“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy, a day of solemn rest to the L-rd.”
— Exodus 35:2
During the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert they carried with them a portable temple referred to as the Tabernacle or the Mishkan. The creative acts that are forbidden on the Sabbath are those acts similar to the skills that went into building or assembling the Mishkan. The Talmud outlines 39 different categories of such creative acts that are forbidden to do on the Sabbath. They represent our ultimate power of creativity that is to build a temple that accommodates the presence of G-d on earth. The Mishkan symbolizes our ability to serve G-d and infuse every moment and every place with the presence of G-d. In other words the greatest accomplishment of a human being is to serve to make manifest G-d’s presence in the here and the now.
The building of the Mishkan represents the greatest accomplishment that we could ever imagine to accomplish in our lives. G-d created the world for you and me and our joy, task and service is to take this world and build it into a sanctuary for the presence of G-d. The greatest accomplishment that we could ever do is to do something for G-d. This is one of the most amazing ideas in Torah tradition, that we human beings can do something for G-d. It is human nature to feel great when we can do something for an important or famous person. Torah teaches that we can even do something for He who is the greatest — G-d. This is one of the most mystical ideas in Jewish tradition — G-d created work for us to do for Him. When I act on my own behalf it is no great shakes but when I act on G-d’s behalf it takes me beyond myself and connects me to G-d.
When we build the Mishkan we are creating a space for G-d to become present in this world and this is the greatest human accomplishment imaginable. Why then are we commanded to refrain on the Sabbath from the greatest act of human creativity and accomplishment? To ensure that we are truly doing it for G-d’s sake. Otherwise it could be just another ego trip.
I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child she kept saying that she hopes that she will give birth on the Sabbath. I actually hoped not because that would mean that I would have to break Sabbath to get us to the hospital. I would have to use the phone and get into a car, which is traditionally not done on Sabbath. Of course it is permissible since it could be a matter of life and death, which overrides the laws of Sabbath. Nonetheless for me breaking Sabbath was unthinkable.
My wife, however, insisted, “I have a feeling it will be on Sabbath.” I said, “Well, have another feeling.” During the ninth month, I would get more and more nervous as we approached Sabbath. Sure enough as soon as my wife lights the Sabbath candles she sits down and says, “I’m in labor.” Okay so now I am hoping for a long labor. “How about a 24 hour deal, honey? You just sit and relax until Saturday night.” That is not quite what happened.
Although my wife never likes to rush, for some reason the baby did and the contractions started getting intense quite quickly. I had been celebrating Sabbath for 25 years and now I am going to break Sabbath, use the phone to call a cab and ride in a car on the holy Sabbath. As we were driving to the hospital I suddenly realized what a fake I am. If my Sabbath were truly a service of G-d then this is not breaking Sabbath rather this is the way G-d wants me to celebrate Sabbath this week.
Driving in a car on Sabbath to take my wife to give birth is the way I serve G-d this Sabbath. I then realized that my Torah life could simply be a self-serving spiritual habit rather that a sacred service to G-d. Rather than my Torah life express my desire to infuse the here and now with the presence of G-d it could be just another way to fulfill my ego and gain approval from others in my religious community. The sages tell us that when we do something to gain public approval it is worse than idol worship. When you worship idols at least you know you are an idolater but when you do commandments to gain public approval you still think you are serving G-d. Riding in that car on that Sabbath was one of the most meaningful Sabbath experiences I ever had. I had first thought I was breaking Sabbath but it was ok. But I then finally understood that I was truly fulfilling Sabbath in the most sacred way.
Now imagine it is Friday afternoon, it’s the dawn of the sixth millennium, six thousand years we have been waiting for the Messiah and finally he has come and we are building the tabernacle. Within minutes we complete the ultimate accomplishment we have been dreaming of but Sabbath is coming soon. We need just ten more minutes to complete the temple and infuse this world with the complete presence of G-d — but Sabbath is starting in five minutes. Would we stop? Could we stop? Are we willing to let go of the greatest service to G-d, the ultimate accomplishment humanly possible? Are we going to blow the rectification of the universe for five minutes of Sabbath and wait 25 hours to resume?
But this is exactly the message of Sabbath and the blessing it bears. If we are really building the Temple for G-d than if the Boss says stop we stop. The goal is not to finish the temple rather the goal is to infuse every moment with the presence of G-d through service. If you cannot stop then you were building the temple for yourself.
This is the amazing lesson we can learn from the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham dedicated his life in service to the one G-d and invested all his energies to make the presence of G-d known on earth. He wanted a son to be the heir to his spiritual mission and continue his service spreading the truth of the G-d of love. Miraculously at a very old age Sarah conceives and they have a son Isaac. But G-d then asks Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son. Imagine what must have gone through Abraham’s head. G-d, do You know what that will do to everything I have done for You all these years? My whole mission will be destroyed. Your name that I have worked so hard to promote and sanctify on earth will be desecrated. Think of the headline on the front page of the Canaanite Times.
Embraces Idolatrous Practice and Sacrifices His Son
This story reveals the true meaning of service. G-d is asking Abraham to serve Him by giving up his life long service. In this case Abraham’s service to G-d is to sacrifice his service to G-d. This is the ultimate test of true service. If you are really concerned about doing the will of G-d then simply do what He asks. G-d is saying to Abraham, “I know you’re a big Rabbi and you are spreading My name on earth and I know this is going to destroy everything, but that is what I want.” So this is the greatest test. Did Abraham truly dedicate his life to the service of G-d or was his mission really just an ego trip in disguise? If Abraham truly worked for G-d than he accepted that whatever the boss says goes. Abraham understands: I do not own this world and I am not the Master of history. I just work here serving to infuse this world with G-d’s presence according to His will.
This is the subtle challenge of the Torah life. Am I really serving G-d? If a religious organization steals money to support their activities to spread the word of G-d then they have missed the point and are not truly serving G-d.
In summary: What is Sabbath all about? Sabbath is a time to stop. And when we stop that retroactively affirms that everything we have done until now is truly in service to G-d. If the boss closes shop and doesn’t want us to work why would we even want to do work? Otherwise we are confused and think we are self-employed. Sabbath reminds us that we just work here in this moment, in this moment, in this moment. Sabbath teaches us that the future that we are looking forward is not any more important than this moment right now in our service to G-d. Only the now is real and only now is the time to bring G-d’s presence into the world. Sabbath empowers us to stop, chill out, beat the rush and be at peace now.
Sabbath is a challenge to the modern man caught in the rat race chasing rainbows. When I host people at my home for Sabbath or conduct a Sabbath experience at Isralight I find most newcomers are very stressed out about trying to relax.
A lot of people simply can’t let go and let G-d. They get fidgety. They sit there at the Sabbath dinner table nervously bouncing their leg up and down. They simply can’t be present. They are afraid to immerse themselves into the moment and impatiently want to get on with life. Sabbath is truly an accomplishment. The accomplishment is not to accomplish and just be. Sabbath restores your soul and makes you whole. If you are single then the best place to find your soul mate is over a Sabbath meal. And if you are married that best to renew your love is over a Sabbath meal because that is when we are most soul. Sabbath is holy.
It is time to become whole with yourself, with your loved ones and with G-d.
Rabbi David Aaron, a master of clarity, shares life-changing Torah secrets to love, spiritual growth and personal power. He is the founder of TheOne.Tv, Dean of Isralight International, and author of several best–selling books including Endless Light, Seeing G-d, Living a Joyous Life, The Secret Life of G-d, Inviting God In, and The G-d Powered Life.