“שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ וְיִנָּפֵש בֶּן־אֲמָתְךָ וְהַגֵּר/Do your work for six days and cease on the seventh day so that your ox and donkey may rest and the son of your maidservant and the resident stranger may be refreshed.”
Although obviously important that our animals rest and the servants be refreshed, the pasuk implies that this is the sole reason for keeping Shabbos. Yet, elsewhere the Torah teaches that we keep Shabbos as a testimony that God created the world and as a remembrance of the Exodus. How can these pesukim be reconciled?
There is a common theme that connects this pasuk with other descriptions of Shabbos in the Torah. The common theme is מְנוּחָה/rest. In the beginning of Breishis the Sfas Emes explains that the concept of מְנוּחָה/rest is not only cessation from physical activity. Rest really means a cessation from anything. We can rest from physical activity and we can relax our minds and take a mental rest. When we subordinate our own desires to God’s we are resting from those desires and really from our very selves. The concept of rest applied broadly simply means distancing from something.
When every part of the Creation fulfills God’s will, each aspect of it subjugating itself to God, it can be said to be at rest. This was the situation at the very first Shabbos. This is why Rashi in Breishis writes that מנוחה/rest was created with the culmination of the Creation on the first Shabbos – Shabbos Breishis. On the first Shabbos when the Creation was complete, the harmony of the Creation became apparent. Like an unfinished painting, before the first Shabbos, the harmony in the Creation was not clear to be seen. Once the Creation was complete and each creation could be seen performing its unique task thus fulfilling God’s will, God’s hand in the Creation was apparent. Each creation thus subordinated itself to God’s will. This, as we’ve explained is the very essence of מנוחה/rest.
According to this concept of rest, the Sfas Emes understands our pasuk metaphorically as referring to our life mission in this world. The six days during which we do our work represents our lifetime. During our time here we work at coming close to God by subordinating ourselves to Him. The donkey and ox in the pasuk represent our physical nature. Our material nature is egocentric, the very antithesis of subordination to God’s will. Our goal is to rectify our material nature. When we succeed, our material nature “rests”. As the pasuk states, “Do you work ... so that your ox and donkey may rest ...” May we merit it!