‘It’s not all about me’ is key Mishpatim lesson

In last week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we received the 10 Commandments including the commandment about Shabbat: “Zachor et yom hashabbat l’kadsho.” Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Yet in Deuteronomy the commandment is worded: “Shamor et yom hashabbat l’kadsho.” Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. But have no fear, this difference is harmonized when we sing Lecha Dodi on Friday evenings. “Shamor v’zachor b’dibur echad.” Observe and remember spoken simultaneously. That’s, of course, a lot easier for God to do than for us.
In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we have another repetition, a repetition of the prohibition on doing work on Shabbat, and it’s different from last week’s. Sadly, “Lecha Dodi” doesn’t harmonize the difference but there has to be some meaning there; God doesn’t waste ink. Last week in Yitro, we read, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Eternal your God: you shall not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.” But this week in Mishpatim, we read: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed.” The difference is that in the first version everyone, you, your children, your workers, your animals, everyone must cease working. In the second version, you must cease working so that your animals and your workers may rest and be refreshed. Your resting and being refreshed doesn’t come into the picture. What is the meaning behind this difference?
In the first instance of the commandment to rest on Shabbat, we are commanded directly to rest on Shabbat. But we might feel that we can hire foreign workers to labor on Shabbat while we rest and refresh ourselves. Yet in the second instance of the commandment in Mishpatim we learn that ceasing to do work on Shabbat isn’t about us. We stop working so that others may rest. It’s not all about me, I have to keep reminding myself. Rather, we cease to do work on Shabbat so that others, the workers who serve us including the stranger, may rest and be refreshed.
Remembering that “it’s not all about me” is a lesson we begin to learn when we’re very little children and sometimes it seems like we have to relearn the lesson over and over throughout our lives. Shabbat rest, renewing our relationships with our loved ones and with God is a mechaya; it gives us renewed life every week. But don’t think it’s only for our own benefit. Shabbat rest is also for those who surround us as well. We lose something when we think only of ourselves. We must remember and observe Shabbat, ceasing to do work, not for ourselves alone, but for the sake of others as well.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and the vice-president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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