Question: Shabbat is called "a day of rest." According to Jewish law, on Shabbat one can lug a 100-pound bag of potatoes around the house all day but he is forbidden to flick on a light switch.
How does this make sense?
The Torah prohibits doing melacha, which is usually translated as "work," on Shabbat. This forbidden "work" does not mean manual labor, for it is permissible to shlep heavy objects on Shabbat.
What is forbidden is creative activity, the kind of activity that God did during the first six days of creation and refrained from on Shabbat. Just like God rested on Shabbat, so do we; therefore we don't write, cook or build on Shabbat since they are all creative acts.
What are we supposed to gain by resting from creative activity on Shabbat?
During the week human beings are submerged in manipulating and changing the world. Our task is to go out and build our world. We're busy conquering space, closing deals, creating products, erecting buildings, traveling the information super-highway. It's easy to start thinking not only that we are God-like in being a creative force in the world, but even that we are God, complete masters of the universe.
Therefore every seven days we stop, we pull back from building the world and remind ourselves that we are not God. In ceasing from all creative activity we make the statement to ourselves and to humanity that although we can manipulate the world, we don't own it; the universe belongs to God. It's not ours to do with entirely as we see fit. We have a clear set of guidelines that dictate the proper way in which we may shape the world.
By unplugging the phones, turning off the TV and removing all the noise and busy-ness that we're caught up in six days a week, we demonstrate to ourselves our true sense of freedom -- that we are not enslaved by our daily routine.
On Shabbat we allow ourselves to take a deep breath and reconnect to the Source of everything. By extracting ourselves from the barrage of our activity and reminding ourselves that we are not God, we open ourselves up to the opportunity of experiencing the spiritual which is more readily accessible on Shabbat. We stop working on becoming, and for one day a week we focus on being.
Quote from Erich Fromm:
"Work" is any interference by humankind, be it constructive or destructive, with the physical world. "Rest" is a state of peace between human and nature. Humankind must leave nature untouched, not change it in any way...
On the basis of this general definition we can understand the Shabbat ritual. Indeed any heavy work like plowing or building is work in this as well as in our modern sense. But even lighting a match and pulling up a blade of grass, while not requiring effort, are symbols of human interference with the natural process, and are a breach of the peace between humankind and nature.
From: "Shmooze: A Guide to Thought-Provoking Discussions on Essential Jewish Issues" http://www.aish.com/a/shmooze/default.asp