Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 29 February 2008

V'Yakhel - Implementing the Vision

"And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel and said to them: These are the things which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall you work but on the seventh day there shall be for you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest unto the Lord; whosever does any work therein shall be put to death." (Shmos 35:1-2)
"And Moshe spoke until all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: this is the thing which the Lord has commanded." (Shmos 35:4)

Rav Hirsch notes in his commentary that the first speaking is worded in the plural: These are the things. The second speaking, however, is in the singular: This the thing. What is the reason for this? It could be because the reminder of Shabbos reminds us of two things: one is the need to work creatively to build up the world God has created while resting on Shabbos despite that need continuing to exist. Therefore, the work as well as the rest are commands. But when it comes to the Mishkan, there is only one thing: the building of a sanctuary for the Lord to dwell in.

This can be applied to our own lives as well. Rav Hirsch, amongst many others, notes that melacha means productive work, producing something that is an expression of one's abilities just as an emissary, a malach, is an emissary of one's wishes. How often do we find ourselves lost in the daily rat race that encompasses our lives? How often does one tedious day of work blend into another, leaving us to wonder if we toil without end or purpose? This, the Torah tells us, is not to be our guiding intention in life. In all we do, we must remember our purpose here is to build the holiness within our neshamos, constructive labour if there ever was one. Every day brings a new opportunity to improve ourselves and our service of God, allowing it to stand apart from all the other days, as it is written: "He renews the work of Creation daily". We exist to perfect our souls so that we can return them to our God in the best condition possible. This is our daily melachah that should give us purpose and prevent tedium from setting in. It the Mishkan in our hearts that we are always engaged in building.

Yet despite the importance of this goal, there is one thing which must override this task: Shabbos. I can offer a couple of reasons for this. The first is that novelty must, by defintion, remain novel to be interesting. Even amazing experiences, repeated day in and day out eventually lose their thrill. Shabbos provides us with a break from our daily struggle in order to prevent us from becoming too accustomed to the process. It contrasts our work so that we can more fully appreciate its importance.

Yet Shabbos in itself is more than a mere intermission. Our Sages tell us that Shabbos is a taste of Olam Haba and looking at the analogy above, one might suggest that the reason for this statement is what I have been describing. Our Sages note that the time for self-improvement and developing of the soul is in Olam Hazeh. In Olam Haba there is no further opportunity for spiritual development. On Shabbos, we pause from our creative labour and from building our internal Mishkan and treat it as if the labour is done, that we have finished fulfilling our requirements. Is this not also the description of Olam Haba? What's more, God in His infinite mercy also gives us the opportunity to grow on Shabbos through our learning of Torah and our observance of its mitzvos even though, technically speaking, Olam Haba would not offer us the same chance. Thus Shabbos turns out to be superior to Olam Haba in this respect.

Thus God has commanded us to do two things: build ourselves into a Mishkan for Him to dwell in, and taste the bliss of Olam Haba. Let us always remember that we labour not in vain but to reach our goal, a holy place in Olam Haba where we can enjoy the glow of the Shechina and benefit from God's munificences. Gut Shabbos.

No comments: