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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shabbat- A Gift to Save our Soul and our Sanity

This week is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg and those who were killed with them in the Mumbai massacre .

I well remember the Shabbat morning, a year ago, when our Rav stood up to give a D’var Torah in our Jerusalem shul, and said “ I want to dedicate my learning today, le’ilui nishmat, in memory of, those murdered in Bait Chabad in Mumbai yesterday”

My heart stopped for a second. I hadn't known until that moment that they were dead.

When I had turned off the radio and computer half an hour before Shabbat , the fate of the Holzbergs and the other Jews under siege with them in Beit Chabad in Mombai, was still unknown. Like most Jews the world over, we feared the worst but hoped and prayed still for a miracle.
The tragic outcome had become known to those in Israel just a few minutes before the onset of Shabbat – when our home was already in ‘Shabbat mode’.

Switching off computers, television, radios, telephomes, cell-phones, BlackBerrys, and PDAs before Shabbat, brings a tremendous sense of calm to a hectic, jangling, jarring and stressful week.
Disconnecting from the world for these 25 hours is our acknowledgment that we’re not in charge. We relinquish our supposed ‘control’ over what is going on outside our home. And it is such a relief

Another Shabbat I shall never forget was in October 1994 when Nachshon Wachsman, who lived in our Jerusalem neighborhood , had been kidnapped and was being held prisoner by Hamas terrorists. His mother Esther had asked that women all over the world light an extra Shabbat candle for her son’s safe return. I vaguely remember cooking for Shabbat through a haze of tears with the radio constantly next to me as I worked.

As I lit the Shabbat candles, including the extra one, I felt the calm settle on our home.

The tragic outcome of the raid, that Friday night , on the house where Nachshon was being held, is well known. But the soldiers and police, who were constant companions to the Wachsman family during their ordeal, continued to talk afterwards about their incredulity at the sight of the Wachsman parents and children sitting around the Shabbat table reciting kiddush, eating their Shabbat meal and singing zemirot, even while the fate of their son was unknown.
This incredible show of emunah and bitachon , total faith in the Almighty, by the Wachsmans has become legendary. The sanctity of their Shabbat continued even under these unbelievably difficult circumstances.

Shabbat is the Jewish people’s firm anchor in an often stormy week .
It is our strength. The ability to disconnect from the weekday aspects of the world and put it all on hold for those precious 25 hours.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate the ‘everyday’ Shabbat , but the ones we spend in unusual circumstances stand out in our memory,
During the Gulf War of 1991, the first days of the war had been nerve wracking. We were all glued to every possible media for war updates and listening out for the sirens . Worrying about poison gas attacks and getting our family into their gas masks and sealed rooms did nothing to calm the tense atmosphere.
Then suddenly it was Friday and war or no war, soon it would be Shabbat.
Radio announcers were giving challah recipes for those whose ‘macolet’ , local grocery store, wasn’t open or didn’t get a supply. Rabbanim were answering questions about the use of telephones, and radios during Shabbat and showers were taken by all who all week had been too scared to be caught mid-shower when the siren went off. The dining table was set with its white tablecloth, shining candlesticks and best tableware. Preparing for Shabbat brought a much needed sense of purpose and spiritual strength.
As we dusted and wiped, cooked and cleaned, laid the table and dressed in our Shabbat best , we were sending ourselves an important message. Wars and tragedies come and go but Shabbat is ours forever.

Disconnecting from the material world and connecting to the spiritual is a sanity saver.
As the Hebrew writer Ahad HaAm, said, “ More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews”
Never has this seemed truer and more pertinent than today.

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