This week's portion speaks about the prohibition against "work" on Shabbat. People usually think of the idea of a Sabbath as an opportunity to rest so that one can be fit and strong again for the week ahead. But this is clearly not the Torah's concept. We rest on Shabbat, the Torah says, because God rested. But God was obviously not resting in order to work better the week after. His work was already finished and he did not continue his work after Shabbat.
The reality is that Shabbat is something different entirely. The word for "work" on Shabbat is melacha. The other place in which the Torah uses a similar word is the building of the Tabernacle. The Sages determined from the Torah's description that there were 39 creative activities involved - like lighting a fire, cooking, grinding and writing. There is one thing that all 39 have in common. They are actions that humans can do which animals cannot. All are examples of humans using their intelligence to manipulate and bend nature. Hence, by extrapolation, one can obviously not switch on a light or drive a car.
The "Shabbat rest" is not a rest from physical labor. It is a rest from our constant, though futile, effort to control our world. It is a day to sit back and allow the world to flow by without trying to change it. A day to stop 'doing' and start 'being'. A day in which we do not allow our striving for a 'better' future to spoil our enjoyment of the here and now. When we relinquish control of our world for 24 hours, we live in a place that is a more accurate reflection of reality than when we think we are in control. It's an opportunity to find a place of peace and humility within oneself.
And Sages brings with it great perspective. When one enters a more spiritual place within oneself, there comes a shifting of priorities. The need for more and more money seems less important. Success seems very fickle. And power seems quite irrelevant. But family, love, the pursuit of wisdom, and an appreciation of life's inherent goodness switch from the black and white of the weekdays to full 32-bit color.
This is the purpose of Shabbat. A day to step out of the craziness of the week - and start living in the real world.