Everyday I hear people complaining that their lives are too busy, too many tasks, activities and responsibilities. People are overloaded by media, their smart phones, tablets and computers. They need a break, they need to shut down just a little bit. It is called Shabbat, the Jewish day off.
Now at this point, I could easily describe to you how Shabbat can help us to relax. I could give you a step by step description of activities that you could avoid and other actions that you could engage in on Shabbat to make it a true day of rest. However, doing this would bring nothing new to the table.
This is well covered ground. Rather, I would like to ask a question that is not so often asked in the context of this topic. Why do so many of us find it hard to take a break? What drives us so hard in life?
I would like to suggest that we are trying to pursue perfection. Every day, we try to be perfect at our professions. To be the perfect husband, to be the perfect wife, to be the perfect father, to be the perfect mother, to be the perfect volunteer, to be perfect at everything we do.
What makes the pursuit of perfection so problematic is that obviously we will never achieve perfection at anything? It is impossible to ever do so. Never attaining perfection only pushes us harder and makes it more complicated to take a break. Let us come back to Shabbat.
Now different people observe Shabbat in different ways and we should of course respect everyone. However, with that in mind, what is the source for the various activities that some Jews do not engage in on Shabbat. Specifically there are 39 forms of labor that some Jews do not occupy themselves with on Shabbat. Why these 39 activities? It was these 39 activities that were used to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
The Mishkan was the portable place of worship that the Israelites served God in, when they were traveling in the desert from Egypt to Israel. Let me ask you a question? If God were to come to you and say: “Build me Tabernacle”. What kind of Tabernacle would you build? Give me your answer in just one word and it has to be an adjective.
I have asked this question to many different classes and audiences in many different places and these are just some of the answers I have received. Some have said. Big, small, tall, beautiful, opulent, fancy, simple and many, many other answers. While they are all interesting, they are all wrong. There is only one kind of Tabernacle that you could build for God and that is perfect.
In fact the Torah goes into tremendous depth explaining every little detail of how the Tabernacle was built. Therefore, if God is giving the instructions on how to build the Tabernacle than obviously those 39 activities that were used to build the Tabernacle; those activities are the pursuit of perfection.
On Shabbat we do not try pursue perfection. It is the one day where we do not have to be the perfect worker, to be the perfect father, to be the perfect mother, to be the perfect volunteer, to be perfect at everything we do. Shabbat is the one day, where we can just be.
It is interesting, Shabbat is referred to as Me’en Olam Habah, a taste of the world to come, a taste of a redeemed Messianic world, if you will, a perfected world. Wow, amazing. What is the Jewish view of a perfected world, a world where do not worry about perfection and we get a taste of that world every Shabbat.