Building the tabernacle was an urgent priority. The work had to proceed with energy and alacrity. But there was one proviso: Shabbat had to be a rest day: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you must have a holy day” (Ex. 35:2). Work had to be suspended for the Sabbath day.
A day had to replace a building in the consciousness of every Israelite. Not that there would not have been grumbles. “I have so many things to do,” Moses must have been told; “how can God expect me to drop everything for twenty-four hours?” The modern rabbi hears the same complaint: “Rabbi, you don’t know how fierce the pressure is; Saturday just simply has to be business as usual!”
But nothing should allow Shabbat to be pushed aside or compromised, and it is not because Judaism is harsh or inhumane. The “business as usual” syndrome is possibly good for business, but it is disastrous for human relations, for peace of mind, for personal sanity and the human spirit. People tend to have no time for the family: Shabbat gives them the opportunity.
They have no time to think: Shabbat gives them this precious gift. They have no time to breathe the air and look up from the frantic scurrying that keeps them chained: Shabbat clears their lungs, restores their equilibrium and calms their mind and heart.
Shabbat also turns a person into a mensch: life is so competitive that everyone else is a potential rival, but when Shabbat comes, the other person is a human being like oneself, a friend and not an enemy.
How right the sages were when they said that Shabbat is a foretaste of life in the World to Come, “the day which will be all Shabbat”.