As we slowly navigate our way out of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an inspiring vision that can animate our journey. It’s a vision of kindness and compassion, comfort and connection, joy and relief. Poignantly, it appears at the beginning of Vayera, the Torah portion of the Shabbat Project taking place this week.
It’s a sweltering hot day, and Abraham is recovering from his circumcision at the age of 99 years, yet he’s sitting at the entrance of his tent waiting restlessly for passersby to help. His tent is open on all four sides so that anyone needing rest, comfort and shelter can enter.
Suddenly, a group of desert wayfarers appear out of the haze, and we read of Abraham’s evident delight and enthusiasm as he rushes to assist them (unbeknown to him, they are angels sent by God). Abraham ushers them into the shade of the tent and plies them with refreshments and cool water. They are provided with life-giving relief from the hardships of their travels. They are left rejuvenated and refreshed, ready to continue their journey, ready to face the desert once again.
Right now, the world feels not so different from the same sweltering hot desert. A global pandemic has disrupted our lives in the most profound and unsettling way. Even as the vaccine is helping us get a grip on the virus, there is economic uncertainty and ongoing political instability across the globe.
At this time, like Abraham’s tent, the Shabbat Project offers us shade and relief from the harshness of our world. It’s a big, welcoming tent of healing and connection, love and joy, strength and faith. It can give us the shelter, comfort and support we need to emerge rejuvenated and refreshed, ready to tackle the great challenges that lie before us.
Of course, Abraham’s tent was not just a place of physical rejuvenation in the desert, but also a spiritual oasis in an idolatrous and morally parched world. From within that tent, Abraham and Sarah spread the values of ethical monotheism to everyone who walked through its open flaps.
The Shabbat Project, too, is a spiritual oasis in whose shade we reconnect with Shabbat, which has sustained us through the most arid and hostile periods of our history, as well as in good times. We take shelter beneath its eternal values.
When we keep Shabbat, we reconnect with our families and the people around us, with our inner selves and with our Creator. We feel the presence of God in our midst and remind ourselves that whatever we are going through, we are held by Him.
And like Abraham’s tent, the Shabbat Project is open to Jews of all backgrounds. It’s a welcoming space where we can all congregate, finding shelter and relief in the joy of Shabbat, whatever our differences. Shabbat belongs to every Jew.
As I write this, thousands of volunteer partners in cities across the world are once again pitching the Shabbat Project tent—its flaps open wide for Jews of every persuasion to enjoy its life-giving shade.
Let us all keep the Shabbat of Parshat Vayera on Oct. 22-23 as activities go live for the first time in nearly two years.. Let us step into the cool shelter Shabbat provides, drawing comfort and renewed strength from those 25 magical, meaningful hours. And let us keep this Shabbat together—together with our families, together with Jews around the world.
Rabbi Warren Goldstein is the chief rabbi of South Africa and the founder of the International Shabbat Project, which will take place in more than 1,500 cities and 100 countries around the world on Oct. 22-23. See: www.theshabbosproject.org.