I'm fascinated by work, I could sit and watch it for hours...

The most common and probably most frustrating argument I have the privilege of repeatedly needing to engage in, is explaining the Torah's definition of the word "work."

The verse states "Six days melachah (work) may be done, but the seventh day should be holy for you, a day of complete rest for G‑d" (Exodus 35:2). Surely that which is forbidden on Shabbat is real work, hard labor for financial reward, not this irritating nit-picking list which the rabbis try to forbid?

Let me state for the record that I agree with most aspects of their assertion; watching TV is pleasure, not toil, most actions forbidden on Shabbat are not particularly onerous, and there is plenty of useful things one can do even without receiving a paycheck.

My case, however, is that work per se was never forbidden on Shabbat. True the closest literal approximation to the word melachah is "work," but looking at the verse in context, it becomes readily apparent that some specific tasks were forbidden; others were not, irrespective of the difficulty or degree of compensation involved.

On a number of occasions the Torah correlates the keeping of Shabbat with the building of the mishkan (the portable sanctuary that was the forerunner of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). During last week's reading and again this week, we interrupt detailing the construction of the mishkan to reference the commandment to observe Shabbat. There were 39 broad categories of labor involved during the construction and functioning of the mishkan, and these selfsame categories are representative of the actions one is forbidden to undertake on Shabbat.

Thus, nowhere is the prohibition of performing melachah on Shabbat limited to employment, toil, or making use of technology. Rather, melachah is defined as any forbidden labor on Shabbat, as performed during the construction and functioning of the mishkan.

When we are engaged on important business there is often the temptation to cut corners on the road to success. "Let me devote myself to my vision", says the visionary, "even at the cost of a trail of physical and spiritual wreckage I might leave behind me. Family life can suffer, I allow myself to be tempted into some less than salubrious financial decisions, and my interpersonal skills are deplorable, all in the name of the higher purpose."

Building the mishkan was the most holy and intricate task that the Jews were assigned during their sojourn in the desert. Every one of the men and women chosen to participate in the mission was an exceptional artisan and morally righteous individual. This was to be the temporal home for G‑d, the place where Divine inspiration would descend and minister to the masses. There could be no more noble or fulfilling purpose than to contribute to its construction.

Nonetheless, every Friday night all work on this magnificent edifice would come to a grinding halt. No matter how lofty a goal one is engaged in, there still needs to be a true sense of priorities, a recognition that, admirable as one's aspirations may be, they are not superseded by one's responsibilities. Suspending construction in honor of the Shabbat was a weekly reminder for the builders and craftsmen that even the most noble of goals must be accompanied by a sense of self-control, and a willingness to sacrifice one's own short term objectives to comply with one's duty.