Why Work for Six Days?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“Six days you shall work and perform all your labor, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter…” (Exodus 20, 9-10)
The intention of the Torah here is to establish the prohibition of performing labor (melachah – specific creative activities) on Shabbat. If so, the Torah should have simply stated: “On the seventh day labor is prohibited.” The preamble “Six days you shall work and perform all your labor” seems redundant?
The Kli Yakar explains that the Torah is not only teaching us how to behave on Shabbat, but is also teaching us how to behave during the week. He explains that the term “work” refers to the work of serving God and that the term “labor” refers to creative activities needed to provide our worldly needs. The Torah is instructing us that, even during the weekdays, we are to see our service of God as primary and our worldly work as secondary. We need to do both, but our primary focus must always be on serving God. Whereas on Shabbat, we suspend all worldly work and focus entirely on the service of God. In fact, Rashi learns from the words “perform all your labor” that when Shabbat comes, one should see one’s worldly work as complete and, thus, not even think about it on Shabbat.
Rebbi Nosson, in his epic work Likutei Halachot, gives a very insightful answer to the question at hand. He explains that, before the sin of Adam and Eve, mankind did not need to work. The Garden of Eden was a good and perfect place. Mankind simply had to pick fruit from the trees for their livelihood. After Adam and Eve sinned, the world lost its perfection. Human beings are now responsible for perfecting the world and restoring the original good. Creative work performed with honesty and integrity accomplishes this goal. In this sense, creative activity makes the world a better place and returns the original good (holiness) that was lost through mankind’s original sin. In this regard, our workday activity is also a holy endeavor, and the holiness we reveal during the week adds holiness to Shabbat and makes it even more special.
I would summarize the Kli Yakar and Rebbi Nosson’s messages as follows: When we prioritize the service of God in our lives, then even our worldly creative work becomes sanctified Godly service. When we live in this way, we are able to experience Shabbat (a day dedicated entirely to the direct service of God) on a much deeper level.