In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!
Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.
Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!
“But the seventh day is a Sabbath of your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servants, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.” (Exodus 20:10)
ויום השביעי שבת ליהוה אלהיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך עבדך ואמתך ובהמתך וגרך אשר בשעריך.
“Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that God, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to God.” (Exodus 35:29)
כל איש ואשה אשר נדב לבם אתם להביא לכל המלאכה אשר צוה יהוה לעשות ביד משה הביאו בני ישראל נדבה ליהוה.
Melacha, Hebrew for “work,” is central to a happy and meaningful life. The Talmud teaches, “All Torah study without work will result in waste and will cause sinfulness.” Study and work are essential to living a balanced and grounded life dedicated to both spiritual pursuits and the preservation and building of the physical world.
When commanding Shabbat observance, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that it is a day on which “you shall not do any work.” Work is for the six days of the week, while Shabbat is set aside for rest. Refraining from creative work sanctifies is the primary way to sanctify the seventh day, for by resting we recognize that God is the creator of this world, as we acknowledge in the Shabbat prayers, “Through their rest they will sanctify Your name.”
When commanding the Israelites to build the Tabernacle, God designated Bezalel the son of Uri to lead the holy project, for “I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge of all all kinds of melacha” (Exodus 31:3). The construction of the Tabernacle involved 39 different categories of work, from dyeing to weaving to writing and burning. The work prohibited on Shabbat corresponds precisely to the 39 categories of work performed by the Israelites in the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle represents the pinnacle of creative human accomplishment, and so we do not engage in these creative activities on Shabbat.
Melacha also refers to the Divine service performed in the Tabernacle by the Priests and Levites, as it says, “from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who are subject to service, to do work in the Tabernacle” (Numbers 4:3).