Rest requires work. Without putting in the prep time, we may find that a day off is spent thinking about what has yet to be done. Without planning, vacation may not be much more exciting than staying home. Extended conversation with friends about where to go for dinner cuts into dinner time if plans aren’t made ahead of time. When hosting a guest, we make sure their stay is easy, but that ease is the result of extra work.
Vayakhel and Pekudei are accounts of work done by the Israelites to ensure that God would have a resting place in their midst. Moses gives many instructions, and Betzalel the architect orchestrates production with his assistant Ohaliab. The population is galvanized to contribute either their materials or time.
In the final chapter of Exodus, the monumental work is finished. The nation watches with baited breath, and their hard work is rewarded. The Shechina descends upon the newly built Mishkan (Exodus 40:35), and divine respite in the physical realm is achieved. All that planning and work seems like so little when the payoff arrives. An immanent God! The Most Holy, right in the middle of the camp! And all that had to be done was laboring for the sake of rest.
This work-rest dynamic is always available to us, on various scales. We work for six days and revel in the holiness of Shabbat. We toil for six years and leave the seventh Shmita year for rest. We voyage for 49 years and return home in the Jubilee. God created us with the abilities to plan and build, to till and tend. Yet we are commanded to rest. We do not work for work’s sake. It is through that creative exertion that we open the space for rest and true connection with the Godly.
Work is hard. Hopefully, we can remember the lesson of Shmita and the Mishkan: the purpose of work is the rest which follows, for it is in that rest that one can find true connection with the divine.
Eli Weinbach is an experiential educator for the Jewish people, and strives to manifest his love of the environment and Jewish tradition in a deeply connected world. He has worked for Hazon since 2017 in a number of capacities, including as a retreat coordinator, an outdoor educator, and most recently as a Rabbinic Fellow. Eli was a JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Educator) Fellow in 2018 and hasn’t stopped pickling since. In his free time, he enjoys reading and cooking with fake-meat substitutes. Anywhere that people are trying to free themselves from the constraints of conflicting truths, you will find Eli cheering them on.
Shmita Friday is just one piece of a large conversation that has been ongoing for a long time! We’d love to hear what you think – post a comment below, join our facebook group, and start talking about shmita with your friends and family.