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Toward Shabbat: Lekh Lekha

Have you ever wanted to know the secret of Shabbat?

Those who have been able to join us in the Sanctuary on recent Shabbat mornings may have noticed that sometimes I slip away during the Torah service to join our Early Childhood Shabbat service. I usually arrive just as the children and their families are about to say the Shema. I join Shira Averbuch, our gifted artist in residence, on the bimah as she invites the children to sing the Shema using hand motions.

As the children pray, they look intently at us as they try to follow the motions while they sing. “Shema”—we place our hands next to our ears, “Yisrael”—we create a book with our two hands, “Adonai”—we wave our hands gently in front and above us, “Eloheinu”—we bring our hands to our hearts, “Adonai”—we wave our hands again and then, at the very end, as we say the word “Ehad” we each hold our pointer finger out creating the number one. Shira then invites everyone to find the ehad of someone else and tells them to “boop” their ehad with someone else’s ehad, meaning place your finger out and touch the tip of someone else’s finger (picture a less dramatic Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel). At this moment in the service, children and parents alike start turning and touching their pointer fingers with one another as Shira reminds them that when we find each other and have a moment to connect, we are one big ehad, one big one.

According to the kabbalistic tradition, this very connection and oneness is the secret of Shabbat.

While it is not our minhag (custom) here at BJ, many communities have the custom of reciting a short text in between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv on Friday night. Some communities read a collection of mishnayot from Shabbat regarding the laws of the Shabbat candles. Other communities recite a passage from the Zohar, the 13th century book of mysticism, known both as Raza D’Shabbat, The Secret of Shabbat, or Ke’Gavna, the first word of the passage which means “Just as the elements.”

This magical Aramaic text of Ke’Gavna opens with the following lines:

“Just as the elements of God unite on high, so too Shabbat unites below in the mystery of oneness.”

The Zohar imagines that on Shabbat the different mystical elements of God come together above just as we, human beings on earth, come together. The section continues to picture the oneness of God and how the secret of Shabbat is its ability to create an opening for complete unity. Through the songs and prayers of Kabbalat Shabbat we step away from judgement and the forces of evil and step into a realm of holiness. Shabbat itself becomes the unifier, allowing us as a community to reconnect, carving out the space and time for each of us to find our inner oneness. Just as our weeks are filled with work, appointments, school, and errands, which often separate us from each other and our own minds, Shabbat is the binding that keeps us and our souls connected and intact. In a culture and world of unending separation, “I”phones and “I”pads, computer screens, and the pandemic, Shabbat comes each week to bring us back together, to remind us of our interconnectedness.

As we move toward Shabbat this week, I invite each of us to reflect on the various ways in which we feel fragmentation in our lives, the ways we feel distant from others, the ways in which we long to realign with our core values, and the ways we need to connect with the people around us, the earth, ourselves, and the Divine. As Albert Einstein brilliantly remarked: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

This Shabbat as we join together from near and far to “boop” our “ehads,” may our souls feel the power of the secret Oneness of Shabbat breaking through the “optical delusion of our consciousness” as a reminder that we are always connected.