email facebook google share twitter

Torah Reflections

Yitro: Sacred Service

In this week’s reading (Yitro), the Israelites experience an extraordinary revelation at Mount Sinai. The content of that revelation includes the Ten Commandments. These days, I’ve been think a lot about the fourth of those divine utterances, the one about the Sabbath. “Six days you may work and do all your labor, it states, “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHVH, your God; do not do your labor” (Exodus 20:9)

Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated above as “work” can also be translated as “serve”. So our verse can also be translated as, “Six days you may serve and do all your labor…”

Resting as service

On the basis of this reading, Bachya ben Asher (citing Maimonides) understands the fourth commandment in an interesting way. Instead of contrasting work and rest, as most people do, he suggests that both activities are a form of service. In this way, the commandment takes on an interesting dimension. For six days, we serve the Sacred through our work, but on the seventh day, we serve by resting.

This interpretation has really helped me to understand something about myself: I think of my work as service, but not my rest. As a result, I tend to prioritize the former over the latter. But if both work and rest are sacred service, then it is incumbent upon me to do both.

Taking a sabbatical

If you’ve been reading these reflections, you know that I’ve shifted my focus from contemplation to activism. It feels to me like sacred service of the highest order, and I want to give as much of myself to it as I can. I’ve been working to organize, inspire and mobilize both in my community and beyond. I’m calling and writing to my representatives, attending town halls, and showing up at more meetings that I can count. I am energized and inspired, but also weary.

So it’s time for me to learn how to serve by resting as well as acting, and I need to make some space to do just that. So I will be taking a sabbatical from writing new reflections for a while. I will still send out a weekly message, but for now they will come from my archives. I expect to return to writing as soon as I have the time and energy to give it the attention it deserves. In the meantime, I hope you will find my earlier posts to be useful to you in your practice.

May you be blessed…

May you be blessed to serve the Sacred in the ways closest to your heart. May you recognize that your rest is also service. And may we, together, restore the Sacred to our holy, broken world.

Ameyn, ken yehi ratzon. Amen, so may it be.


About the Author
I'm a rabbi committed to practicing and teaching awakening into intimacy with life. Learn more at