Six Days Shall You Work

Shabbat is important, yet our behavior during the other six days is no less a part of religious life.

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Lessons from the Mishkan

The construction of the Mishkan has traditionally been regarded as an illustration of what we should not do on Shabbat. Indeed, the Rabbis derived the 39 prohibited actions on Shabbat directly from the 39 acts of labor involved in the creation of the Mishkan.

However, we can also view this principle from the opposite angle. While the construction of the Mishkan demonstrates inversely what Shabbat should not look like, it also reveals a direct prescription for our engagement during the rest of the week.

According to midrash, the Mishkan is a microcosm of the whole world. Like the nation who built the Mishkan as a dwelling place for the Divine, we must work to make the world worthy of that Presence. The levels of scrutiny, care and “voluntary-heartedness” (Exodus 35:5) that define the building process in parshiyot Vayakhel and Pekudei beckon us to devote equally high levels of mindfulness and spirit to our own melachah (work) at all times. We must take our work during the week very seriously.

Every act of melachah--that which we do in homes and offices, public squares and private spaces--changes the world in a constructive or destructive way.

When we purchase imported goods, what types of labor are we supporting overseas? For those of us employed outside our homes, how does our professional work--and that of our companies and organizations--hurt or help people globally? How do we use our money, time, and physical selves to pursue justice in the world?

When we speak with children, when we are at home and on our ways, when we lie down and when we rise up, do we ask ourselves which nails, knots, clasps, and sheets we will contribute to the Mishkan of the world today? These day-to-day activities are what make our world a dwelling place for the Divine.

Shabbat is important, yet our behavior during the other six days is no less a part of religious life. Shabbat is when we step back and appreciate the created world. Chol is when we step up and participate in creating that world. Piety is not only a reflection of what we observe, but also of what we build.

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Sam Berrin Shonkoff is currently the Jewish student life coordinator at Stanford Hillel. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Brown University and has also studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew University, Pardes Institute, and The Conservative Yeshiva.