Ever since ancient times, mankind has dreamt of conquering the earth and putting it to use for his own benefit. For thousands of years, man watched with envy as birds large and small took to the skies, overcoming the force of gravity and soaring on high. Would man ever fly?
Modern science points out with no little pride the great strides which man has made in the past two centuries. Not only has he overcome gravity so that he now flies from continent to continent with ease, not only the peak of Everest, and the North and South Poles, but even the moon and the planets have started to come into his grasp. In addition, the tiniest of particles are revealing their secrets and releasing their incredible storehouse of energy to mankind. In the field of medicine, man has conquered numerous diseases and added significantly to man's lifespan on this earth.
Another field which has seen tremendous scientific advance is that of weaponry. Primitive man could attack only one enemy at a time. Today, one human being can press on a button which will threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of his fellow men, without even having to risk his own life and limb by going out to battle. Men pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other at the incredible progress they have made in technology. Each day, it seems they have come closer to fulfilling their dream of conquering the earth. The more sober and farsighted, however, realize that it is not man who controls the super-weapons, but the super arsenals which control the life of man.
The end goal of the Jewish faith is not to sever man's bond with the physical world, but to teach him to sublimate his physical desires for a higher level. This is the only way to ensure man's claim to eternity. A leaf, a tree, a delicious steak, even a mountain peak – all these are temporary to one degree or the other. Judaism gives man the means of ensuring that his soul, which is not subject to the laws and limitations in time and space of the physical world, can attain eternal existence if allowed to take over the reins of his life.
Likewise, Judaism does not reject the advances made by science and technology. Rather, it teaches the Jew how to harness these advances for spiritual goals, rather than being swept away by the unending pursuit of the newest, fastest, most compact and sophisticated gadgets for their own sake. The culture of technology is a dangerous bog; it is very easy to sink into its soggy mass and become entrapped in the whirl of its hyped-up advertising. Once snared in its mud, it is nearly impossible to free oneself without assistance from an outsider.
The Shabbat extends a life line to rescue modern man, lest he remain a prisoner of technology to the end of his days. Even if he assert that the conditions in his prison resemble those of a five-star hotel, he remains a prisoner. The day will come when he wishes to break free, but cannot. Shabbat comes to teach us how to enjoy the advantages of science, technology, and culture, without losing our independence in the process. We refrain from creative acts on the seventh day not because we disapprove of them, but, on the contrary, because we value the benefits they afford us, and seek to train ourselves how to best put them to work for us. Once we learn how to use them wisely, we imbue our weekday pursuits with a new and higher purpose. We would do well to keep in mind that the commandment to refrain from intervening in the world of nature on Shabbat follows an injunction to engage in such acts for the six days preceding the day of rest: "Six days you shall work, and perform all of your melachah..."
As explained in Chapter IV above, the word melachah is used to refer to those deeds by which man intervenes in the natural processes of the physical world in order to harness them for his benefit. The commandment to devote six days of the week to harnessing the resources of nature is an intrinsic part of the covenant between G-d and the People of Israel no less than the commandment to refrain from any form of melachah on the seventh day.
Modern man is beset by dilemmas as a result of the incredible technological advances of recent decades. There are those who propose resolving these difficulties by eliminating the products of technological advance. This is a fundamental error; the solution will evolve not from doing away with the notebook and the netbook, the Blackberry and the Boeing, but from freeing man from his utter dependence on these advances, so that he is free to determine, objectively, how and when to use each one.
On Shabbat, man no longer has the right to bend the forces of nature to do his bidding. On this day, he breaks free from the shackles of modern technology and regains the true perspective on life. Shabbat is a day of rest on all levels: between man and Nature, and between man and himself. On this day the Jew finds relief from workaday pressures and release from the constraints of his physical being. On Shabbat, man rules over time, rather than the clock holding sway over man.
Shabbat is also a day which brings individuals together and nurtures mutual accord. It teaches man how to live in harmony with his fellow man, with nature, and with his environment. All who bear within them a spark of the Divine bonds with G-d. This is Shabbat, the greatest level of pleasure which man can experience in this physical world.
Man has always aspired to conquer the world of nature. From the beginning of time, he has harnessed its power for his own benefit. Science teaches man to recognize the forces of nature, to categorize them, to measure them, and to analyze their intrinsic properties. The more man reveals the secrets of Nature, the more he discovers the wonders of the Creation, which are a testimony to the infinite wisdom and power of Him who created them. However, the man of science who devotes his days entirely to his research will soon forget that he is occupied with substances and forces which were created by a greater, more potent First Cause and Source. He is so preoccupied with determining the how's of his research that he forgets to ask himself the primary question: Who created all this?
The answer to this question will compel him to acknowledge that there is a power above and beyond the realm of nature, one which cannot be measured, weighed, or quantified. Likewise, its behavior cannot be defined by the laws of nature or its theories. The Creator is above the realm of nature; it is He who created nature and established its laws in the first place. Not every scientist finds it convenient to acknowledge this limitation of the territory over which he holds sway.
By his nature, man seeks new peaks to scale, new rivers to cross, new worlds to conquer. He aspires to discover every creature in the depths of the seas, and to uncover what is hidden below the seabed. Only one phenomenon escapes his inquisitive intellect: the spark of the divine which lies within him. Many scholars and researchers come close to the heart of this question, but skirt around it when they come face to face with the heart of the matter. They devote their time to investigation nature, propose theorems regarding the origin of the universe, but stop short of acknowledging that everything which is created must necessarily have a creator. It requires another step forward to perceive the hand of the Creator behind the mask of the laws of nature.
Shabbat opens the window on the perspective which provides this missing piece of the puzzle. It provides the road sign, as it were, to catching a glimpse of the original source by experiencing the spark of holiness that lies within each of us. Its text declares in shining letters: the world has a Creator. All that you see, that you detect, that you sense, was created by one Supreme Power.
Shabbat is that road sign: "For it is an eternal sign that G-d created the heavens and the earth in six days..." (Exodus 31:17).
Whenever Man begins to feel that he is holding the reins of the universe in his hands, the Shabbat comes to point out his error. There is no week without its Shabbat, just as there is no world without its Creator.