Sabbath observance is a law of G-d. G-d rested from His creative labors on the seventh day and called it the Sabbath (see Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:11). The Lord commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath holy (see Exodus 20:8–11; Deuteronomy 5:12–15).
There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, Every place that it is mentioned that you must rest on Shabbat, it also says that you should also work six days a week …
Actually, in ancient times, people basically worked EVERY day.
The Jews were unusual because they did NOT work every day.
But yes, in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) the Jewish people are informed that they must work SIX days, and then stop working for a day, in remembrance of God’s Creation and the liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Slaves are forced to work. Free people can choose.
‘Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the Sabbath (seventh/rest) day is for the Lord. On it you shall not do any work, nor your son nor your daughter, nor your maidservant or your manservant, not even your livestock, or the foreigner within your gates…’ Exodus 20:9
Keeping the Sabbath is a major institution of Judaism.
Ahad Ha’am famously said: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” This is usually interpreted to mean that Jews which cease to observe the Sabbath, shortly cease to identify as Jews, and assimilate into the larger non-Jewish community.
Even today, most Jews calibrate their opinion of other Jews’ adherence to Jewish law by asking only two questions: Does he keep kosher? Does he observe Shabbat?
Saying that someone is ‘shomer Shabbat’ (lit. a guardian of Shabbat, meaning that this person keeps/observes Shabbat) is shorthand for saying that this person is fully observant of Jewish law and traditions.
As for whether the Bible says YOU should work six days and take the Sabbath off, that depends. Are you Jewish? then yes, this is a law for the Jewish people for all time.
If you are not Jewish, this is not a law which applies to you. However, we do know, from various studies, that it is definitely healthier for people to take regular rest breaks and stop to ‘smell the roses’, so to speak.
So in principle, it is a good thing to take regular breaks and a day off from time to time, no matter who you are.
Jews keep the Sabbath day holy is by resting on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8). But what are we resting from? Notice the other half of the Fourth Commandment: “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work” (verse 9). God commands that we labor and do all our work in six days! This is not a suggestion, it is a command—and it’s just as important as the Sabbath half of the command. In fact, the harder we work, the more we will get out of the Sabbath.
G-d is a creator who works for a living, and His purpose is to reproduce Himself through man. As G-d’s children, we must be willing to labor and work like the Father does. “The spirit or intent of this law shows that a man is normally expected to keep busily engaged in gainful work during the first six days of the week.”
When Adam was first created, G-d placed him in the Garden of Eden and commanded him “to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). “Dress it” here also means to labor, to work; by implication, it means to serve as a bondman or to be a slave of labor.
In order for Adam to make bread, he had to till the ground, plant the seeds, and labor to bring them to harvest. After the harvest, there was still the milling, kneading and baking involved to make the bread.
G-d could have arranged some other, less labor-intensive way—where we were designed to live on air only or by eating the soil, like an earthworm. But He wanted us to work for our food!
We must remember that there is nothing negative about G-d’s instruction. G-d commands men to work, and to work hard—but it is not some kind of punishment or sentence.
Submitting to this command actually makes man truly happy and content because it keeps us in a right relationship with G-d. It keeps us active, working and producing—just like G-d!
Even when G-d rained manna from heaven directly into the Israelite’s’ camp, it wasn’t as easy as picking up bread off the ground and eating it. It came in the form of tiny seeds, and they had to go out and gather it every day, grind it in mills, beat it into dough, and bake it in pans to make cakes (Exodus 16).
They weren’t allowed to store up large quantities and make a bunch of bread all at once; G-d specifically commanded them to gather a certain amount every day except Friday, when they were to gather enough for the Sabbath day as well (verses 16-19). If they tried to keep it overnight on any other day, the manna would spoil. It was a test commandment, G-d said, and notice what part of the test they failed: “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them” (verse 20).
They wanted to make extra so that they wouldn’t have to work the next day! Failing the test involved their refusal to work on the other six days!
The Bible has about 900 references to employment and work habits. It is G-d’s nature to work diligently, and He wants us to be just like Him. God is a workman who is always on the job. That’s the way He wants us to be, both men and women.
Human nature wants to be lazy, but a true Spiritual follower ought to be a diligent, hard worker.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” A man’s responsibility is to provide for himself—and especially for those of his own house. Married women who are not employed outside the home should diligently apply this godly work ethic in the home.
These scriptures show that it is not God’s will that we give handouts to lazy dropouts or able-bodied persons who will not work. If there are those who refuse to work, who are indolent and lazy, others are expressly forbidden to give them money or food or any kind of assistance which they otherwise could acquire on their own by working.
If you don’t currently have a job, first, realize your primary job is to get a job. Do not be lazy in your search. The correspondence course reads, “Get up early in the morning—consistently—and start out either arranging interviews, or pounding the pavement early every morning, and don’t quit until you’ve put in a full day’s work looking for work!”
