ששת ימים תעשה מעשיך וביום השביעי תשבות למען ינוח שורך וחמורך וינפש בן אמתך והגר.
“For six days you shall do your work and on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and [they] will rest - your maidservant’s son and the stranger.” (Shemos 23:12)
Why does the Torah repeat the commandment to keep Shabbos, when we were already told to rest on Shabbos in the previous sidra, Parshas Yisro? Furthermore, the verse seems to command us to work for six days. What if a person wants to learn Torah all week, wouldn’t that be just fine? Why does the Torah tell us to “do your work,” as if we are obligated to work? Another difficulty is with the connection between the commandment and the given reason: so that your ox and donkey shall rest. It seems as if the entire purpose of Shabbos is to provide a day of rest for our oxen and donkeys.
The Avodas Yisroel writes that during each day of the week, a person must work on perfecting another attribute. On Sunday he shall work on the attribute of chesed (kindness), on Monday he should work on gevurah (strength), and so forth. By the time he arrives to Shabbos, he will be prepared to feel the full spiritual beauty of this holy day. The Gemara describes how Shammai prepared each day of the week for Shabbos, by working on a new attribute each day.
What happens if a person did not use the week as it should be and did not prepare himself properly? The person has one last option in order to truly feel the taste of Shabbos. If he will go to a tzaddik who did prepare himself properly all week, then the tzaddik will enable him to benefit from his own kedusha and holiness. He explains this concept with an analogy: A poor person works very hard to put food on the table. He has just enough food for his most basic needs. A wealthy person has more food than he needs and can prepare extra for guests. The same is true about Shabbos, as the Gemara says: “Whoever toils before Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” The amount of spiritual pleasure that a person merits on Shabbos depends on the amount of work he put in to prepare himself spiritually. And if he prepared himself well enough, he may even have enough holiness to bestow some of it on others as well.
He interprets the verse to convey this teaching. “For six days you shall work,” you must work during the week to perfect your middos. “And on the seventh day you shall rest,” if you will do so, then you will have a real taste of Shabbos. You should prepare yourself well enough so that “your ox and your donkey shall rest.” The word shor – ox, has the same root as the word ashurenu – to look. This refers to people who are still some distance from real service of Hashem, and must still look ahead towards others who serve Hashem properly. The word donkey refers to a person who serves Hashem in the manner that a donkey serves its master – without truly feeling the joy and connection that comes with proper avodas Hashem.
When a person makes the proper preparation for Shabbos, then he merits such a high spiritual level on Shabbos that he can even pass on some of this holiness to those who are like the ox and the donkey - to those who look up to tzaddikim and those who serve Hashem without real connection. The person who worked during the week for Shabbos can help his fellow Jews attain much greater heights on the seventh day.
“And your maidservant’s son shall rest.” The word amosecha – maidservant, has the same root as the word emes – truth. The person who prepares himself for Shabbos during the week will be able to benefit those who are still searching for truth and bring them closer to Shabbos and to Hashem.
“If you acquire a Hebrew slave, six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free at no cost.”
This verse can be interpreted symbolically in the following way: If you want to acquire “Hebrew slavery” – meaning true service of Hashem the way that every Jew is supposed to serve Him – then for six days you shall work hard on yourself. If you will do so, then by the seventh day, on Shabbos, you will be free from the yetzer hara; you will achieve true spiritual freedom.
When a person causes injury to someone else, he is required to compensate him for the days of rest when he was unable to work, and also cover his medical expenses. Tzaddikim interpret the verse (Shemos 23:19) “…but you shall give him [compensation for] his rest, and [payment for] his healing,” to mean that through the power of Shabbos, our holy day of rest, we merit being healed from all problems. In the same vein, the previously mentioned verse also assures us that through the power of the seventh day – Shabbos, we are freed from all harm, physically as well as spiritually.
The tzaddik Rebbe Eliezer of Dzikuv would quote the verse: “And you shall serve Hashem your G-d and I will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove all disease from within you” (Ibid. 23:25). He would give the following explanation: oftentimes, when a person is ill, the doctor may tell him to eat a particular food or drink a particular kind of liquid, in order to regain his health. The patient may need to travel great distances to be able to bathe in special waters that have healing properties. But “if you will serve Hashem your G-d,” the tzaddik said, “then Hashem will bless your bread and water” turning your daily food into the most potent medicine that will “remove all disease from within you.” You will not have to travel to be healed, but your own bread and water will be your medicine.
Rebbe Meir of Premishlan zt”l would explain this verse as follows: “If you will serve Hashem your G-d, then you will be able to bless other people” – your blessings will have power – “and your bread and your water will remove illness from people.” It is known among Chassidim that shirayim – food that was left over from a tzaddik’s meal – has the power to heal the sick and bring about other yeshuos.
In our times, who is great enough to be able to say that he is serving Hashem properly to merit fulfilling the second part of the verse? Who can say that he can bless others, and that his bread and water can heal the sick? We know that a Chosson on the day of his wedding is on a very lofty level, because all of his past sins are forgiven. A Chosson certainly fulfills the first part of the verse, that of serving Hashem. Therefore, he has the power to bless others. Every Chosson should use his special powers and pray for those who need refuos and yeshuos, and he should have in mind the needs of Klal Yisroel.