Project Genesis

The Calendar and Holidays (incl. Sabbath)

The Sabbath

Shabbat: A Day of Rest or Stress?

Question: Why in the laws of Shabbat (the Sabbath day) are there so many complicated things we can’t do it is supposed to be a day of rest? We have to be so careful to not break the Shabbat laws and it is not ideal if we really want to be resting. How can we rest with so much to do before, during, and after?

Answer: Hello, You are asking an interesting question from a perspective I’ve never considered. Let me try out a couple of ideas:

While it’s certainly very true that Shabbat is meant to be a time of rest and relaxation (and that it is possible that overwork and tension can spoil that mood), that isn’t the whole story. I believe that the key purpose of Shabbat is actually educational, and that absorbing the primary lessons can take real work – work that can sometimes involve considerable effort.

According to Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, each of the 39 categories of forbidden work is an act that demonstrates our mastery of the world around us: We take a natural resource (like wheat stalks, for instance) that, in its original form, is of little benefit to us, and transform it into an object of personal value (like bread). The tasks involved in that transformation are considered Sabbath work.

It is crucial, continues Hirsch, that we should avoid just these activities on the Shabbat because we thus demonstrate our recognition that, after all, this is really G-d’s world. While He generously allows us to use it any way we wish for six days a week, we must regularly remind ourselves that its really all a gift and that we are nothing more than pampered guests here.

The rush of work in preparation for Shabbat is, often, important in providing a noticeable contrast as the candles are lit and quiet and peace descend on the home.

Ideally, hard work and sacrifice can be tools in developing a greater appreciation for Shabbat: love grows from sacrifice! The love a parent has for his or her child grows with the amount of sleep and comfort they give up for him. The more you give a person or even an ideal, the greater will be your passion!

Still, I can’t deny that the preparation and cleanup can sometimes be difficult enough to mute these positive feelings. Perhaps you could use a “vacation” once in a while. Perhaps spending an occasional Shabbat away from home in a more relaxed atmosphere could help. Either way, I wish you the very best in your search!

Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Ottawa, Canada

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