The spiritual energy of Shabbat grants us “extra soul”. We symbolically acknowledge the loss of this added Shabbat soulfulness at Havdalah, as the holiness of the day departs, by smelling invigorating spices to revive our spirit. Smell is the most spiritual of our physical senses. It is less essential to our physical well-being than hearing, sight, touch and taste, and has a certain ethereal quality – fragrances are largely intangible and indiscernible.
Inhaling spices reminds us of the Divine soul within us and how Shabbat connects us to it. This is important because the Godly soul within each of us is the source of all human greatness – the fount of our awesome potential, which it is our life’s mission to actualise.
That is why the human being was given the name “Adam”, from the Hebrew for “earth”. At first glance, this appears counterintuitive, since we primarily identify with our sublime souls rather than our earthly bodies. But there is, in fact, an intrinsic connection between human beings and the earth: they are both pure potential. Whether a piece of land will produce fruit depends on what is done with it. Even the most fertile land will not produce fruit if it is left to lie fallow; it needs to be ploughed, fertilised and irrigated. So, too, the human being is pure potential, and to live a fruitful, productive life of growth and improvement requires continuous work and development.
We have been given free choice to turn that potential into personal growth and mitzvot and spiritual greatness. We can choose to squander it and simply let it lie dormant. Or we can spend a lifetime growing and actualising our awesome Divine potential.
To be human is to be called to constant upward motion. The prophet Zechariah refers to human beings as “walkers”, and to angels as “standers”. How do we understand this? Because angels are purely spiritual with no capacity for wrongdoing, they are perfect – yet static. They are who they are, and they are unchanging. Human beings are imperfect, full of flaws – yet with the capacity to improve and become great. And it is this dynamism of the human being which is captured in the word “walkers”. Our lives are a journey of growth.
Shabbat, the day we have “extra soul”, is a day dedicated to personal growth. We pray and learn, listen and think. We give, share and connect. We stop doing and start becoming. We rededicate ourselves to actualising our God-given potential. And we usher out Shabbat with spices – a comfort for losing our extra soul, and a reminder to continue walking the upward path towards our best selves.
Throughout the journey of The Shabbat Project, I have been inspired by those whose Shabbat experience became the impetus towards dramatic personal growth; how, spurred by the soulfulness of Shabbat, individuals and families have changed their entire lives and put themselves on an entirely new trajectory.
Take Lana Wilder from Arizona, once an unaffiliated, secular Jew married to an unaffiliated non-Jew. A friend convinced her to attend a Shabbat Project challah bake in 2014, and that set her on a life-changing journey which she shared with me:
“When I walked into the room at the JCC, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of awe; by the spirit and presence of hundreds of Jewish women from all walks of life. It literally sent shivers down my spine. I felt pride and awe and an overwhelming sense of love. And at that moment I realised that I had the obligation to maintain that 4,000 year-old chain connecting my children back through Sinai to Sarah and the other matriarchs.
“My husband, Chris and I decided to participate in the whole Shabbat Project experience that year. We were invited to a community dinner and Shabbat lunch. We walked to shul, and attended my husband’s first service. We kept Shabbat and we have never looked back.
“Today, I bake challah every week with my daughter. My husband and I kashered our kitchen and have kept Shabbat every week since that fateful day in 2014. Chris recently completed his conversion through the Beth Din.”
An epic journey inspired by Shabbat – a day of beauty and connection. The day of the soul. The day of growth.
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We at The Shabbat Project are always on the lookout for inspiring stories from those who have participated in the project. If you have a Shabbat story or an experience you’d like to share, we would love to hear about it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein is the chief rabbi of South Africa and the founder of The Shabbat Project.