This and the upcoming Torah portions explain the construction of the holy Mishkan (Tabernacle) in great detail. One key reason to discuss these details, the Talmud explains (Shabbos 49b), is to learn the 39 types of work done to construct the Mishkan—because these are the same types of work one is to withhold from on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest.
Why is it, though, that these are clear, universal rules, regardless of a person’s profession? The point seems to be to rest from the type of work we do during the week. If that is true, why should a stock broker not be allowed to dig in their garden on Shabbos, or a construction worker not be allowed to knit a sweater? Both digging and sewing were activities performed in constructing the Mishkan, but few people today do them during the week. So if people view gardening as a relaxing hobby rather than work, why shouldn’t it be called “rest?”
Truthfully, even if we were building the Mishkan, we might have the same question. Each participant did several types of work, but not all 39. Some sewed the curtains, and others chopped the wood. Yet everyone had to cease from all 39 categories of work when the Shabbos arrived.
While the work we do each day of the week may not always involve these 39 types of work, the purpose of our work should be viewed as building for ourselves a Mishkan for the Divine Presence. It’s easy to forget that the purpose of our daily work is not just to maintain our lifestyle. It is to serve those who depend on us, and to enable us to serve the Al-mighty. These are spiritual pursuits that cannot be carried out without the daily activities that maintain and support our lives. On Shabbos we withhold specifically from the work of the Mishkan, for we should consider our labor during the week to be comparable to doing all the labors involved in constructing a Mishkan.
In this way, our work during the week is holy and lofty just like work done to build the Mishkan. The purpose of the holy Mishkan is to provide a home for the Divine presence to reside close to His people. So too, the purpose of our daily work is to bring the Divine presence into our lives and the lives of our families. The obligation to rest on the Sabbath from the 39 activities of the Mishkan is an imperative to spend a day each week resting from our holy work in the office, the kitchen, the classroom and on stage, and remember the lofty, spiritual goals built by these activities.