Sure, Shabbos is a terrific thing. To borrow the Talmud's image, it is the special gift that G-d gave us from His treasure vault. Shabbos gives us time with family and with community. It enables us to carve out time to refresh, to study, to pick up where we last left off in our never-ending search for G-d and for meaning. I think it's safe to say that our never-say-rest generation is in a position to derive more benefit from Shabbos than has any other in human history. Yet it often strikes me that there's something missing in the way we observe Shabbos. There is often a failure to see the Shabbos forest for its trees.
Let me pose the following questions: If the Jew observes Shabbos and the world doesn't know it, has the Jew observed Shabbos? If the world is unaffected and unchanged by our Shabbos, have we really accomplished G-d's purpose in having commanded us to observe it? If the answer to these questions is "no" (and I think it is), then there is another vital and exciting dimension of Shabbos that we need to explore.
It's a dimension that we'll call "observing Shabbos on Tuesday". We'll begin by supporting the premise that Shabbos was designed by G-d to have impact beyond the Children of Israel, and beyond the 24 hours of Saturday. This is done through reminding ourselves of what the core religious experience of Shabbos actually is. As the Torah teaches us repeatedly, the core experience of observing Shabbos is that of mimicking the Divine work schedule. "Six days you shall work, and the seventh is Shabbos unto G-d. On it you shall do no work, for in six days G-d created the heavens and earth, and on the seventh He rested."
And toward what end do we replicate, over and over again, this seven-day framework pattern within which G-d created the universe? It is toward the end of recognizing, ever more deeply with each successive repetition of the cycle, that we are employees in the Divine workshop; employees who have been charged with preserving and enhancing our heavenly employer's project. It is thus on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Sundays that the impact of our Shabbos observance must be felt.
Let's take an example. On Shabbos we do not write. We do not write because we are resting from our creative labor as G-d rested from His. But the ultimate objective of our refraining from writing on the seventh day is our realization as to how we should write on the other days. Through the consciousness aroused on Shabbos, we come to understand that when we do write, we are obliged to do so in a way that would meet G-d's exacting standards. We write only the truth and do not obfuscate. We write only well of others, giving them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Our writing is free of offensive language and insensitive references. We recognize that we are writing on G-d's letterhead.
On Shabbos we do not disturb the natural environment. We do not pluck a blade of grass, nor even kill an insect. We leave the earth and its resources alone, for the day is a sweeping expression of our breaking from human industrial activity. Again, though, the objective is not ultimately fulfilled on Saturday. It is fulfilled on Tuesday, when we interact with the natural world that G-d created and commanded us to subdue. It is fulfilled when we balance our G-d-given license to bend our environment to do our will, and our G-d-inspired sense of responsibility to the humans who will inhabit this world after us. In the end, this is the meaningful manifestation of Shabbos observance.
This same approach can be taken to virtually every aspect of technical Shabbos observance. Shabbos is our reminder that G-d is the project supervisor over all the work we do. Our primary consideration in deciding what we do and how we do it is whether this is the way G-d wants it done. Shabbos is a terrific thing. So what are you doing next Tuesday?
Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi at B'nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles and has spoken and written frequently about the issue of Jewish pluralism. He is a contributor to Spiritual Manifestoes, published by the Jewish Life Network. This article was originally published in Olam Magazine http://www.olam.org/magazine/.