Shabbat and the Ice Bucket Challenge
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
The Shabbat Project seems to be taking off. I love the idea of keeping it together but I must admit I am nervous and a little overwhelmed. I don't currently observe Shabbat. I am afraid that keeping an entire Halachik Shabbat all at once will just be too much. Can't I just design my own (less intense) Shabbat and be a part of the experience? Would that count?
There are two parts to this important question.
The first is about the definition of Shabbat. Shabbat is a product described in the written and oral Torah. The package includes a range of laws and customs from things you shouldn't do to the beautiful Mitzvot that we should engage in. It is a special gift that G-d Gave Moses to pass on to the Jewish people. Designing your own Shabbat is like saying that cherries are too expensive to buy so I will eat bananas instead and just call them cherries. You might need a bit of time to save up to buy them but if you are after cherries, then bananas just won't work. So even if you work towards Shabbat observance slowly with small steps it still needs to be towards the authentic Shabbat. Redesigning Shabbat is just a different product.
The second issue is the particular week of the Shabbat project. It is true that sustainable growth must be with reasonable and realistic expectations. Often New Year resolutions don't work because in moments of inspiration, people make unrealistic promises that are hard to keep. Spiritual growth means challenging ourselves hard enough to push the boundaries and go out of our comfort zone, but small enough to have longevity. In the context of Shabbat this would normally mean that you understand the authentic product of what Shabbat is and move towards it step by step in a manageable way.
But while this is true in the long-term, sometimes we need to get into the mindset of growth and change with a little bit of shock treatment to create a paradigm shift. We do that with a short term boost of change aimed at pushing our boundaries, doing something out of the ordinary. This might not be sustainable in the long term, but if the intention is to taste and experience something really amazing we can still do it even if just once.
Over the last few months the world witnessed the ice bucket challenge. Millions of dollars were raised for the ALS disease and great things were achieved. It came about by people challenging themselves to do something out of the ordinary that they would not do on a daily basis.
This is the beauty of the Shabbat project. In a show of tremendous unity it is aimed at giving all of us the ability to enter into a once off spiritual challenge. Long-term growth may need another plan for each individual but for one Shabbat we can all take the challenge of going all the way pushing ourselves just for 25 hours tasting the experience of true growth.
So don't worry about being overwhelmed or taking on too much. View this as a one-time challenge which can then be translated into a long-term sustainable plan. For this one Shabbat take the real product and give it a try. You might not get it completely right. No one will police you to make sure you have covered every detail. But aim for the top, plan to reach the finishing line, learn as much as you can beforehand what to do and try your best.