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Shelter in Place - Just Another Shabbat?

Thursday, 19 March, 2020 - 7:26 pm

Is there a connection between this week’s Parsha and “Shelter in Place?”  Of course there is, there always is a connection to current events and the Torah portion for that time.  Torah is, after all, the living, eternal word of Hashem.

Moshe gathers all the people together in the desert, the day after he came down from Mount Sinai with the second Tablets, to tell them to build the Sanctuary.  This was the precursor to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem where Hashem’s presence was revealed. The “Mishkan” was a portable sanctuary that traveled with the Jews in the desert.  Interestingly, after the introduction “these are the things Hashem commanded to do” meaning the donations of materials and the building, Moshe interjects something that seems to be completely out of place.  “Six days work shall be done and on the seventh day is Shabbat for Hashem, do not do any work.” Why the digression? Our Sages explained on a basic level that Moshe was telling us that the work of building the Mishkan, despite its importance, may not be done on Shabbat.  


Another thing we learn from the juxtaposition is a definition of what exactly the “work” is that is forbidden on Shabbat.  The Torah does not specify what constitutes work. The Talmud explains that all the work that went into the building and running of the Mishkan is what is forbidden, and they enumerate 39 different categories of work.  The obvious lesson here is that we cannot override the laws of Shabbat even for things that seem to us to be more important, even lofty spiritual matters. The exception that is written in the Torah and is therefore Hashem’s will, is to save a life, which the Torah teaches us overrides the usual observance of Shabbat.


There is a deeper, mystical connection between the Mishkan and Shabbat, and here is where I see an important lesson for our current situation.  The 39 categories of work that the Torah says we should do for six days and not on the seventh include all the creative work that makes the world run.  Preparation of food, including ploughing, reaping, baking etc., making clothing, building, carrying and making fire. When Moshe tells us to build a Mishkan, he begins by telling us  all the work that we do in the world is related to the Mishkan, bringing Hashem’s presence into the world. We are not here randomly. Each of us was created with a purpose, to bring goodness and light to the world and to make it a home for Hashem.  This idea was clearly seen in the actual building of the Mishkan, when all of the 39 labors created the holy sanctuary, and this is also the purpose of our labors every day, to turn our labor into light and holiness. Instead of just going through the daily grind of working, and taking care of our animal needs like eating, sleeping, entertaining ourselves and whatever else we do for our own satisfaction, we use the world for good.  We share what we earn with others. We take every opportunity to use our talents for the benefit of others. We stop to think about our purpose by praying to Hashem daily, by saying blessings before we eat, by connecting our minds to Hashem through Torah study, and by finding ways to incorporate Mitzvot into all we do. This way our labor is not just the same old routine, but becomes a tool to make ourselves, our homes and businesses and the world a Sanctuary for Hashem.  


This work of transforming the world has been going on for thousands of years, and will be completed when we achieve redemption, when the presence of Hashem will literally be revealed in the world.  In the meantime, we have a taste of that every Shabbat. Shabbat is a day when we stop the labor, the building blocks of the world, and connect with its purpose. We connect with our soul, spending time enjoying the holiness of three Sanctuary that we have built throughout the week.  When we think of labor and rest in this way, all of the work throughout the week becomes a higher endeavor for a higher purpose.


In our present situation when we all need to stay home through no choice of our own, we have been forced into a kind of Sabbath, so to speak.  This is now necessary to save lives, as I have heard from many medical professionals, and I hope you are taking it very seriously. Now when Shabbat comes tomorrow night, we have a choice to either treat it like just another day off work, or to make it a day of holiness and spiritual light.  I want to suggest that you use the opportunity to make this Shabbat real. Let’s take the lesson of the Mishkan and our being at home and observe the Shabbat for the purpose of connecting with Hashem on a higher level and bringing His presence into our lives and our homes. Get a bottle or two of kosher wine and some challah, And this Friday at or before 7:03 (in Northern California) switch off all your electronics, your computer, phone and all social media.  Light the Shabbat candles and feel the holiness of Shabbat begin to fill your consciousness. Make Kiddush and enjoy a leisurely meal. Pray, study Torah, rest, go for a walk, and feel yourself be uplifted and your soul soaring. That itself will bring closer the time when the entire world will be visibly a Sanctuary to Hashem and the third temple will be rebuilt. 

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