Shabbat Pekudey: It’s Not a Sin to Take a Break

Actually, the opposite is true.

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ 

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day rest is holy (Ex. 35.2)

As of sundown today, the work has to be done. Whatever it is you are doing, after sundown on the sixth day it is no longer holy. In what can be seen as a kind of inversion, the holy becomes profane. Not the work itself, but the timing, is what Shabbat seems to be trying to tell us. 

In our parashah, Pekudey we are told that the work is done. The Mishkan, the gathering place which will be used to seek out the holy and our connection to it, is completed. Our parashat hashavua records the details of the work, the resources used, and the process of putting it all together.

We know very well that our work is not done, though, just because it’s the end of the sixth day. We who tend to live in space tend to define ourselves by our impact on our space; we try to bend time to our will. We grant extensions of time rather than curtail our impact on space.

What happens if we turn the text sideways, take a look at it from another perspective? 

A well-known and respected modern commentator on the Torah, Nehama Leibowitz, has long been a regular touchstone for Shir Tikvah Torah Study. In this week’s exploration of the parashah, she shares a fascinating parallel between the completion of the work of the mishkan and that of the creation. First, the verses from our parashah:

וַתֵּ֕כֶל כׇּל־עֲבֹדַ֕ת מִשְׁכַּ֖ן אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד 

Thus was completed all the work of the Mishkan

וַֽיַּעֲשׂוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כְּ֠כֹ֠ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֧ה יְהֹוָ֛ה

The people of Israel did as HaShem directed (Ex.39.32)

…..

וַיְכַ֥ל מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָֽה

And Moshe completed the work (Ex.40.33)

Leibowitz compares this account to that of the Creation of the World. Look at the way that the words relating the completion of the mishkan are a precise echo:

וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ הַשָּׁמַ֥יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ

Heaven and earth were completed

וְכׇל־צְבָאָֽם

And all their hosts (details) (Gen.2.1)

וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה

And HaShem completed all the work (Gen. 2.2)

Now we know very well that the work of creating the world actually continues; in our morning prayers we regularly repeat our appreciation וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל־יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית “for the goodness which recreates the world each day”. On this week especially, we see all too well the unfinished nature of human beings and our creations.

On the Shabbat of a week of horrible images of war, it seems naive or even criminal to obey the directive to stop doing, to cease the work that creates holy places in the world, just because the end of the sixth day has come. And for piku’akh nefesh, the saving of life, that is true – we continue that work regardless of Shabbat, as generations of halakhah tells us.

But the stubbornly incomplete work of our hands will not be redeemed if we enslave ourselves to it. Here is the inversion: that which lifts us up, and makes us like HaShem in our capacity to create and change and develop, becomes that which destroys us on the seventh day. HaShem models the holiness of rest on the seventh day; it’s the perfect message for the hubris of our society. You’re not G*d. You can take a day off. And on the flip side: you are a precious and holy part of the world; your worth has nothing to do with your work. 

Today is the beginning of Adar II, the month in which Purim will come. It is a holy obligation for us to turn our perspective upside down. It is a divine imperative: remember your humanity. Otherwise, how will you remember that of others?

The world is not finished, nor your work. It will still be there to lend meaning to your life when Shabbat is over.

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Rosh Hodesh Adar!

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