The world is in a state of emergency. Closed Shuls and schools are part of the tragic reality for many Jewish communities, particularly in the tri-state area. The unfathomability of disbanded Minyanim, empty Batei Medrash, record attendance lows at weddings and other Simchas, and hundreds of people in quarantine is a painful, shocking blow to routine Jewish life.
Historically, in times of chaos and uncertainty, we turn to the Torah for guidance and meaning.
This week’s double portion of Vayakhel and Pikudei discusses the building of the Mishkan and all of its intricacies. While the Torah could simply launch into the episode of its construction, Moshe first gathers the nation together (35:1) and prefaces his instructions regarding the Mishkan with a reiteration of the Mitzvah of Shabbos. The pasuk says, “for six days, work shall be done, but the seventh day will be holy for you, a day of complete rest” (35:2).
Rav Hirsch explains that the Mishkan and Shabbos are inherently connected because the very same thirty-nine Melachos (or acts of creative labor) that were involved in the Avodah in the Mishkan and eventually the Beis HaMikdash, are also those acts that are forbidden on Shabbos. R’ Hirsch further elucidates that this is purposeful: because Shabbos is a time that we are forced to stop our work, we reflect fully, through a work-free immersive experience, on God’s total control over all of creation.
The very first time Shabbos is mentioned in the Torah, the Pasuk says, “Vayichal elokim bayom ha’shvi’i milachto asher asah,” - and G-d finished His work of creation on the seventh day (Breishis 2:2). Rashi notes that this is strange, since we typically consider creation a six-day process, and that G-d rested on the seventh day. However, Rashi notes that something was created on the seventh day itself, without which the world would be imperfect and lacking. On the seventh day, G-d created the concept of rest (menucha).
Rest is not just about abstaining from work, nor does it necessarily involve relaxation. Menucha, as R’ Chaim Friedlander explains in his sefer Sifsei Chaim, is about acknowledging a lack of control. The following beautiful idea is highlighted in the book The Rebbe’s Shabbos Table, a collection of Torah insights from R’ Nachman of Breslov and his students. Our pasuk (35:2) says, “for six days, work shall be done, but the seventh will be a day of rest.” True peace of mind, and true rest, comes when we acknowledge that regardless of our level of effort throughout the first six days of the week, a certain amount of work “shall be done,” i.e., is intended to be completed whether we like it or not. This is God’s will, and God’s will is the only Will that ultimately counts. Rest, therefore, is about recognizing that our own creative juices, incredible and powerful though they might be, must at times be checked and balanced with letting go and acknowledging that God is running the show.
Ramban explains that Shabbos is about remembering creation, Zecher L’Maasei Breishis, as we recite in Kiddush on Friday night. Through thinking about creation, we remember that there is a Creator, and through resting and engaging in that state of Menucha by abstaining from creative activity, we acknowledge His ultimate control over the universe and our lives. Rebbe Nosson of Breslov taught that in addition to stopping all work when Shabbos comes no matter what we have left to do, this “Shabbos mentality” must also be brought with us into the week. Anxiety, ambition, the human desire for growth and achievement - these natural inclinations and experiences fill us with restlessness, a drive to work, create, and build. This desire fueled Klal Yisrael to gather their belongings and constructively, positively contribute to the building of the Mishkan, a home for Hashem. But this desire can also get in the way of our full engagement in the Mikdash Me’at that dwells in our homes and inside each of us. In addition to resting on Shabbos, we must rest our minds from worried thoughts about our own productivity by reminding ourselves that Hashem is in control and is taking care of us every moment. Resting is about the realization that we are in a constant embrace. It is about taking a moment to stop fighting it and relax into the love and warmth of it.
Rest is not about abstaining from all work; it is about putting a stop to everything that blurs our sense of control or leads us to believe that perhaps we are the ones pulling the strings. We feel safe when we can go to work because we believe that’s how we make money. We feel secure relying on science because that is how we learn about the world and keep ourselves safe. For reasons unfathomable and impossible to comprehend, Hashem has chosen to take a tiny little virus and mutate one microscopic strand of its molecular makeup to stop the entire world. While we can only contemplate the meaning of this, we are forced to face the results of it.
This week, so many of us are experiencing a forced and involuntary kind of rest. We are humming with energy that has no outlet, we are frustrated and uncertain and fearful. Our schools and Shuls and regular routines are suspended, in limbo, and our lives and futures have become a deeply unsettling, day-by-day, ever-changing newsreel. It is extremely understandable to respond to this forced rest with frustration, irritation, irritability, and fear. It is quite reasonable to be antsy, on edge, and worried. And, at the same time, just as we must drop everything (even building the Mishkan, that center of Avodas Hashem and Kirvas Elokim!) to welcome and experience Shabbos, so too it seems we are being asked to temporarily abandon our centers of Jewish life and more fully face and embrace our individual relationship with God.
In His commandment to build the Mishkan, Hashem says, “V’Asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’socham,” make for me a temple and I will dwell among them (25:8). The Midrash notes the use of the word “b’socham,” among them, rather than “bisocho,” in it (i.e. in the Mishkan), meaning that the ultimate goal is for G-d and godliness to dwell within each of us. While it is highly frustrating and worrisome that we cannot flock to our usual houses of worship and serve Hashem from the more collective pulpit, we must recognize that in relinquishing control, in bringing this Shabbos mentality with us throughout the week, we can turn inward and work on building and maintaining our inner Mikdash Me’at, as G-d dwells within each of us.
This week, whether you find yourself forced to rest from work, or travel, or simply the luxury of Tefillah b’tzibur, stop for one moment and calm the swarm of worried, creative thoughts in your mind. While difficult, this is the challenge of Shabbos, and the necessary prerequisite to building a house for Gd. Once we are able to rest and come to the integral realization of God’s utter mastery over the universe, we can be Zocheh to really feel the reality of God dwelling among, and within, us.