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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Knowing When To Stop

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

The Torah speaks about the realities of life. The Parsha opens with a story about a man who has fallen on hard times. He has no funds and feels that he has no choice but to sell himself as a slave. “Six years you shall work, and on the seventh year you shall go free.” He opts for slavery and works for six years, but on the seventh year he decides that he doesn’t want to go free. He somehow enjoys the protective atmosphere of his master’s home and the new relationships he has developed. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai said, the man must be punished. The ear which heard at Mount Sinai “we are slaves of G-d only”, and defied this by selling himself as a slave should be pierced.

Why now? If he has defied a command of the Torah by selling himself as a slave why do we wait until now to pierce his ear. He had already committed this sin six years earlier when he sold himself to begin with. At this time he is merely renewing the contract of an old transgression?

The answer is that sometime when reality sets in we do many things that we would rather not be doing. We do what we have to do. That’s life. G-d doesn’t fault us for getting started. He only faults us when we don’t know when to stop!

One of the primary Mitzvos of the Torah is to keep Shabbos. Six days a week we work. We struggle to make the world work for our families and ourselves. We take matters into our own hands to make sure that there is food on the table and teachers for our children.

When it comes Shabbos however we must stop. We meditate on the concept that G-d is truly the creator. It is He who is ultimately responsible for our finances and our welfare. Yes, there is a law of the Universe that for six days we must toil, but we must always keep in mind that it is G-d who is running the show. So we stop.

The reason people have a hard time with Shabbos is not because we don’t want a day of rest. We have a hard time with Shabbos because we don’t know how to stop. When Shabbos comes we have to consider it as if “all our work is complete” even though it’s not. We must acknowledge the true source of all our sustenance. It’s true, that G-d has decreed that we must be involved and responsible for our own destiny, but we must also know when to stop and how to stop. If one violates the Shabbos and continues to work he is making a retroactive statement about his non-reliance on the Holy One.

One of the names of G-d is “Sh*dai”. The Talmud explains that in the name “Sh*dai” is the word ‘Dai’ enough. This is because G-d created the world and than said ‘enough’.

Creation is dynamic. A seed is planted, it produces a tree, the tree produces buds, and the buds produce a fruit. It would have been quite natural at the time of creation for the process to continue. Why not? The fruit could turn into juice or perhaps a lemon meringue pie. Cotton plants could have continued to develop and grow into material. Jeans and all types of clothing could have been plucked from trees.

But on Erev Shabbos (according to one Medrash) G-d decided to say ‘Dai ‘- enough. It’s time to stop. Man will take over. Our needs can not be picked off of trees. It is the struggle of man to finish the job. So we work. Six days we sew our garments and cook our food. We travel, we trade and we negotiate.

When it comes to Shabbos we are tempted to think that the struggle must go on. Instead we put it back in G-d’s hands and realize that everything is from him. On Erev Shabbos we say, “Dai” - enough. It’s time to stop. There is a boundary to our struggle. In the words of the Talmud, “He who said to his world ‘Enough!’ should say to our struggle ‘Enough!’ G-d who created the struggle also created the limit to the struggle. G-d knew exactly when to stop – we too must know when to stop, and how to stop.

The six years of the slave could be compared to the six days of the week. For six years he struggles for such he feels is the destiny of man. On the seventh year though it is time for him to stop. When however on the seventh year he refuses to go free, to stop; he is then defying the edict which he heard on Mt. Sinai. It is at this point that we pierce his ear.

Business executives who meet for lunch no longer boast about how much free time they have or how they have everything under control, they boast about how busy they are. If we stop we feel guilty. Being busy is a national obsession and it has a lot to do with ego. The more responsibility I have, the busier I am. Busy equals important.

I find that even in basic conversation with a friend busy-ness takes over. While someone is talking to us, instead of listening we are planning our response while we worry that the conversation is already going on for too long.

What happens to our learning, our davening, our spouses and our children? It’s true, for six days we must work, for six years we must be enslaved but then it is time for freedom. Dai! We can’t give up our lives.

This was the message of the great Raban Yochanan ben Zakai. The ear which heard at Mount Sinai “we are slaves of G-d only”, and defied this by selling himself as a slave should be pierced. If you stood at Mt. Sinai and didn’t hear that we are free – you missed the point. You didn’t get it.

May we all be privileged to a time that is “Yom shekulo Shabbos” when every day is Shabbos, every day we are free. 

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