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On the holiday of Sukkot, we celebrate our successful agricultural harvest with the four species. The lulav, made up of the willow, myrtle and palm branches, is taken together with the etrog. One of the many meanings ascribed in the Midrash to the four species is that they represent all different kinds of Jews – those with good deeds and wisdom (Torah knowledge), those with just one, and those with neither good deeds nor wisdom. The only way that we can make the blessing on the lulav and etrog is if every item is present. Not only that, but we are careful to hold all of the species together. The message that we are supposed to take away is that the Jewish people are only strongest when they are united. The act of taking the four species also reminds us of the saying in Talmud that all Jews are responsible for one another – “Kol Yisrael Areivim zeh lazeh”(Shavuot 39a). No matter what type of Jew we are, we  are nothing if we don’t unite together.

We will get an opportunity to live this unity in a few weeks. On the weekend of October 24-25, communities around the world will be celebrating Shabbat together from sundown to sundown. This is a special opportunity to continue the act of unifying the Jewish people which we begin on Sukkot. Communities from Seoul to Sydney and from San Paolo to Seattle will be keeping Shabbat together. This world –wide effort follows the “Shabbat Project” which was initiated by South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein last year, where over 20,000 affiliated and unaffiliated Jews celebrated Shabbat.

What is so special and unique about Shabbat?

I know that for many people Shabbat is just part of a long weekend to catch up on things that we do not have time for during the busy week. But Shabbat is more than just a day off; it is a day of bringing together the dimensions of body and soul that we so often neglect during the week. It is a day of relaxation and contemplation (without Google). It is a celebration with wine and great food with either just our own family (actually having everyone at the table together!) or with good friends and even sometimes new friends. It is a day of togetherness- without the interruptions of the phone, computer and TV, to which many of us have unfortunately become addicted. Can you remember the last time your phone turned was off or when you didn’t answer it for 2 hours let alone 24 hours?

We need to think begin thinking about Shabbat differently. God gave us Shabbat as a gift. It is a weekly present that we can give to ourselves to nurture both our physical and spiritual sides. We are so caught up with life at times that we have forgotten to take care of our spiritual/emotional needs and our need to connect to others.

“Each person has different aspects – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The Torah addresses each of these aspects of what it means to be a human being….And when we experience the totality of what it means to be a Jew – physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually – that has a powerful impact on us. Shabbat is a mitzvah that touches us on all levels. It has an intellectual dimension, which relates to our belief system; it attests to the fact that G-d created the world, as we say in the Shabbat Kiddush. It has a spiritual dimension as well; we have special prayers on Shabbat and we sing the zemirot (songs). Shabbat also has an emotional dimension, in terms of the bonding between parents and children, between friends, within the family and within the community. And Shabbat also has a physical dimension; we walk to shul, eat delicious food, and there is even a special mitzvah to sleep!”(theshabbosproject.org)

Here in Montreal communities in Westmount, Cote St. Luc, Hampstead and DDO, will be observing Shabbat together. Even Paula Abdul (see FB) is keeping Shabbat in LA!! I am encouraging you to take this opportunity and join in this very special weekend. You and your family can either volunteer to host a family for a Friday night meal or attend a meal at someone else’s house. Many synagogues are offering a communal meal for Shabbat lunch. I know that many of us have traditional Friday night dinners regularly with our families but I am inviting you to try to extend and expand that experience just this once.

I believe that it can change you and your family forever.

Best wishes for a joyful and wonderful Sukkot. Lisa