We all look forward to the weekend, when we are provided with welcome respite from the stress and workload of the past week. It is a time to rest and relax, when we can temporarily remove ourselves from our workplace. Of course, as Jews, the weekend is all about Shabbat, which serves as a spiritual haven from the material world that we have been preoccupied with the entire week.
Although we know this to be true, we may have difficulty implementing this theory into action. Say, for example, that you have been working on a big deal all week long, or maybe an unpleasant incident occurred at work. It is very likely that you will not be able stop thinking about work, even though it is Shabbat.
Is it realistic to expect us to leave work on Friday without a care in the world when there is unfinished business remaining to be done? Sometimes at the end of the workweek we feel like a tractor-trailer hurtling down the highway; it is impossible to make a short stop, we are simply going too fast!
The answer to this question can be found in this week’s Torah portion of Vayakhel-Pekudei. In the portion, the Torah reiterates the command to keep Shabbat, which was originally mentioned in the Ten Commandments. This time, however, the Torah makes a few subtle linguistic changes. “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the L-rd.”
The first change is that we are given a command to work for six days. The second change is that work is referred to in a passive tone (work may be done), as if it is being done of its own accord.
What do these changes mean? What is the imperative for work to be done, and how can it be completed without a worker?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that there are two conflicting approaches that we can adopt when we get a job. The conventional approach is to see the job as our livelihood and source of income. With this approach comes a strong work ethic, and we take our job seriously. Along with this approach comes a risk of taking a job too seriously, to the extent that it overpowers familial, personal, and spiritual responsibilities.
The second approach, which is the true approach, is that of the Torah, which says that the source of our income is G-d’s blessings. Only G-d has the power to dictate whether our business venture will prove successful, or whether we will get a promotion at work. The actual job is secondary, similar to a vessel which merely contains liquid within.
This explains why the Torah commands us to work, and yet refers to the work in such a passive way. It is teaching us that G-d wishes for us to work, and that our toil is the vessel through which the blessings flow. However, we must remain cognizant that the work is only secondary to the blessings. This is alluded to by the phrase “work shall be done,” without specifying who is doing the work. The work does not revolve around me, I happen to be the one getting it done. The emphasis is placed on the work, not on the laborer.
When we are operating with the conventional approach to work, it is truly impossible to leave everything behind us at the end of the week. Work becomes all-consuming and important, and it overflows into our free time. Even Shabbos, the day of rest, becomes influenced by the workweek. If, on the other hand, we are able to adopt the Torah approach towards work, the main day of the week becomes Shabbos. This is the day when we reconnect with G-d, and imbue ourselves with trust in G-d, the source of all blessings, who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. If Shabbos is the foundation of the week, then we can find peace and equanimity even when we venture back into the workweek that follows. The entire week becomes a "Shabbos" week, permeated with peace borne of faith.
This does not mean that we should work any less. It means that our understanding of which particular factors are the ones that truly determine our livelihood changes.
In truth, it is very difficult to change speeds in life. Still, we have the ability to decide whether we prefer to live a week with seven days of work, or to live a week of Shabbos. We can choose to let our work dictate the terms of our life, or we can use our trust in G-d to imbue us with the peace of Shabbos.