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The Sanctuary of Shabbat

Friday, 20 March, 2020 - 9:52 am

For generations, Jews were arrested and murdered because they kept Shabbat. Yet, they still kept Shabbat.

Ironically, today, in an era of freedom, it’s the opposite. For perhaps the first time in history, there is barely a synagogue open on Shabbat. Jews are praying privately at home. Not because of anti-Semitism. Because of a pandemic.

COVID-19 has forced people out of the workplace and schools. It has brought billions of people to shelter at home.

So, what message does the Torah have in dealing with these unprecedented times?

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The parsha this week is a double-header. In Vayakhel and Pekudei we read (again) about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). G-d demanded of the Jewish people to create a home for Him on earth.

When Moshe gathered the Jewish people to instruct them about the construction of the Mishkan, he first said, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to Hashem.”

By warning the Jewish people to keep Shabbat, Moshe is communicating that – as important as it is – building the Mishkan does not supersede observing Shabbat. For six days, work on the Mishkan. But, rest on the seventh day.

It’s true that the laws of Shabbat are superior to the need for constructing a home for Hashem. But, we already know that from last week’s parsha (see Shemot 30:13-17). Why the need to repeat it again?

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Shabbat and the Mishkan are opposites. The Mishkan represents our interaction with the world. We take the coarse, material items of the universe – and transform them into holiness. Through the Mishkan, wool, gold and goat skins are infused with holiness.

This parallels our daily workweek. We go out into the world and engage. Commerce, education and travel are all opportunities to infuse the world with holiness and meaning. We act ethically in business, share our income with sacred and charitable causes, implement the wisdom of Hashem to heal our world, uplift the spaces that we traverse and inspire the people meet.

Shabbat brings all of this to a screeching halt. Our calling on Shabbat is not to transform the world. Rather, we must rise above it. Instead of focusing on Wall Street and our bottom line, we are focused on prayer and Torah study. Instead of focusing on the world at large, we are focused on family and community. Instead of leveraging the material word for holy purposes, we disengage from it. We climb into a cocoon of spirit.

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Humans need to sleep in order to have energy to continue. In this sense sleep is simply a necessary evil. We need the down time. But it’s only a means to an end.

We might be tempted to view Shabbat in a similar vein – that we must pause our duty of transforming this world and sacrifice our influence over the world for the sake of some personal time. Shabbat is simply an abstention from our primary duty, a necessary recharge.

But, no! The Torah repeats the message of Shabbat together with the Mishkan to teach us that Shabbat is also a sanctuary for Hashem – it’s just an entirely different kind. We don’t abandon the mission of transforming this world into Hashem’s beautiful garden. But, we do shift gears. Instead of the trench work that we usually pursue, on Shabbat we lift up the world by shining pure holiness.

Our goal – to partner with G-d for a more perfect world – remains the same. The implementation is different.

During the week our Sanctuary is skin-deep. On Shabbat it’s soul-deep.

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This particular Shabbat, we are afforded an even greater opportunity. Usually, we shift from worldly affairs into communal prayer, shared meals, and joyous camaraderie.

Apparently, tonight and tomorrow, Hashem wants us to bring our Shabbat Sanctuary even deeper. This Shabbat, we have an amazing opportunity. We have a chance for the most intimate Shabbat ever!

Seize the moment! This Shabbat – when you shouldn’t venture out anyway and when guests should not be crossing your threshold – make the extra effort to fully observe Shabbat.

Prepare. Cook the food now – before Shabbat. Get dressed up. Not to go out – just in honor of Shabbat. Print some Shabbat Torah thoughts, so you can share them at the Shabbat table.

Turn off your phones and devices (if medically necessary, leave on but unused). It will be a very welcome break from the uncertainty surrounding you. Light the candles before the sun sets (at 7:40 in Boise). Say the evening prayers. Gather your family around the table. Make Kiddush. Eat challah and dinner.

Tomorrow, spend the day in personal prayer, eat another Shabbat meal, study Torah and enjoy focused family time.

Finally, prepare to transition back to the rigors of the outside world with Havdalah – tomorrow night after dark (8:42 in Boise).

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The coronavirus has caused tragic outcomes and many impositions. We pray for healing and a return to life without the disease.

But, in our own personal lives, we must make sure it also causes personal growth.

This Shabbat let’s claim one victory over COVID-19 by celebrating Shabbat like never before.

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