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Avodah and Melakhah (Service and Labor)
The Torah indeed provides us with a solution to the aggravating separation of science and religion. We read in the Decalogue: "Six days shalt thou work ( (תעבוד and do all thy handicraft (מלאכתך, thy business, labor); but the seventh day, Shabbath ..., thou shalt do no handicraft ( ,מלאכה business, labor.("
The first part of this passage contains the positive commandment "to do" work (service) and handicraft (labor), with handicraft being seen as a part of work (עבודה , avodah); the second part, the commandment "not to do", mentions only handicraft or labor (מלאכה, melakhah), thus distinguishing it from avodah.
Avodah means work, or service (cult, in the original meaning of that word), in the broadest sense, including slave's work. On Shabbath, the day of rest, our avodah ("service") may focus on worship, reflection, praise and prayer in order to sanctify the day. However, during the six days of the week, our melakhah (labor, business, handicraft) should also be part of our avodah, as enjoined by the Decalogue. That means we should do our weekly business (melakhah) for the honor and glory of the Lord no less than we do our service (avodah) on Shabbath. For that matter, of course, no business could be done which would not contribute to His honor and glory; nor should men be enslaved by men. To make His honor our honor should be the axiom for our daily work.
It is indeed a sign of the Messiah that he rides upon a donkey, and not vice versa. This means to say, as true Adam we should neither reject matter as base, nor be enslaved by it, but use it guided by Divine Wisdom.
Moreover, accepting this exhortation of the Decalogue to see melakhah as an integral part of avodah, Divine service, would enhance the right attitude in all our business relationships: those of employer to employee, and vice versa; of businessmen among one another and towards their customers; of government officials to the public and vice versa, etc.
This concept can be seen as an integral part of the basic commandment to love one's neighbor. Of course, there are also rules and commandments which deal with specific aspects of the subject, as seeing in the other not an object to be exploited but a person of equal value; paying the proper wage or salary at the proper time; and employing proper measurements.
All this is suggested by the etymology of the word melakhah. Its root being malakh (messenger, angel), it could be literally translated angel-wards; i.e. we should do all our business as messengers acting on behalf of the Divine, that is, in the image of our maker, the Creator. While this holds true for all men, here in Israel, after the return from the long exile, we should conceive and perform melakhah even as a commandment headed by an appropriate blessing.
On the other hand, melakhah which is not part of the Divine service entails all kinds of enslavement and leads inevitably to idolatry, עבודה זרה, avodah zarah (literally service to strange entities).
The Biblical concept of melakhah does not, of course, reduce men to puppets. The Decalogue says explicitly that for six days we shall do all our business. We are free to do the business we choose: handicraft, trade, research, office work, study, sports, etc. We can do it for the sake of earning our living, for the sake of physical or intellectual training or for pleasure, as long as it remains part of our avodah.
We may also say that melakhah has to do with the outgoing faculties of man, the aspect of quantity; while avodah concerns the inner man, the aspect of quality. Imbalance or separation of these two aspects leads to tension, disease, and collapse on both the individual and national level. The outer work, including the "marriage" to our land, complements the inner service, and is a means of building up the integral man, or "true Adam".
Thus avodah and melakhah, Shabbath and week, holy and profane, are different not in essence but in form. This is hinted at by the Torah itself which relates both these aspects to our doing (making):
"ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את שבת”
"and the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat to do (make) the Shabbat", Exod.31:16
"ששת ימים תעבור ועשית כל מלאכתך”
"six days thou shalt work and do (make) all thy work",
and Moses our lawgiver says in his Psalm (90:17)
"ויהי נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננהו"
(“…may bliss, my Master, our God, be upon us; and establish upon us the work of our hands, and the work of our hands, and the works of our hands, establish Thou it”. – The last part of that verse is correctly to be read: “and the works of our hands will establish it”, that is, will establish on earth the Sanctuary that His hands have already established for us on High – Exod. 15:17
In this Divine attitude, even such "profane" activities as work, eating and sex are elevated into the holy plane. The more they are elevated, the less "evil" or destructive they become, and the more they become beneficial, uplifting, unifying, and meaningful in the ultimate sense.
The link, or even oneness of avodah and melakhah, Divine service and daily labor, becomes transparent in other passages of the Tanakh. Let us consider some of them.
Each of the three Feasts commanded in the Torah - Pessah, Shavuoth, and Succoth - has spiritual and agricultural aspects. On Pessah, we celebrate the liberation from Egypt, but we celebrate this feast also as the spring festival. On Shavuoth (Pentecost. 50 days after Pessah is the Feast of Mathan Torah, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as well as the feast of the wheat harvest. Both aspects are combined in the Book of Ruth (she serves as a model for all those who would embrace Judaism). Ruth receives the Torah through her famous answer to Naomi:"...your people shall be my people, and your God my God... may the Lord do so to me..."; and on Boaz' field she helps bring in the wheat harvest. Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles, reminds us that during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the people of Israel did not live in solid houses. By living a full week in booths, we "remember" this exposure to the elements, but also celebrate the gathering of the last harvest.
In the time of the Second Temple, the famous water-drawing ceremony was linked to Isaiah's word: "God is my salvation ...therefore with joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation..." 12:2-6
Moreover, the Hebrew calendar guarantees that all its feasts coincide with the agricultural seasons. Pessah occurs when the green is ready for the first cut; Shavuoth, comes at the ingathering of the wheat (the main field fruit); and Succoth comes at the ripening and harvest of the fruits of the trees; at the middle of Hannukah begins the winter cold; tu b'shvat, the "New Year of the Trees", marks the best season for planting trees; the New Moon prayers (between the third and the tenth day of each new moon month) mark the best sowing seasons. Indeed, there could be no better proof of the bond between religion and agriculture (as a section of melakhah) than the Hebrew calendar.
Another passage of the Torah which stresses this togetherness is Leviticus 26:3. It reads: "If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments...". The Hebrew term rendered here by statutes is not torah but חוק, hoq. While the word torah means the Divine Instruction for men, hoq means the one law that governs all of creation, its spiritual as well as physical aspects. By using the word hoq, the passage instructs us to perceive the laws of nature and the Divine commandments as being part of the same order. The sanctification of the weekly Shabbath and of the Feasts is seen as natural and spiritual at the same time, and so is the sanctification of Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount.
Even the Levites could and should tend their small holdings while not on duty in the Sanctuary, as mentioned above, cf. fig. 60
The Hebrew confession : "..The Lord is One", is all-embracing. It includes the spiritual as well as the physical aspects of existence, avodah as well as melakhah.
Our sign, the Star of David, with its two interwoven triangles, is a perfect symbol of this axiom. In our present situation, however, it is rather a sign of hope than of established fact. In the nations of the world, it is, interestingly enough, replaced by other signs, mainly by the five-pointed star.