Simply obtaining a job is not where exhibiting godly work ethic ends. As employees, we are responsible to G-d to work hard, not just to our physical boss.
A good employee constantly feels pressure from G-d). Even the service we give our physical bosses is to be considered as service rendered to God.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 adds, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” That doesn’t say “whatever you are good at” or “whatever you like to do”—it says “whatsoever your hand finds to do ….” Not being good at something is no excuse for laziness—it actually means you must push yourself harder because of it.
G-d doesn’t want us to just sit around and wait for His return. He wants us to continue working and building—both physically and spiritually.
Six Days Shall You Work
Shabbat is important, yet our behavior during the other six days is no less a part of religious life.
The Talmudic phrase bitul Torah, literally the “cancellation of Torah,” refers to the time one spends occupied with the world at large, away from Jewish text study. Chol, literally “profane,” refers to the six days of the week before.
Such language suggests that religious life takes place only within the temporal boundaries of ritual.
This notion is problematic and spiritually impoverished. Religious life is not a series of proscribed acts separated by spans of mundanity. To the deeply religious person, spiritual life is continuous. Moments of ritual dust off the soul and propel the individual into the following hours with renewed awareness and intention.
Parashat Vayakhel reminds us that religiosity transcends ritual. Moses addresses the whole Israelite community for the first time since his dramatic return from Mount Sinai. He briefly commands the nation to observe Shabbat Exodus 35:2-3 and then launches into a long, detailed speech about the construction of the Mishkan.
The rest of Parashat Vayakhel, and much of Parshat Pekudei, are devoted to this grand project and document the overwhelming generosity of the Israelite community to complete it. Moses’ short instruction about the holy seventh day virtually dissolves in the details of construction–building, melting, welding, and other acts that are forbidden on Shabbat. Just as the vast majority of life occurs outside of ritual acts, the vast majority of this parsahah focuses on the activities of chol.
The Mitzvah to Work
Moses suggests that our work in the world before and after Shabbat is no less important than Shabbat itself. “Six days you shall do work,” he commands, “and on the seventh day you shall have a Shabbat of complete rest”
Thus, the first law that Moses articulates after Mount Sinai is that we should engage in work for six-sevenths of every week. Insofar as Shabbat is a call for rest on Saturdays, it is also a call for action on all other days. From this perspective, the true observance of Shabbat is an ever-flowing, lifelong affair that usually consists of working.
This is not to say that Parashat Vayakhel disregards or undervalues religious ritual itself. Moses’ few words about the observance of Shabbat could hardly be more emphatic. “Whoever does any work [melachah] on it [Shabbat] shall die,” Exodus 35:2 he warns. According to the medieval commentator Rashi, Moses prefaces his speech about the Mishkan with a warning about Shabbat in order to remind the Israelite s that the Mishkan does not supersede Shabbat.
Lessons from the Mishkan
The construction of the Mishkan has traditionally been regarded as an illustration of what we should not do on Shabbat. Indeed, the Rabbis derived the 39 prohibited actions on Shabbat directly from the 39 acts of labor involved in the creation of the Mishkan.
However, we can also view this principle from the opposite angle. While the construction of the Mishkan demonstrates inversely what Shabbat should not look like, it also reveals a direct prescription for our engagement during the rest of the week.
According to Rashi, the Mishkan is a microcosm of the whole world. Like the nation who built the Mishkan as a dwelling place for the Divine, we must work to make the world worthy of that Presence. The levels of scrutiny, care and “voluntary-warmheartedness” Exodus 35:5 that define the building process in Vayakhel and Pekudei beckon us to devote equally high levels of mindfulness and spirit to our own melachah (work) at all times. We must take our work during the week very seriously.
Every act of melachah–that which we do in homes and offices, public squares and private spaces–changes the world in a constructive or destructive way.
When we purchase imported goods, what types of labor are we supporting overseas? For those of us employed outside our homes, how does our professional work–and that of our companies and organizations–hurt or help people globally? How do we use our money, time, and physical selves to pursue justice in the world?
When we speak with children, when we are at home and on our ways, when we lie down and when we rise up, do we ask ourselves which nails, knots, clasps, and sheets we will contribute to the Mishkan of the world today? These day-to-day activities are what make our world a dwelling place for the Divine.
Shabbat is important, yet our behavior during the other six days is no less a part of religious life. Shabbat is when we step back and appreciate the created world. Chol is when we step up and participate in creating that world. Piety is not only a reflection of what we observe, but also of what we build.
As well as watching what we do at every moment, one must watch what we say as well, as this Mother learned from her little girl:
A Blessing at Dinner
Leah Epstein invites some family and friends to dinner and at the table, she turns to her 6 year old daughter Rivkah and says, “Darling, don’t forget to make a bracha (blessing).”
“But Mommy, I don’t know what bracha to say,” replies Rivkah.
“All you need do,” says Leah, “is to repeat what you heard Mommy say.”
Rivkah thinks for a moment and says, “God, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”