A couple of years ago, Professor Arnold M. Eisen counted the number of times the word kol appears in Exodus chapter 35. He came up with 25 instances of the word, which means “all,” “whole,” “each,” or “every.”
The chapter is near the end of the book of Exodus, and in it Moses assembles the whole Israelite community to tell them to keep the Sabbath day, and, in a recap of an earlier passage, invites them to “take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them…and let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded.” (Exodus 35:5, 10).
But the people continue to bring their offerings, day after day. They bring so much that Moses has to tell them to stop. As Professor Eisen put it, “Not a single Israelite is left out of this sacred building project. ‘Everyone’ whose heart so moves him or her shall bring gifts, Moses tells the people, and all of them do.”
And many of them do much more than bring gifts. They bring themselves, their skills as artists and artisans, as metal-workers and wood-workers and fabric-artists. In place of the mundane word for skilled, the Hebrew quite beautifully uses the phrase chacham lev, wise-hearted, for the men and women called to do this work.
Although this passage has been called “a recapitulation of the instructions for fashioning the tabernacle and its furnishings” (Etz Hayim Chumash) it depicts the people actually accomplishing the work that God had previously instructed them to do. In other words, it’s one thing to be told to do something. It’s quite another to do it. And this task? It was so enormous that it took the collaborative effort of the entire community.
But I am drawn to the fact that the chapter begins with two brief verses telling the people what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to Shabbat observance. They are told, “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest holy to Adonai.” (Ex 35:2).
I do not think it is an accident that the work of creating the tabernacle and the law about Shabbat appear in the same passage. Both teach an important lesson about balance.
There are times when we must throw ourselves into our work wholeheartedly, using all of our skills and wisdom and resources. And there are times when we must cease working and take time to rest and refresh. Only by making room in our lives for both work and rest, will we have the strength to continue to do the things that fulfill us and give our lives meaning.
Even more important is the underlying message of how we need to work and rest: Together. Kol adat b’nei Yisrael, the whole community, says the Torah. We are stronger, more capable, and more creative when we work in community. And when we rest in community? Then our Sabbaths are truly joyous.