by Rabbi Dovid Green
We find a commandment in this weeks Parsha to observe the Sabbath. It's
worthwhile to understand what the Torah means when it conveys the
expectation that we observe The Sabbath. Both in last week's and this week's
parsha the subject is mentioned (Exodus 31:13-17, 35:2). Many people are
puzzled by the many prohibitions involved in Sabbath observance. Many
understand that Sabbath observance means not going to work, but that is
incorrect. A person's work usually involves prohibited activities, but going
to work is not what the Torah meant when it commanded us to abstain from
working on the Sabbath.
When G-d instructed the Jews to build the Tabernacle, in the same breath, so
to speak, He told them to be sure to observe the Sabbath. There is a very
important reason for the juxtaposition of these commandments. Even though
the Tabernacle is for such a lofty purpose, namely, to bring the divine
presence into this world, it was forbidden to build it on the Sabbath. From
here we learn the definition of work which the Torah prohibits. The Hebrew
word for Sabbath Prohibitions is "melacha." The same word is used in regard
to the labors done in the building of the Tabernacle. When the Torah states
not to do "melacha," it means don't do any of the activities done in
building the Tabernacle. In all, there are 39 activities which involve
The Talmud explains further that any act which fulfill the purpose of any of
these 39 activities is also prohibited. That means, for example, that not
only is planting prohibited, but anything which would stimulate plant growth
would be included. That would include watering, pruning, etc. Needless to
say, according to this definition, it doesn't matter how strenuous the
activity is, but whether it falls under the category of the 39 "melachos"
(prohibited activities). In addition to the Torah prohibitions, the Rabbis
instituted many other prohibitions to guard against violating the Torah
prohibitions, and in order to maintain the spirit of the day.
It is possible for the uninitiated to feel overwhelmed by all of the things
which one may not do on the Sabbath, however, it's all a matter of attitude.
It's not "I can't do this, and I can't do that." But, "I don't have to do
this or that." The Sabbath is a time when we come to realize that we were
not put in this world just to earn a livelihood, albeit a necessary
dominating priority. We don't have to drive car pool, take phone calls, etc.
We change pace. The Sabbath is when we remind ourselves that we are
spiritual beings with a spiritual purpose, and we pursue it on the Sabbath.
Earning a livelihood is the vehicle through which we maintain ourselves on
the physical level. Then we can concentrate on our true essence. We can
remove the mask of the big executive, or whichever mask we must wear at
work. On the Sabbath we all come together before the same G-d, Who sees us
for what we are, rich and poor alike. We can uninhibitedly be ourselves in
prayer before G-d, as He recognizes us by who we are under the social mask.
By day we listen to the reading of His Torah. We come home to sit at the
table as a family, to eat the festive Sabbath meal, sing Sabbath songs, and
share of ourselves in the company of loved ones and friends.
The Sabbath is mei' ein olam haba'a, "the essence of the world to come."
One who experiences a Sabbath where it is kept properly, starts to feel that
this is how the world was really meant to be. Upon leaving such a Sabbath
atmosphere, one is already anticipating the next one. It leaves an
impression on the soul, and it shapes and molds the way we spend our week.
May we all be privileged to taste the sweetness of the Sabbath!
Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.