"Say to the Israelites, You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.'" - Exodus 31:13
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Tisa, which means "when you raise up," from Exodus 30:11-34:35, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 18:20-39.
There was a store near my home in Jerusalem that I used to frequent. One evening, I went by, and the store appeared closed. The lights were off, and I couldn't see anyone inside. I figured that I had gotten there too late and it was closed for the day. The next day, I returned to the store mid-morning only to find a note on the door that said "closed." That seemed strange for that time of day. A few days later, the sign for the store was taken down altogether, and then I realized what had happened: The store had been closed for good.
Why am I sharing this story with you? Because in this week's Torah reading God instructs us to keep His Sabbaths. Pay attention to the language He uses: "You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come . . ." The Sabbath is a sign - much like a sign on a store. As long as we observe the Sabbath, it's a sign that we are open - open to God, open to improvement, open to a life of spirituality and contribution. Even if we fall and stumble in sin during the week, keeping the weekly Sabbath is a sign that we are still committed to God. When we no longer recognize the Sabbath, it is as though we have removed the sign and closed up shop.
Notice that this commandment to keep the Sabbath is just a few verses after the one that says: "Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you" (31:6). In this verse, God is telling us that it is He who gives us the ability and skills to do the things that we do. The purpose of the Sabbath - of taking a break from doing our usual work - is to recognize that God is the ultimate Creator. He is the force behind all that we create, and without Him, we could do nothing at all. As the Scripture puts it, observe the Sabbath "so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy." God is the one who makes us skillful and holy. None of it is our doing.
We live in a generation where there has never been a greater need for the Sabbath. We need one day a week to unplug from the daily grind and plug in to God. No matter what happens during the other six days of the week, taking one day and dedicating it to God is the sign that we are still open - open for a meaningful relationship with our Creator.