I have joined chief rabbis across the world in a global call to make this Shabbat extra special. This Shabbat — the Shabbat before Pesach — is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. It commemorates the moments just before the redemption, when the Jewish people were still captive in Egypt, still mired in the darkness of slavery — the darkness before the dawn.
The Jewish people were alone in their homes – the verse actually states that God told them to stay inside to take refuge from the plagues that were sweeping across Egypt.
As chaos reigned outside, every Jewish family sat fervently anticipating the dream of liberation and nationhood. Amidst the darkness and oppression from which they had not yet been redeemed, they stayed home, sheltered in a haven of faith and hope, awaiting their birth as a people and their deliverance from the forces of evil.
It has been a tradition in Jewish communities for generations to mark this Shabbat as a time of spiritual preparation for Pesach. If Pesach is about gratitude and thanksgiving to God in times of deliverance and revealed blessing, Shabbat HaGadol is is a time to maintain our faith in times of darkness – a time to imagine the light burning from within the darkness.
And here we sit, 3,332 later, once again surrounded by darkness.
Once again isolated in our homes, on Shabbat HaGadol, the world now faces up to the global COVID-19 pandemic. We face the same challenge to maintain faith and hope — to imagine the light — at a time of darkness and uncertainty.
This is why the world’s chief rabbis have joined together. Our call is for Jews all over the world to bring in the light from within the darkness. Our call is to make this Shabbat HaGadol a Shabbat of kindness, a Shabbat of prayer, and a Shabbat of connection to the Divine – of tapping into the essence of Shabbat and its transformative powers.
We are calling on Jews in every corner of the globe to do three things.
Firstly – to phone or message each other with words of encouragement before Shabbat. In our heroic global quest to protect each other, we find ourselves physically cut off from one another. So many of us are completely alone. Let us call or message someone we know who is alone or struggling, wishing them “Shabbat Shalom” and offering them personal words of comfort and support. There is so much we cannot do at this time – but let’s not underestimate the power we have to uplift, encourage and support one another.
Secondly – let us pray for each other just before candle-lighting. Prayer is such a powerful force. It is a way of connecting with the Divine and of changing the direction and destiny of the world. It is also a sign that we love and care for each other, that we hold others in our thoughts. As the devastation of COVID-19 sweeps across the world, so many people need our prayers. Let us pray to our Father in Heaven, together – for each other and all humankind.
And thirdly – let us keep Shabbat together. Let us bring this Shabbat into our homes and harness its immeasurable invigorating power. Let us connect to light and love and disconnect from the relentless news cycle for a precious 25 hours. Let us fill our homes with the radiant light of Shabbat candles. Let us proclaim G-d’s sovereignty over the world, and feel his loving embrace, as we recite Kiddush together. Let’s cook before Shabbat, put away our car keys, dress up, switch off our devices, eat, sing, pray, hope and dream – together.
When we enter Shabbat, we enter a world of light and strength, of courage and hope. A world of connection. When we set aside our work and all of the matters of the week – when we put it all down and put our trust in G-d – we reconnect in the deepest way with our families, with ourselves, and with G-d, Himself.
Shabbat is the source of our faith and strength. It has always been there for the Jewish people through thick and thin, light and dark, good and bad. For thousands of years, Shabbat has been a refuge for the Jewish people. We have kept it, but more importantly, it has kept us. And now, at this historic time, we need it more than ever.
Kindness. Prayer. Shabbat. This is our three-fold formula. This is our call to the Jewish world. Let us all rally together, reach out to one another, be mindful of each other. Let us be together – welcoming in Shabbat together, and keeping Shabbat HaGadol together, as one people with one heart.
May this Shabbat be a force for unity and strength for the Jewish people. May we all find comfort and solace in Shabbat, a Shabbat HaGadol, a Great Shabbat in the fullest sense. And may G-d bring health and healing to His world.