One of Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein’s legacies as Chief Rabbi of South Africa is the Shabbat Project, a movement he began in 2013 that aims to inspire Jews across the world to observe Shabbat. In Shabbat. A Day to Create Yourself, Rabbi Goldstein makes a strong case for why his efforts matter. In forty-five short chapters, he carefully unpacks the theology, motivations, and ethics of the Sabbath in the hope that readers will take it more seriously.
Shabbat. A Day to Create Yourself is a double entendre. On the one hand, it’s a nod to the Shabbat Project, where everyone has the power to own their own Shabbat experience. One need not have grown up Orthodox to be Sabbath-observant. Rabbi Goldstein makes this claim in his lengthy afterward, in which he tells the success story of the Shabbat Project, drawing on many interviews and testimonials about the power of trying Shabbat for the first time.
Yet Shabbat. A Day to Create Yourself is also a title that reminds readers that Shabbat can be transformative. After laying down the foundations of the day, Rabbi Goldstein turns to discuss how Shabbat helps build character, changes our perspective, and brings us happiness — and he does so through a series of bite-size sermonettes. He talks about how Shabbat keeps us both humble and rooted. He explores how the day forged the Jewish people into a nation, then examines how it connects us with a sense of the transcendent.
Because he knows this book will be read by lay audiences, Rabbi Goldstein is careful not to show off his erudition. Although his work is grounded in classical, medieval, and modern sources, he makes his claims simply, providing numerous footnotes so that more eager readers can look them up in the original.
As he moves through each topic, he allows himself to stray from Shabbat ever so slightly so as to give a fuller picture. In his discussion of Shabbat as the teacher of the ideal, for example, he spends a lot of time describing the Torah’s depiction of Abraham, who consistently does the right thing rather than the easiest or most comfortable one. Shabbat, Rabbi Goldstein claims, helps us to be more like Abraham, pursuing the ideal path even if it is hard.
Because his examination of Shabbat is so deep and multifaceted, the book serves as an introduction to some of the more important ideas in Judaism at large. Readers will walk away from this book with a general knowledge of Judaism’s view on free will, the nature of peace, and the tension between God’s immanence and transcendence. Most books on Shabbat would not touch on any of these philosophical ideas, let alone all of them.
Shabbat. A Day to Create Yourself is a book best read slowly. There is so much packed into every chapter that it’s hard to retain much if one tries to read it all at once. As such, it is the perfect Shabbat reader. One can study a short section each week, and carry its teachings and intentions with them throughout the day.
Rabbi Marc Katz is the Rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Loneliness: How Jewish Wisdom Can Help You Cope and Find Comfort (Turner Publishing), which was chosen as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.