The bulk of this week’s Torah portion elaborates on the theme that dominates the last third of the book of Exodus—the building of the portable sanctuary, with its vessels and vestments. Yet before it takes a deep dive into the details of this ancient construction project, Vayakhel opens with an injunction to observe Shabbat: On six days, work may be done, but on the seventh day, you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal One.
Why does a portion so focused on sacred labor begin with a reminder to rest?
Torah recognizes that it is all too easy to get so caught up in our work that we lose perspective on what really matters most—family, friends, relationships. If the Holy One tells us to rest even in the midst of building a dwelling place for the Divine, all the more so should this apply in our ordinary occupations and projects. If God’s designated architect, Bezalel can take a break, surely so can most of us.
South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein writes beautifully about the importance of Shabbat in our frantically-paced world, so full of distractions:
There’s an amazing passage in the Talmud that says when we rush around during the week, we lose part of our eyesight, which is then restored on Friday night when we gaze at the Shabbat candles. Obviously, it’s not that our physical eyesight is impaired then restored. It’s that when we slow things down, we can see more clearly, we have more perspective on our lives, we notice the people around us, and we are able to truly connect to them in the most profound way. We also reconnect with ourselves. . . The beauty of Shabbat is that it allows us to savor life’s basic pleasures; the simple joys of hearty eating and sound sleeping, of nice clothes and good company, of walking and talking and connecting. We can only fully appreciate these when we slow things down.
Conversation Question: This coming Shabbat, choose one small thing that you can do to more fully celebrate the day as one of rest and renewal. Try it. How does it feel?