Consciousness, Intention and Purpose
There are many masterful works on the philosophy of the Shabbat. However, there are few that approach the Laws of Shabbat from a conceptual and philosophical perspective. (Horeb, by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch is an important exception.) I hope, that with God’s help, I will be able to use this series to establish the general concepts of the complex laws of Shabbat and hear their music. The Laws of Shabbat are beautiful. They address all we do, not only on Shabbat, but every aspect of our lives and service of God.
My father, of blessed memory, often explained how the way we keep Shabbat, what we do when we rest, is a strong indication of how we live our lives, and what we do when we “work”. This was exactly what the original Shabbat, observed by Israel when constructing the Tabernacle, spelled out in great detail. The work on the Tabernacle guided the development of the Shabbat laws. The laws of Shabbat reinforced the work that absorbed the Jewish People.
The key phrase that described the work on the Tabernacle was “melechet machashevet,” “work of thought”. The Biblical prohibition is on work with an intelligent purpose. This has been determined by Halacha to include: 1) Consciousness, 2) Intention, and 3) Purpose. There are subcategories such as the means and the realization of the act. However, Consciousness, Intention and Purpose are the main ingredients of the forbidden melacha, or creative acts, on Shabbat.
The first and primary message of the Laws of Shabbat is that the form of the prohibition teaches us that our actions during the week must include those three ingredients. Shabbat is a reminder of how we should direct our melacha, our creativity, during the week. The prohibition on work assumes that we perform our melacha with those components; consciousness, intention and purpose. If we function all week long as robots, without “melechet machashevet,”, work of intelligent purpose, our Shabbat will become a day of restriction that is disconnected from the rest of the week.
The laws of Shabbat begin by reminding us that our weekday actions should be done consciously, with intention and a sense of purpose. If we listen closely enough we will hear how the Shabbat reminds us how we should wrap our Tefillin. It teaches us how to fulfill the mitzvah of charity, how to pray and how to study.