Shabbat Across America and Canada Dvar Torah – February 28, 2020
Tonight is the twenty-fourth annual Shabbat Across America and Canada, sponsored by NJOP (formerly known as National Jewish Outreach Program). Tonight, Shabbat Across America and Canada is being celebrated in hundreds of locations, in 38 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and Spain!
By participating in Shabbat Across America and Canada, you join in a grand celebration of Shabbat that ties together Jews from all walks of life, who are participating in synagogues and Jewish organizations of all denominations and connecting Jews all across the North American continent and beyond.
This Shabbat, we read the Torah portion known as parashat Terumah, which launches the second half of the book of Exodus. Nachmanides (1194-1270 famed Spanish Rabbi) labeled the book of Exodus the “Book of Redemption.” He stresses that although the appellation’s application is obvious regarding the first half of Exodus (delivery from slavery, Revelation at Sinai), the focus of the second half of Exodus–namely, the construction of the Tabernacle–also represents a type of redemption. Erecting a physical habitat for God’s presence represents a spiritual salvation for humanity.
The mystics (Nefesh Ha-Hayyim 1:4; Sefer Habahir) suggest that the construction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness was meant to mirror God’s creation of the universe. On the first day, God created the heavens, and the Children of Israel were told to construct a “covering” for the Tabernacle. On the second day, God separated the upper waters from the lower waters. The Children of Israel were told to create a partition between the “Holy” and the “Holy of Holies.” On the third day, God “gathered the waters,” while the Children of Israel were told to construct a water basin for washing. On the fourth day God created luminaries to provide light; the Children of Israel were commanded to make the Menorah/candelabra. On day five, God proclaimed “Let there be fowl that fly over the earth,” while the Children of Israel were told to place “cherubs with wings spread upward” upon the Ark of the Covenant. On the sixth day, God created the human being, and with regard to the Tabernacle, God commanded Moses to, “Draw close Aaron your brother.” On the seventh day, the Torah states that “The heaven and the earth were finished.” As the Tabernacle was completed the Torah declares, “All the work of the Tabernacle was finished.”
While Shabbat represents a weekly slice of “sacred time,” the Tabernacle describes “sacred space,” where God’s contracted Presence is manifest in this world. On every Shabbat we celebrate sacred time, and remind ourselves that, just as God ceased creative activity on the seventh night and day, we become Godly when doing the same every seventh day.
In the book of Bereshith (Genesis), God created our world. In the second half of the book of Shemot (Exodus), the Children of Israel are given the task of creating an appropriate place for God’s world in the mortal realm. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks describes this as follows: “God creates order in the natural universe. We are charged with creating order in the human universe. That means taking painstaking care in what we say, what we do, and what we must restrain ourselves from doing. There is a precise choreography to the moral and spiritual life as there is a precise architecture to the Tabernacle. Being good, specifically being holy, is not a matter of acting as the spirit moves us. It is a matter of aligning ourselves to the Will that made the world.” (The Architecture of Holiness, Terumah, 5777).
For 23 consecutive years, Shabbat Across America and Canada has transformed the Divine mandate and the Divine gift of Shabbat into an international movement and phenomenon. Shabbat Across America and Canada‘s goal has always been to unify North American Jewry through the sanctity of Shabbat. NJOP has passionately endeavored to bond Jews to their Jewish birthright and heritage. Whether through Hebrew reading, Shabbat Across America and Canada, Crash Courses in Basic Judaism and Jewish History, holiday programs or a robust social media presence, NJOP has built bridges between Jews and fellow Jews, and between Jews and their Judaism.
The confluence of Shabbat Across America and Canada and Parashat Terumah ought to inspire all of us to recall the role given to the Jewish people of being a beacon and leader for the world. In order to succeed in that sacred task, we need to enlist as many sister and brother Jews in this mission. These twin objectives–recognizing our special role in the world and encouraging all Jews to embrace this role–can be accomplished by simply joining together tonight and committing to these callings.
Tonight is Shabbat Across America and Canada because tens of thousands of North American Jews have decided to spend Shabbat night together in fellowship with their co-religionists, engaging in Jewish life and contemplating our collective Jewish future. Each and every one of NJOP’s partners--comprised of synagogues, military bases, Hillel houses, Moishe Houses, JCCs, Federations and outreach centers--have committed to the notion that when we celebrate Shabbat together, the observance is ennobled, and becomes more uplifting, uniting us all.
Thank you for attending and elevating this particular Shabbat, and transforming it into a collective one with this community and with hundreds of other communities who are celebrating with us across North America and beyond.
It is NJOP’s hope to join with all North American Jews to recognize our Godliness by ceasing from “work” on Shabbat and by inspiring all others to live Godly lives.