Parashas Yisro

This week’s parashah recounts the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and presents the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment discusses Shabbos (Shemos 20:8-10):
Remember the Sabbath day, to sanctify it. Six days shall you labor and carry out all your work, while the seventh day is a Sabbath unto Hashem your God. You shall not carry out any work ….”
The Maggid asks: Why does the Torah preface the mitzvah of Shabbos by saying “six days shall you labor and carry out all your work,” as if Hashem is ordering us to labor and do work during the six regular days of the week? In truth, there is no halachic obligation to perform work during the weekdays. Hashem has simply given us permission to do so as we choose to meet our needs. What message, then, is the preface conveying?
The Maggid raises a further question. The Midrash reports that Hashem said to the Jewish People: (Devarim Rabbah 3:1): “You are thinking that perhaps I have given you Shabbos to do you a bad turn, but in fact I have given it to you only to do you good.” What does Hashem mean in suggesting we might think He gave us Shabbos to do us a bad turn?
The Maggid answers as follows. Resting takes two forms: resting to enable further progress, and resting for its own sake. The first stems from necessity, the second from free choice. Consider, for example, a person traveling home from a distant town. He may take periodic rest stops, but only because he has to do so to replenish his strength and prepare for the next leg of the trip. He would prefer to go straight home without stopping. Thus, he views the rest stops as a hindrance, and is anxious to get past them. But once he gets home, he rests gladly.
Now, for a person who thinks the work he does during the week is what brings him his sustenance, Shabbos as an irritating hindrance. He spends his entire Shabbos mulling over his work, and is anxious for Shabbos to be over so he can get back to it. Implicitly, he thinks that Hashem has done him a bad turn by imposing Shabbos on him. But a person who realizes that all his sustenance comes from Hashem, and that he works only because Hashem has chosen to run the world through this mechanism, takes a different attitude. He views his weekday work as a chore Hashem has given him to do, in line with how He set up the world. And so he is happy that on Shabbos Hashem releases him from this duty, and does him the great favor of granting him a day of pure delight.
Thus, in saying “six days shall you labor (taavod),” the Torah is teaching us the attitude we should take to our weekday work. We should not view it as a fulfillment of our own agenda, but rather simply as an act of servitude (avdus) that we perform at Hashem’s behest. If we take this attitude to our weekday work, then our Shabbos will be as it should be: “a Sabbath unto Hashem” – a day free of weekday worries, devoted to drawing close to Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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