During the six weekdays, one must take care of his needs and productively engage the world. Most of his abilities and energies are directed toward working his fields, providing food, shelter, and clothing, and other productive activities. As much as one may enjoy his work, it contains an aspect of enslavement. Ongoing necessities ensnare one in the chains of this world, causing him to forget about faith and the soul. Desisting from all work on Shabbat allows us to rise above the mundane pressures of the here and now, and reach for the world of freedom and rest, a world where the soul can express itself. This is the meaning of the Sages’ dictum that Shabbat is like the World to Come (see Berakhot 57b).
In order to fully appreciate the virtues of Shabbat, on Shabbat a Jew must look at the positive in the world, as it is written: “A psalm. A song; for the day of Shabbat. It is good to praise the Lord, to sing hymns to Your name, O Most high. To proclaim Your kindness at daybreak, and Your faithfulness each night” (Tehilim 92:1-3). On Shabbat one must focus on divine providence, which directs everything toward the good. One must also lovingly accept reality as it is, without feeling any pressure or desire to change it. Even if we are missing something that we did not have time to prepare before Shabbat, or even if something upsetting happened, we should accept this with equanimity and enjoy being with God. By doing so, blessing and sanctity will spread to everything that we do during the weekdays.
One might have thought that only secular activities would be prohibited on Shabbat, but actually the Torah prohibits any type of activity necessary for the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle erected by the Israelites in the desert). Moreover, the 39 melakhot (types of labor forbidden on Shabbat) are derived from the work done for the Mishkan, and all forms of labor that were involved in assembling the Mishkan are prohibited on Shabbat. Thus, juxtaposed to the descriptions of the work done in the Mishkan we read: “Nevertheless, you must keep My Shabbatot” (Shemot 31:13), which teaches us that although erecting the Mishkan is a great mitzva, one must desist even from it on Shabbat. For even crafting the Mishkan needs to be connected to its inner divine essence. If this were not the case, all the difficulties in putting up the Mishkan would likely cause us to forget its ultimate purpose, and the Mishkan would be left like a body without a soul, unable to fulfill its purpose of revealing the word of God to the world. Sometimes it is specifically those whose work is linked to the holy who need to be particularly careful about this, because due to their awareness of the value of the holy they are likely to invest their all in building a framework for it, to the point that they forget its inner essence.
Even though there is a big difference in status between the Mishkan and the rest of the world, in reality the whole world is meant to be a Mishkan, that is, a place where the Shekhina (Divine Presence) can dwell. Consequently, all of man’s labor must be connected to the crafting of the Mishkan. Of course, in the Mishkan divine idea is expressed in an obvious and concentrated manner, while in the rest of the world this happens in hidden and manifold ways. Therefore one must orient all his actions toward the greater glory of God – in the field or in the factory, while engaged in scientific research or in business, all in order to improve the world and perfect it, until it reaches its ultimate purpose of becoming a Mishkan for the Shekhina. The money one makes must also be dedicated to living a godly life, using to establish a family that will serve as a Mishkan for developing positive character traits and inculcating godly ideals. This can all be accomplished using the power of the holiness of Shabbat, when we abstain from such labor, and from which all labor draws its inner meaning.
It is also important to be aware that man’s purpose in life is not to work hard. If Adam had not sinned, we would still be living in the Garden of Eden, working there joyfully and achieving satisfaction, without worries or stress. Since the sin, though, we earn a livelihood only by the sweat of our brow. This exertion helps us to correct the sin, but it is also liable to root us in the material world, far from the ideal goals of faith, freedom, and joy. This is why Shabbat, which connects us to higher ideals, is so important. Shabbat thus provides a deeper meaning to the six weekdays so that they are not merely focused on immediate survival, but rather on perfecting the world and moving it closer to redemption, when it will once again be a Garden of Eden and a Mishkan for the Shekhina.