Shab­bos: A Day to Cre­ate Your­self: Build­ing Char­ac­ter, Shap­ing Per­spec­tives, and Find­ing Hap­pi­ness through­out Shabbat

  • Review
By – March 29, 2023

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.

Discussion Questions