This week’s sidra reminds us about Shabbat – but with a difference. In the Ten Commandments we are told, “Six days shall you work” (Ex. 20:9); in this sidra the phrase is “Six days shall work be done” (Ex. 35:2).
One could say that the result is the same – Shabbat is a day without work. But the Torah does not use words carelessly. Every nuance has significance.
The passive phraseology (“six days shall work be done”) could suggest that work must not become a dominating obsession leaving no time for cultural or spiritual activity; work must not rule our lives to the exclusion of everything else. If we are able to find the right balance and keep work in its place, work thereby becomes a means and not an end.
There is a further possible explanation. Saying “six days shall you work” and “six days shall work be done” shows us that there are two issues, the worker and the work. The worker must not expect to rest on the Sabbath day or any other time unless they have earned the rest by work. But the nature of the work is also important.
As the sages point out at the end of Tractate Kiddushin, one’s work must be clean, constructive and honest.