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What is the meaning of work and rest in relation to Shabbat?

by Mrs. Sarah Levi


Library » Shabbat » Forbidden Activities | Subscribe | What is RSS?


In order to understand the laws pertaining to Shabbat, we must first understand the basis and underlying nature of the Day of Rest.

The reason we rest on Shabbat is because "It was during the six weekdays that G-d made the heaven, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on Saturday. G-d therefore blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy".1

Now, we must understand what the Torah means when it says that G-d "rested." Was He tired? How can an infinite, omnipotent G-d need to rest?

Besides, the Torah tells us that G-d created the entire universe by speaking. Did that exhaust G-d to the point that He needed to unwind?

The answer is very simple. G-d did not rest from exertion--he rested from creation.

Creation is not necessarily synonymous with exertion and physical effort.

on Shabbat we abstain from CREATING and not necessarily from EXERTION
On the seventh day, G-d rested from creating. On Shabbat, we too abstain from "creating."

What constitutes "creation?"

Our sages have synthesized the paradigms of creation into 39 categories. There are 39 categories of activities considered to be creative. These 39 categories of activity were necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle that G-d commanded the Jews to build in the desert. All construction was to be suspended on Shabbat, despite the importance of building the Tabernacle. This serves as the source for determining which activities are considered "creation" and therefore prohibited on Shabbat.

Once it is clear to us that on Shabbat we abstain from CREATING and not necessarily from EXERTION, things make sense. When we drive a car, for example, we are CREATING fire (in the internal combustion engine). When we turn on the light, we are creating an electrical circuit. And so on with all other Shabbat prohibitions.

So, it's not an issue of stressful vs. unstressful--it's an issue of creative vs. non-creative.

Also, the six days of the week are days in which we transform the world outside of us. On Shabbat, however, we dedicate ourselves to our internal, personal, and spiritual world. In Kabbalistic terminology, the six days of the week belong to the "World of Speech," whereas Shabbat is the "World of Thought." (One speaks in order to communicate with others. One thinks in order to communicate with oneself.)

Therefore, on Shabbat, we retreat from interaction with the tumultuous material world and turn our concentration to our personal spirituality.


  • 1. Exodus 20:11


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(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.