It's all well and good to begin your Sabbath in the Hamptons as earlyon Friday afternoon as possible. It's all well and goodto regard Sabbath observance as the epitome of Jewish observance. But ifa Jew observes the Sabbath and nobody sees the results, has the Jewobserved the Sabbath?
The same question can be asked regarding the performance of any mitzvah(a commanded holy act). Our return journey to relevance begins withchanging the traditional way in which we understand and think aboutthe goals of Jewish ritual life. We must re-understand what it really means to have fulfilled a mitzvah.
The criterion for "fulfillment" that we need employ is drawn from the workof a late 13th century scholar, the anonymous author of the Sefer HaChinuch (The Book of Instruction). He wrote that the reason we perform mitzvotis that "the heart is drawn after the deeds." The performance is intended to constantly shape and reshape our entire system of personal conduct. By this measure, I would argue that a Jew has not truly observed the Sabbath unless the world sees the results on Tuesday.
How can observance of Sabbath express itself on Tuesday? Let's begin by asking a more fundamental question: What is the underlying premise ofSabbath observance? We work for six days and rest on the seventh because Godworked for six days and rested on the seventh after creatingthe world. And what does our replication of the Divine workschedule suggest to us? It should suggest that on the six days of the week thatwe work, we perceive ourselves as employees in the Divine workshop who havebeen charged with maintaining and enhancing our heavenly employer'sproject.
And what is the message of refraining from writing onthe Sabbath? It is to understand that when we do write--on the other sixdays--we do so according to God's exacting specifications. We write only thetruth, and do not obfuscate. We write only well of others, giving them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Our writing needs to be free of offensive language and insensitive references. We write on God's letterhead. This is what it ultimately means to observe the Sabbath.
And what is the message of not having others do work for us on theSabbath? It is that when we do have others working for us, wevalue them as God values them. Our workplaces must be suffused with respect,fairness, and honesty. This is how Sabbath observance and Sabbath observerscome to matter.
Similar discussions can be had concerning refrainingfrom commercial activity on the Sabbath, and refraining from killing eveninsects, or plucking leaves on the seventh day. It's really all about how we doconduct commerce, and how we do interact with God's natural environment onTuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
This past year, our synagogue became the first in thecountry to work on a Habitat for Humanity site on a Sunday, rather than onHabitat's usual Saturday workday. Of course, this opportunity to helphouse those who need homes is inherently and incredibly worthwhile. Butnext year, I will couple our Habitat workday with a seminar on the previousSaturday, on the laws of not building on the Sabbath. The message will simplybe that we observe the Sabbath fully and totally when we don't build onSaturday, and then build on Sunday.