Yitro 5770 — The Commandment to Work
Is it a commandment to work?
This week we read the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to observe Shabbat. The commandment does not ONLY say to rest on the seventh day. It says "Six days shall you toil and do all of your work…the seventh day shall be a "Shabbat" a day of rest, to the Lord your God."
Just as we are commanded to rest on the 7th day, we are commanded to work the other days. Why?
Two reasons come to mind. First, we need the contrast to appreciate the day of rest properly. What's a day of rest mean if you never work? The rushing around getting ready for Shabbat is part of the Shabbat experience. We learn to let go when we light candles and accept that whatever didn't get done, it's OK, it will keep 25 hours.
Secondly, we are partners with God in Creation. That's why we are here. This is expressed in several places. There is a midrash which says there are three parties in creating a child: a mother, a father, and God. We are God's partners. Kabbalah teaches that God needs us — that we are God's vehicle for bringing about the perfection of the world, for doing "tikkun olam."
Most of us don't need to be reminded of a commandment to work. But it's worth remembering that if you sometimes feel overwhelmed by work, the Jewish ideal is NOT to sit on a remote mountain top somewhere doing nothing but studying Torah. We are commanded to work, to be engaged in the world, to contribute to making the world a better place.
And the seventh day we dedicate to God, family, and Am Yisrael, a time to reflect and remember why we are working.
One thought on “Yitro 5770 — The Commandment to Work”
I’ve heard a joke version of the story where Hashem goes around to all the nations offering them the Torah only to have them all turn it down (“What’s in it? Thou shalt not steal? Forget it, we’re a nation of theives”, etc.) where it is offered to the Charedim, they ask what is in it and are told “6 days you will labor” and they turn it down.
Also in the 1960s and 70s when the 5 day work week was being introduced to Israel some people actually objected based on the ‘6 days you shall work’ verse.