The Sacred Task of Transforming the Mundane into Holiness

By Rabbi Yona Matusof

The coming year 5782, is a Sabbatical year. For six years, work your fields; on the seventh year, you shall rest. This is remarkably similar in both content and language to Shabbat—for six days, you shall work, and on the seventh day, you shall rest.

Ordinarily, when we think of the weekday/Shabbat—work-years/Sabbatical dichotomy, we think of Shabbat and the Sabbatical as holy and the workweek and work-years as mundane. The Sabbatical is when we devote ourselves to higher causes such as study and contemplation. During the work-years, we have less time for higher thought. We are on a constant grind to keep up with the season.

Yet, G-d seems to have had a different idea. He gave us six years to work and one year to rest. Six days to work and one day to rest. If the quality of Shabbat was so much greater than the week, why did He not make it possible for us to complete our work in a day, and give us six days to rest, play, study, and pray?

Of course, it is the way of the world that it takes longer to prepare than to enjoy. But that doesn’t explain why G-d made the world this way.

From this, we can justifiably deduce that from G-d’s perspective, there is something about the workweek and the work-years that you can’t find in Shabbat and the Sabbatical.

We can gain a clue about the quality of our workweek and work-year by the idiom employed by our sages to describe the thirty-nine categories of work that we perform during the week, but may not perform on Shabbat. Our sages called it forty minus one. They did not say thirty-nine. They said forty minus one.

The ONE, the one and only one, is G-d, the Creator of heaven and earth. Our sages were trying to tell us why we work.

What is the underlying purpose of all the things we do? We plow so that we can plant; we plant so that we can reap; we reap so that we can bind sheaves, and so on until we finally get to bake. We bake so that we can eat. And why do we eat? So that we can live. Yes, and why do we live? So that we could plow, plant, reap, bake, and eat again? That sounds a little circular, doesn’t it?

Our sages came along and told us that we do all that because the world is minus ONE, and we need to reintroduce the ONE—the Creator—to the world that He created. We do all the things that we do because we need them in order to live, and we need to live so that we can bring G-d back into Creation by studying Torah, performing Mitzvot, sharing a kindness, offering forgiveness, giving to charity, etc.

But our sages did not say that we live minus ONE; they said we work minus One. By that, they offered a deeper insight. If we plow with the intention to reap, so that we could live, so that we could bring holiness into the world, our plowing becomes holy. The field, the overturned soil, is no longer minus ONE. Our guided work has introduced the ONE into the soil, into the field, the plow, the seeds, the thresher, winnower, mill, oven, bread, and even our digestive system. We have made them holy by giving them a critical role to play in our work. They all support our efforts to reintroduce the ONE into our lives.

We don’t work for six days and years to introduce the ONE into our lives on Shabbat and the Sabbatical. We work for six days and years to introduce G-d into the mundane world during the week. On Shabbat and the Sabbatical, we are at home, in the study hall, and in the synagogue. We do holy things in holy places that don’t need us to introduce them to the ONE. He is already there. The rest of the world needs us to introduce them to the ONE and that can only be accomplished during the week.

The world is much larger than the study halls and synagogues. The world requires much more work than the synagogue and the home. G-d, therefore, gave us six days/years to introduce the ONE to the big wide world, where the work is challenging and vast, but only one day/year to dwell in the home and the synagogue because one year suffices for those places. There is no question that our work on Shabbat and the Sabbatical is holier and more enjoyable to the soul. But our work during the workweek and work-year is more important to G-d.

We rest on Shabbat, to gather physical strength for the week. We study and pray on Shabbat, to recharge spiritually for the week. The week is the most important work. It is associated with the ONE.

This is why the Talmud derives the 39 categories of work from the types of work that were performed in the Temple. If the workweek is mundane, why are the sacred tasks of worship used as a premise for the week? It is because the work of the week takes place in the mundane, but is not itself mundane. It is the sacred task of transforming the mundane into holiness, of introducing the ONE into the world.

Each one of us has the ability to introduce the ONE into every facet of our lives. Our work, clients, patients, colleagues, friends, and world. We are bringing ONE into the world, and soon, very soon, we will merit the coming of Mashiach, when the world will be successfully delivered unto the ONE.

Rabbi Mendel and Henya, Rabbi Avremel and Mushkie, Faygie and I, extend our blessings to each and every one of you to be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year, a year of true peace, health, prosperity, and love.

Shanah Tovah U’metukah.

Rabbi Yona Matusof is the Director of Chabad of Madison. Born in Casablanca, Morocco, and studied in Paris, France. After completing his studies at Rabbinical College in New York where he was ordained, he moved with his wife, Faygie, to Madison in 1980 as Rabbi of Chabad (Lubavitch) of Madison, serving the Madison and Dane County Jewish Community.

Disclaimer: The From Our Rabbis feature seeks to provide a platform representing the diversity of our community clergy. The views, information, or opinions expressed in the From Our Rabbis articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jewish Federation of Madison.