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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Shabbat’s Sanctuary

by Rabbi Daniel Levitt (Posted on March 6, 2024)
Topics: Sefer Shemot, Torah, Vayakhel

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Parashat Vayakhel opens with a seemingly paradoxical statement. After urging the Israelites to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle), God instructs Moses to emphasize the importance of refraining from work on Shabbat. The Malbim, a prominent Torah commentator, asks, how can the Torah state “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to DO,” when the command is actually not to do any labor.

Building the Mishkan might appear more urgent, a tangible expression of devotion. But this juxtaposition highlights the profound significance of Shabbat. Shabbat transcends the everyday, offering a sanctuary in time. It’s a refuge from the relentless pursuit of “more,” reminding us that true meaning lies not in material gain but in the present moment.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, Shabbat is not about idleness, it’s about building a sanctuary in time rather than space. It’s about stepping away to reconnect with something larger than ourselves. In this act of “not doing,” we create time and figurative space for reflection, appreciation, and a renewed perspective.

The constant pressure to be productive can make rest feel like a luxury. Yet neglecting Shabbat diminishes our well-being. Like an artist who pauses to refresh their vision, we too need to step back and recalibrate. Shabbat provides this sacred space, allowing us to return to our endeavors with renewed clarity and purpose.

The seemingly contradictory language of “doing nothing” on Shabbat underscores the transformative power of rest. It reminds us that our work is not an end in itself, but a means to create space for experiences that truly enrich our lives. Just as we prepare for Shabbat to ensure its sanctity, all our actions, including our work, should ultimately contribute to a meaningful and purposeful life.

This lesson is echoed in Pirkei Avot, (4:16) “This world is an antechamber to the World-To-Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall.” Just as a grand hall demands a moment of composed entry, so too do our lives.  The relentless pursuit of daily tasks can leave us ill-equipped to reflect on the big picture of our lives.

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