Torah Portion: A Time to Work and a Time to Rest

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a regular contributor to GTJ.

Last week G-d instructed the Jewish people not to work on the Mishkan (Tabernacle) during Shabbat. G-d anticipated that the Jewish people in their anxiousness to repent for the sin of the Golden Calf might not wish to put aside their work on the Mishkan for Shabbat. Today everything that is considered prohibited ‘work’ on the Sabbath day stems from the 39 types of labor that went into constructing the Mishkan. This week, in Parshas Vayakheil, G-d again reminds the Jewish people to honor the Shabbat saying “You may do work during the six weekdays, but the seventh day must be kept holy to you as a Sabbath of Sabbaths to G-d” (Exodus 35:2).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that while doing our weekday work we must be careful not to invest all of our energies. Our weekday work is indeed very important. During the week we earn a living and simultaneously refine the world and make it a home for G-d through our daily, mundane activities. However, we must not allow our weekday work to overtake our minds and hearts. Furthermore, our work must not be allowed to encroach on our set times for communal prayer, Torah study, charitable pursuits, educating our children, and so forth.[1] During the week, we use our creativity to perfect the world through all of our activities. However, on Shabbat we take time out from the pressures and concerns of the week to honor this special day by focusing more exclusively on holiness, family, and enjoying G-d’s creation rather than utilizing it for our own ends.

G-d was right in anticipating that the Jewish people may be hesitant to desist from work and honor the Shabbat. The Rebbe teaches that if we devote all of our energies to work, our weekday thoughts and worries will haunt us on Shabbat. It will then be very difficult to divorce ourselves from work.[2] Many people find refraining from work especially difficult because they cannot conceive of taking a break from the things in which they are so engaged.  On Shabbat we recognize that G-d runs the world and continually sustains it. By honoring the Shabbat we also testify that we have intrinsic value even when we are not working.

On Shabbat we do not abandon the world completely. In fact, we enjoy it and derive pleasure from it rather than make it bend to our will as we do during the week. Shabbat is a time of joy in which Jewish people laugh, drink, eat, and sing more than they do during the week. However, Me’am Lo’ez reminds us that “and the seventh day shall be holy to you,” is meant to teach that one who is so immersed in their work that they do not study Torah during the week must at least study on Shabbat.[3]

Many of us have productive and hectic schedules. It is understandable that the stresses of everyday life sometimes overwhelm us, but we must always strive to maintain a balance. Shabbat can give us that balanced perspective and bring a wonderful sense of holiness, peace, and tranquility into our lives. Shabbat Shalom!


[1] Torah Chumash Shemot The Book of Exodus. With commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Kehot Publication Society, 71

[2] Ibid.

[3] Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, The Torah Anthology. Exodus-VII 10