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Our Appointed Tasks

As part of the Havdalah ceremony, that ritual the marks the end of Shabbat, we praise God for making a distinction between Shabbat, the day of rest, and the six ordinary days of the week. Shabbat is a day set apart, and those Jews who mark the Sabbath through worship and celebration know the special blessings the day brings. Shabbat gives us the opportunity to experience the life-changing power of love expressed through family, friends and community.

We honor Shabbat through beautiful home rituals, delicious meals, joyous worship and the setting aside of our regular routine. Every week, we have the opportunity to pause from our work, look back at all that has happened, give thanks for our blessings, and experience the holiness of the Shabbat. Our Shabbat is, as the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described it, a sanctuary in time.

We must not, however, let our appreciation of Shabbat and its special sense of sanctity lead us to devalue what we do during the rest of the week. Shabbat is a holy day and we acknowledge its holiness through prayer and ritual. But the other days are important, too. The work we do on them to support ourselves and our loved ones and to build stronger homes and communities can bind us to God's creative work, just as our rest on Shabbat can connect us to God's sacred sovereignty.

The Kiddush, the Friday evening prayer over wine, reminds us of the two biblical sources for Shabbat. The Kiddush informs us that our Day of Rest reflects the day God set aside to rest after the completion of the works of creation, an event described in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. It teaches us that our celebration of Shabbat honors our liberation from Egyptian slavery, an event whose story concludes at the end of the Book of Exodus, in this week's portion, Pekudey, with God's Divine presence enthroning itself in the mishkan, the portable shrine erected in the heart of our ancestors' wilderness encampments. Shabbat is the day that honors God's sovereignty over creation and all human dominions, and on Shabbat, we are princes and princesses in God's sanctuary.

But this privilege is earned by us, not bestowed upon us. Just as God labored to form our world and just as our ancestors labored to build God's sacred place, we, too, need to labor to build homes and communities filled with holiness. But if we can see our daily efforts to keep body and soul together as reflections of God's efforts to create the world and our ancestors' struggles to build the mishkan, we will have gained a great blessing.

The Torah uses the same word for God's work in creation (Genesis 2:1-3), for the Israelites' work in building the mishkan (Exodus 40:33), and for our daily tasks (Exodus 35:2). The word is malachah and it means "appointed task" - i.e., that which each of us has to.

Our malachah may not always be fun, at times it may be hard, boring, or tiring, but it has to be done. Our malachah - the presentations, conferences, meetings, schedules, job descriptions and work loads that define our lives at work and the homework, yard work, laundry, dishes and car pools that fill our time at home - cannot be avoided. We must do our malachah to build our lives, just as our ancestors had to do theirs to build our sanctuary. But our efforts are not meaningless. Just as their hard work of weaving, sewing, smelting, molding, carving, and building found meaning in the holy place erected by their labors, so can our efforts gain meaning through the holy moments they enable us to experience.

Malachah, ours and God's, never seems to end. Our siddur (prayer book) teaches us that every day God renews the work of creation. Our calendars and alarm clocks remind us that every day we need to get up and get going. There is always something more to do. But there are also times, when we, like God at the end of creation and Moses and our Israelite ancestors at the completion of the mishkan, need to stop, put our work aside and celebrate what we have created.

On Shabbat, if we take the time to look at the people around us and appreciate what our joint efforts have created, we understand that the past week's pursuits were not insignificant activities, but meaningful work, malachah. We completed our malachah, that which we were appointed to do for the past week, and, soon, but not right away, we will start our malachah for the next. But before we begin to build our holy place for the next week, we need to spend some time in the one we have just erected.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah