Shabbos By Design

If Shabbos is a day of rest, why can't we do things we enjoy? This workshop explores the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos and the concept of melachah: We abstain from creative activities on Shabbos to demonstrate that God is the ultimate Creator, not us human beings.

Download PDF

A lot of the time when people think about Shabbat, they focus very heavily on the things they CAN'T do: No cell phones. No driving. No shopping. No TV.

It's not so easy to stop doing these things for a 25-hour period.

Our focus here, however, is going to be the things we CAN do. Perhaps if we understand these, it may shed some light on the things we can't do as well. Think about some of the things we CAN do on Shabbat; think also about the things that we are encouraged to do son Shabbat as well.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's think about something important: If you were designing a Day of Rest - what would YOU put into it? How would YOU choose to celebrate it? What would YOU suggest we take a rest from?

Once you've thought about that, let's take a look at some common Shabbat things that we CAN do, and decide based on YOUR view of the Day of Rest which ones are the most important.

If YOU were making a weekly Day of Rest, how would YOU rank the following options in terms of importance?

  • Spending time with family
  • Praying
  • Sleeping
  • Eating delicious food
  • Learning Torah
  • Spending time with friends

Now rank them according to how you think God would place them in terms of importance.

The truth of the matter is that - even according to God - eating and drinking, sleeping and spending time with family and friends are more central to the unique Shabbat experience than praying and learning are.

וקראת לשבת ענג, לקדוש ה' מכבד, וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך, ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר... אז תתענג על ה
(ישעיהו נח:יג-יד)

"...and you shall call Shabbat a delight ("oneg"), and the holy of Hashem 'honorable', and you shall honor it - not doing your routine matters or pursuing your business or speaking about it... then you shall delight yourself in Hashem...." (Isaiah 58:13-14)

"Oneg Shabbos" is the mitzvah to turn Shabbos into an enjoyable experience!

Here's one problem though... Aren't there things we enjoy doing that we CAN'T do on Shabbos?! If it's about enjoying ourselves, why can't we do anything we want?!

ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך. ויום השביעי שבת לה' אלקיך. לא תעשה כל מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך עבדך ואמתך ובהמתך וגרך אשר בשעריך. (שמות כ ח):

"For six days you shall labor and do all of your work ["melachah"] but on the seventh it is Shabbat for Hashem your God. You will do no work ["melachah"] on it - you or your son or your daughter, or your servant or maid or animal or the convert in your gates."

The Torah tells us that the things we can't do on Shabbos are called "melachah" - this term is usually defined as "work." But what is "melachah" really?

"The 'melachah' which is forbidden on Shabbat is... [the] production, creation, transforming an object for human purposes; [this does not include] physical exertion - even if you tired yourself the whole day - as long as you have PRODUCED nothing within the meaning of the word 'melachah.' As long as your activity has not been a constructive exercise of our intelligence you have performed no melachah.
- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Choreiv 21:44

"Melachah has to be "the practical carrying out of an idea that shows the would-be dominion of the human mind over the world of matter."
- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Choreiv 21:145

In other words... Melachah is done only when human being show they dominate the world by creating something!


  • How are some of the well-known "melachot" - e.g. turning on lightbulbs - examples of creation?
  • Why do you think that creating things is what G-d wants us to stop doing on Shabbat?

כי ששת ימים עשה ה' את השמים ואת הארץ את הים ואת כל אשר בם וינח ביום השביעי, על כן ברך ה' את יום השבת ויקדשהו.
(שמות כ:ח)

"For in six days God made the heaven and the earth and the seas and everything in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore, God blessed the day of Shabbat and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8)

During the week, the Torah tells us to work as much as we can - we are supposed to use our personal creativity and talents to make this world a better place - just like God did when He created the world.

On Shabbat, God wants to pull back on creating in order to remind us that ultimately it is He - not us - who is the real creator who runs this world.

This doesn't mean that we aren't supposed to be creative - we are! Rather, this is a message we are supposed to bring back with us into the week to give us the proper perspective on our creative accomplishments.

"Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."
-- Steve Jobs

Based on what we've learned, would the Torah be in favor of Steve Jobs' view about human creativity?