The Heart of Jewish Life

Posted on March 17, 2023 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

In this week’s parashah, Moses brings the people of Israel together to build the Tabernacle, the sacred heart of the community of Israel, a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among them.

Having summoned the entire community, Moses instructs the people as follows: “These are the things that God has commanded us to do: ‘On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal One.’” (Exodus 35:1-2)

Why preface the building of the Tabernacle with a reminder to keep Shabbat? Our Sages explain that in their zeal to build God’s house, the people might think such sacred work would supersede and cancel the observance of Shabbat. Moses reminds them that Shabbat is the heart of Jewish life.

Ahad HaAm famously wrote: “More than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel.”

Why is that? What is it about Shabbat that has had such power to preserve and sustain our people?

First, when Shabbat works — when our people embrace its observance — it brings us together. Having gone our separate ways over the previous six days, on Shabbat we gather. We come together as families around a table to share a meal. And when we do, we see each other. We hear each other. We embrace one another.

When we gather in the synagogue, we are an extended family joining together to express joy in each other’s presence, to raise our voices in song, to open our hearts to feel God’s presence, and to affirm the goodness of this gift of life.

Shabbat provides the human touch we all need to feel whole in an often-dehumanizing world where we spend our days staring at screens, large and small, and rushing from one place to another. Shabbat enables us to breathe — to catch our breath. It gives us time — time just to be — to be, to feel, to slow down, to be with those we cherish.

But perhaps most important of all, Shabbat is a foretaste of the world to come — a world of peace and harmony, a world where all are equal and respected. A world of beauty and abundance without deprivation or discord. A world in which human worth is not measured by what we can produce or by what we have, but by the very fact of our being. A world where every life is sacred and of intrinsic and infinite worth.

To live one day a week in such a perfect world restores the soul and renews the spirit. It reminds us that we partake of eternity, and it fills us with hope that the world will yet become what God means for it to be, a yom she-kulo Shabbat — a great Shabbat without end for all God’s creations.

May we all embrace this gift of Shabbat, and may it bring us peace and joy.