מכל מלאכתו אשר עשה
ויברך אלקים את יום השביעי ויקדש אותו כי בו שבת מכל מלאכתו אשר ברא אלקים לעשות
And the heaven and earth were completed with all their hosts
And on the seventh day God completed all the work which He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had made
And God blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it for He rested in it from all the work which He created.
These psukim teach us the specialness of Shabbos. Completing a job doesn’t always bring with it rest. One can complete a job and still be troubled by aspects of it, wanting to go back and change something, regretting at not having done things differently and altogether being stressed about the job despite the fact that it is complete. This is why completing a job is not quite the same as resting from it.
Rest, however, on its own is also not enough. Even when you put your feet up from a task completed other anxieties may arise. What now, what next, are often the prevailing thoughts after having laboured on a project even if it was successfully completed, and holiday blues is a recognised mood that some people experience when trying to take a rest. A blessing is required to introduce peace and harmony to rest and the absence of work in itself is not enough. And when spirituality is introduced to that blessing only then do we have a true day of rest and respite from the rough and tumble of life.
This is what these puskim teach us: Not only did Hashem complete the Creation on the day of Shabbos but He also rested on that day. That too was not enough and In addition Hashem endowed this special day with His blessing and then sanctified the day on top of it all.
It is this blessing that we feel at our Shabbos table surrounded by our families and enjoying the Shabbos food and it is this spirituality and kedusha that we aspire to in the uplifting Shabbos prayers and zmiros.
It must be a privilege and a duty for us who were born into it to be able to share it with others.