Working hard to be hardly working.

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Yayakhel, begins with Moshe gathering (“Va-yakhel”) Bnei Yisroel into an assembly. He did this, the Midrash and the Zohar tell us, on the day after Yom Kippur, when Moshe brought down the second Luchot of the Ten Commandments, a sign that Hashem had forgiven B’nei Yisroel for the Sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe Rabeinu then gathered, the Torah states, kol adas bnei yisroel—“the entire congregation of Israel.” Unlike other instances, when Moshe addressed different groups within B’nei Yisroel, here he gathered ALL of them. The Torah uses the term Vayakhel, even though it seems obvious that Moshe would have to have gathered all of B’nei Yisroel in order to address them all. Why is the word (and the act) of assembling the entire congregation specifically mentioned here?

The opening verse further states: eleh ha-d’varim—“These are the things” that Hashem commanded. Though the Torah uses the plural, it seems that the only thing discussed in these opening three verses is Shabbos. Why, one may ask, would there be a need for a whole gathering of B’nei Yisroel for that; haven’t they been told about the laws of Shabbos before? The Ramban and Ibn Ezra say that this must also be referr-ing to the Mishkan, which follows. “D’varim” is plural because it refers to both the Shabbos and the building of the Mishkan. Further, these commentaries say, there needed to be a huge gathering (hence the word, Vayakhel) because there were so many details to be gone over in the mitzvah of constructing the Mishkan.

The Kli Yakar (Rav Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz of Prague; 1550–1619) has a few problems with this interpretation. First he points out that the section relating to the Mishkan has its own introduction in verse 35:4: “And Moshe said to the entire assembly of B’nei Yisroel, ‘This is the matter [note the singular] concerning which Hashem has commanded you.” He comes to the conclusion that the “D’varim”—the matters referred to in 35:1—are both the Shabbos and the Mishkan. The Torah emphasizes that the prohibitions of work on Shabbos apply no less to the work to be done for the Mishkan. In fact, the Torah here calls Shabbos, “Shabbos Shabboson L’Ha-shem”—“a Sabbath of Sabbath to G-d,” an unusual phrasing.

But then we finally can’t help noticing that the Torah here uses a strange term with regard to work: instead of saying that, during the six days of the week, “Tah’aseh melacha”—“you shall do work,” the Torah says, “Tai-oseh melachah”—“your work shall be done,” implying, one might think, that somehow the work will get done by itself. In our lives, we know that earning a living can be a hard and a complicated process—yet here it seems to be getting done all by itself. What is the Torah telling us by all these unusual phrases and introductions?

In order to understand the great importance of keeping Shabbos and its role in our world in Chassidic thought, one must more fully comprehend the consequences of the sin of both Adam and Chava and of the Chet Ha’egel—the sin of the Golden Calf. The Midrash tells us that before these sins, the world was in a state of absolute “perfection”—first when it was created by G-d, and then when the taint of the unholiness of the Nachash, the snake (the Yetzer Hara—the Evil inclination) was purged out of B’nei Yisroel in the exile and bondage of Egypt.

In both instances, the world became a harmonious place imbued with the total divine presence of Hashem. But when Adam and Chava sinned in Gan Eden, the snake’s venom entered the world and filled it with evil. Generations later, B’nei Yisroel were sent to Egypt, where they went through a kind of “detoxification” and were cleansed. They then went on to Sinai where they pledged their commitment to Hashem by proclaiming the words, Na’aseh v’nishma—“We will do the commandments immediately—without any qualification or reservation.” Unfortunately, B’nei Yisroel committed the Chet Ha-egel, the Sin of the Golden Calf, and instead of going on to living in Messianic times, that old “venom” of the Nachash re-entered the heart of man. Though we were forgiven, we were not without that taint—and not without the need to rectify and “rehabilitate” ourselves.

There were no doubt many things at this gathering Moshe encouraged B’nei Yisroel to do as part of their rehabilitation, but the Torah lists only those tasks that are relevant to us today. The two Mitzvot listed for our benefit are: the building and operation of the Mishkan, and Shabbos—not just the same Shabbat we already knew, but now an extra measure of Shabbos, a “Shabbos of Shabbos to Hashem.” Shabbos now needs to be not simply a day of rest, but a day of “perfect rest,” if we are to make any headway toward our goal of purifying the world. But what is this “perfect rest” we seek and what is a “Shabbos of Shabbos”?

The Talmud tells us that on Shabbos, it is not enough to simply refrain from work. One must feel that one’s work is “fully done” and the world is complete. It may be difficult to fathom how one can complete large projects and big deals in just six days—look how long it took to put a man on the Moon. So how is it possible to go into Shabbos thinking that all our work is done and we need not devote a single second of thought to what we imagine is still undone and still there for us to do? Isn’t that totally unrealistic?

The answer is really quite simple, though it may require nothing less than an entirely new way of looking at work and the workplace. The Psalmist (Tehilim 128:2) tells us: “When you will eat the work of your hands, you shall be happy, and it will be well with you.” What King David is telling us is that the work we do is successful or not, not as a result of our talents. Every gift that we receive from the world and from work is really a gift from Hashem. So it’s all right to devote our physical energies—the “work of our hands”—to our livelihood. But if we dedicate every aspect of our inner lives, including all our genius, commitment, perseverance and faith—the “work of our hearts and minds”—then we will not have anything left with which to observe Shabbos as a Shabbos Shabboson—a “Shabbos of Shabbos” in service to Hashem and immersed in learning, contemplation and dedication.

So, King David tells us, we need to play a little game with the Almighty: we pretend that the work we do is the reason we have livelihoods—crops; earnings; profits; success—but the real source of all this is Hashem. There is no need to wear ourselves out during the week, imagining that the wealth that we accumulate and the success we enjoy are the products of our own efforts and our own talents. How vain and foolish is such thinking—nothing but a fantasy! All our sustenance comes as a gift from Hashem, even if we apply all our efforts and all our talents. If all of our passion, intelligence and emotional commitment go into the toils of life during the week, then we will be too tired to serve and pray and study when we have “spare time” on Shabbos. For Shabbos is not “spare time” at all—it’s our “prime time”—a day set aside for us to devote the best of who we are and what we can do in the service of Hashem.

We must invest all our energy into spiritual pursuits of holiness and look upon our work not as something that we must do in order to live—if that were true, the Torah would have used the word Ta’aseh—“you shall do your work”; but the Torah uses the word Tai-oseh—on six days, our work will get done, with or without our efforts, our talents, our genius. To observe Shabbos fully and to turn it into a tool for purifying the world and spreading Kedushah—holiness—in it, we need to look at the world and our work in this new way.

Now this approach does not get high marks in the business schools of the world. The values that drive people in business or in any other human endeavor and lead to success are (the MBAs say) perseverance, commitment, and dedication—and no small measure of “smarts.” The great success stories of the modern world—Bill Gates, for example—are held up as shining examples of these values paying off. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that there are thousands of inventors and entrepreneurs every bit as creative and talented as Bill Gates, who simply haven’t “made it” the way Gates did. It doesn’t mean they are not brilliant; it simply means that they did not have Hashem’s blessings when it came to success in business.

This reorientation, as one would expect, called for Moshe Rabeinu assembling the entire congregation, men and women, young and old, to instruct them on the new and greater task at hand: correcting Am Yisroel and the world, and making it fit (once again) for the age of Moshi’ach.