Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.”(Exodus 35:2-3)
One is struck by the passive way in which the endeavors of the six day are described “Six days work shall be done”. One can understand from this not to focus on the endeavors of our weekday existence as the essence of that existence. We are not meant to live in order to work but rather we work so that we have the opportunity to experience life at its most sublime and spiritual. So we must ask, are our daily endeavors and work essentially unimportant and irrelevant in the greater scheme of things? Is it all BeDiEved ?
The Talmud explains that the reason the Shabbat is always connected with the building of the tabernacle is because that helps us understand what work is actually being prohibited on Shabbat. The same word for the work in building the Tabernacle, Melacha is the type of work prohibited on Shabbat (Shabbat 49b) . The issue ,therefore ,is obviously not about simple physical work, as one would be allowed to move a heavy table from one side of the room to the other, yet one is not to light a match, a fire. The work one must abstain from is related to the “Creative Work “that was involved in building the tabernacle.
Therefore the same Melacha describing that work, is the same type of Melacha that one is bidden to refrain from on Shabbat? When the people are involved in the creative work of building the tabernacle, they are in essence creating a vessel for G-d’s perceived Presence in the physical realm, a spiritual oasis in space. When they are asked to refrain from creative work on the Shabbat they are actually making room for G-d’s perceived Presence in the non physical, a spiritual oasis in time.
Before the sin of the Golden Calf, the order of G-d’s instructions was that G-d spoke to the people about the tabernacle and then about the Shabbat. After the sin He begins with the Shabbat and only after describes the necessary items for the construction of the Mishkan (the tabernacle). Focusing on the Shabbat first would help the people not to fall into the trap of using physical items as an end in itself. We saw that failure when Moshe was seen as being missing. They immediately demanded to build a tangible and physical substitute. Focusing on the Shabbat would help them taste of the intangible and the sublime experience of the Divine. To experience G-d in the non physical realm. Only then would they be ready to build a physical house for He who needs no house.
My late father, Harav Baruch Kempinski z”l used to teach that the Torah was not only teaching about Shabbat but rather that we are also commanded to be creatively involved in the world on the other six days of our lives. G-d did not put us in this world to separate from the world but rather to elevate it. Work must have a purpose.
The Baal Hatanya wrote that work around the tabernacle not only defines the type of work forbidden on Shabbat, but also the type and purpose of work we must be engaged in on the other six days of the week as well. That purpose is to use the physicality of our existence and elevate it and all that surrounds it to become the fitting and appropriate abode of the Divine.
As a result the words “Six days work shall be done“ gain another layer of meaning. If one’s is completely focused on personal gain and acquisition then one’s work will never be done. If on the other hand if one is attempting to elevate one’s work for the sake of a higher purpose then one will find that, that the “work shall be done “.