My phone pinged and one word lit up the screen. ‘Chief.’ I knew that there was only one person on the planet that this could be. Chief Rabbi Goldstein, the dynamic visionary who has led both South Africa and the world with his ‘Shabbos Project’ that has transformed countless lives. Rabbi Goldstein invited me to join the decade celebration of The Shabbos Project, as well as the community-wide challah bakes which would bring the women and girls of South Africa together.
I have just returned from my week-long speaking tour. These past few days have filled me with inspiration and awe. Imagine 5,000 women and girls coming together for a challah bake as the huge parking lot of a Johannesburg mall is transformed into a magical night. Close your eyes and envision the lights, the music, the joy, and the celebration. The second challah bake in the smaller community of Capetown brought 1,000 women and girls into a hall where the electric energy of achdus and unity permeated the air. As we approached the moment of uttering the bracha, there was not a sound. Each of us chose the name of someone in need of tefillos. A shidduch, a new life to carry, healing, shalom bayis, a child’s open heart, financial security, and any pain that filled one’s soul. There were prayers for geulah. Tears were shed. You could feel the shechina in the room.
The week brought me into schools, shuls, and homes. There were gatherings of thousands and then, more private meetings. The gracious hachnosas orchim, the desire to connect and grow, the delight of discovery as we learned and spoke together, ignited a spark within us all. The pintelah yid may flicker but it never dies.
There was one young boy, 12 years old, whose words remain with me. He shared that he is the only one in his home who keeps Shabbos.
“I usually have to walk out of the room because my parents and siblings are watching TV or on their phone,” he explained.
“So what do you do?” I asked. I could not believe the sacrifice, the sheer mesiras nefesh that this young soul must live with. I could not fathom a boy at such a tender age grappling with the observance of Shabbos, the choices he must make, the loneliness he must feel.
“I just sit in my room,” he said. “And then I visit my aunt and uncle’s home because they do keep Shabbos. So I go every single Shabbos,” he said solemnly. I felt the weight he carried on his shoulders. This is truly the meaning of ‘Shomer Shabbos’ – one who guards the Shabbos, watches over the Shabbos Queen, and welcomes her into home and heart. The melodious words of “Lecha Dodi Likras Kallah” came alive at that moment.
“What gives you the strength?” I asked. “How do you, a boy of 12, find the courage to keep Shabbos all by yourself every week? I am just in awe of you.”
He did not have an answer. “I don’t know,” he responded.
“Well, I do know,” I said. “Why do you think that Avraham Avinu had to discover Hashem all alone? Wouldn’t it have been easier if he had a chevra with him? But Avraham Avinu stood all alone, be’evar hanahar. He was the only Jewish man in the world on a journey of self-discovery, reaching out to others as he grew. Why?”
The boy looked at me, his eyes wide.
“Because Avraham Avinu was creating footsteps for his children in galus. Our father, Avraham, wanted to be sure that when a young man like you needs the courage to endure despite the odds, he will be creating spiritual genes for you to draw upon. You are not standing alone at all. You have your Zeidy, Avraham Avinu, cheering you on. Everything he went through, he did for you, and for his children just like you. You can draw upon his courage and discover the courage within you waiting to be tapped.”
“Long past the day that I will be leaving, you will continue on your journey. And as you do, you will require stamina, bravery, and grit. You are the child of Avraham Avinu. He walked first so that you can walk in his footsteps. You are the true definition of a gibor – one of the strongest people I have ever met. May Hashem watch over you, and give you the courage to keep on walking your incredible path.”
We are part of an incredible nation. Habet Mishamayim U’reah.” I share this young boy’s story of courage with you so that we all gain the strength needed to live as true Jews in a world filled with venomous antisemitism and hatred.
Am Yisrael Chai.