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Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt Shiur

Why does the Torah place the commandment to cease work on Shabbat next to the work of the Mishkan?


One reason is to teach us that a person is guilty of violating the Shabbat only if the work he does has a counterpart in the work that was undertaken in the making of the Sanctuary: they sowed the various herbs from which to make dyes for the tapestries, thus we cannot not sow on Shabbat. They harvested [the herbs]; you too shall not harvest. They loaded the boards from the ground onto the wagons; you too shall not bring an object from a public domain into a private domain – the Talmud (Shabbat 49b) explains:


The Talmud relates that Chazal (the Sages) sat, discussed and they raised a dilemma:

The primary categories of labour, which are prohibited by Torah law on Shabbat, are forty-less-one (39) what is the source of this number?


אָמַר לְהוּ רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בַּר חָמָא: כְּנֶגֶד עֲבוֹדוֹת הַמִּשְׁכָּן. אֲמַר לְהוּ רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן בְּרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר, כָּךְ אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בְּרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בֶּן לָקוֹנְיָא: כְּנֶגֶד ״מְלָאכָה״ ״מְלַאכְתּוֹ״ וּ״מְלֶאכֶת״ שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה אַרְבָּעִים חָסֵר אַחַת.


"Rabbi Ḥanina bar Ḥama said to them: They correspond to the labours in the Tabernacle. All types of labour that were performed in the Tabernacle are enumerated as primary categories of labour with respect to Shabbat. However, other labours, even if they are significant, are not enumerated among the primary categories of labour since they were not performed in the Tabernacle. Rabbi Yonatan, son of Rabbi Elazar, said to them that so said Rabbi Shimon, son of Rabbi Yosei ben Lakonya: They correspond to the instances of the words labour, his labour, and the labour of, that appear in the Torah a total of forty-less-one times."


Thus the building of the Mishkan not only defines the type of work forbidden on Shabbat, but also comes to teach us about the type of work that the Jew is engaged in on the other six days of the week: the work of building a dwelling for Hashem out of the materials of physical life.

These various otherwise 39 mundane activities; also have the capacity for spirituality if utilized in the correct manner, our theology calls to us to consider the world partially finished; all that remains is for our unique personal contribution to bring creation to a state of great perfection.


However, on Shabbat one is obligated to consider the world as if we have already achieved what we can, the work of perfecting our lives, our situation the world around us is never ending, even if we were to wave a magic wand and bring all of creation to a better place and end wars, poverty and corruption, there would still be ample room for improvement: the reason for this is simple, we ourselves can always be involved in self-perfection.


That is perhaps why on Shabbat, although we cease from Melachah we continue the process of this correction: shifting our understanding of bettering our world from the pragmatic to the internal, from the practical to the spiritual - It is for this reason a Torah Scholar is called "Shabbat" since they are always involved in this profound activity.


Rabbi Israel Salanter, arguably the founder of the Mussar School of thought within Torah that focused on perfection of character traits and ethical behaviour is credited with the following famous statement:


“Writing is one of the easiest things and erasing them one of the hardest.”

in our context it somewhat easier to build and to create than to abstain from it – to let go of our need to perfect and better the world and instead turn the attention to our lives and inner world:

We see our world, society, environment and duty often as external, and it can be easier to focus on a project, product or process than the one involved in it.


Shabbat was given to man for our ultimate pleasure and reverence, a time to connect with Hashem, our families and community and ultimately a time to connect with a further developed and perfected self, delighting in the miracle of creation.


Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2024 ©

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