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Exodus 35:1 – 38:20


The construction of the Tabernacle is about to begin in earnest, and the people are eager to start, but first Moses calls them together to issue a strict command from the Eternal: even during the construction of the Mishkan, “for six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal” (Exod.35:2).

In his commentary, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, notices the passive form used in the first half of this verse: “work may be done.” Just as the Torah uses the passive form, he says, so should we relate to our weekday work in this way: “It means that during the six days of [our] work, [we] should be occupied, but not preoccupied by the secular.” Just like the work that took place in the biblical wilderness, our secular work is but a container for the Divine Presence to be expressed, “a channel for [God’s] blessing” as the Rebbe so powerfully describes. This passive attitude, this practicing non-attachment toward our weekday work, prevents us from haughtily taking credit for the authorship of creation. Furthermore, since Torah tells us to perform “necessary” work, it curtails our egotistic tendencies to go beyond the necessary in an attempt to make ourselves special or important.

Certainly, the Rebbe’s words seem at odds with our prevalent culture with its focus on individualism, fame, innovation, entrepreneurship, and pushing the limits in just about every field of endeavor. But should we frown on spirituality as a countercurrent to the societal norm? Of course not! We should adopt it as a badge of honor! What can we learn from the Rebbe about this idea of “work” that would allow us to relate to our own weekday labor at a deeper level?

Perhaps the answer is to be found in the Hebrew itself. In Hebrew the only day of the week with a name is Shabbat. The other days of the week from Sunday to Friday are called “Day One,” “Day Two,” “Day Three,” etc. In their full expression the days are actually “Day One toward Shabbat,” “Day Two toward Shabbat,” etc. Every day we are working toward getting ready for Shabbat, preparing ourselves for our weekly spiritual retreat, for our encounter with God. Readying ourselves for Shabbat consciousness is the central aim of our weekday work. The Rebbe’s attitudinal prescription is to prevent us from mistakenly paying too much attention to our secular activities, from being caught in them and assigning them an importance they do not deserve. Not that we shouldn’t tend to our world and do the work that is “necessary,” but our true focal point, our attention, should remain inner directed, divinely focused. From that grounded center we can do our weekday work responsibly and well, but without excessive inner involvement or attachment to the outcome. We simply do the work LiSh’ma (for its own sake)—not for the sake of pleasure or fame or any kind of reward, just because it needs to be done.

The Rebbe concludes: “Only when [one] sees [one’s] work for what it is, a way of creating a natural channel for the blessings of God, will [one’s] work take the passive form and the focus of [one’s] thoughts be on God alone” (Likkutei Sichot Vol. I).