On Shabbat, the Jewish people are commanded: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is Shabbat for the Lord your God; you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8). The Oral Law states that the word “work” refers to m’la’cha, creative work, such as planting or starting a fire, not to general labor such as setting up a room for a kiddush or moving one’s furniture (within one’s domicile). And, yet, even talking about work (one’s job or business) is prohibited. While one can easily understand that acquiring property, collecting payments and signing contracts are transgressions of the Sabbath, few can fathom what the problem might be talking about a plot of land that one would like to purchase or a potential deal that could be made later in the week.

The Talmud cites two verses from Isaiah and interprets them:

If you restrain your foot because of Shabbat, from pursuing your business on My holy day; and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable; and shall honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking thereof; Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Says the Talmud:
And you shall honor it, not doing thine own affairs: ‘and you shall honor it’… your affairs are forbidden, the affairs of Heaven [religious matters] are permitted…your speech [conversation] on Shabbat should not be like your speech on weekdays. Speaking [about mundane matters] is forbidden, but thinking [about mundane matters] is permitted (Shabbat 113a-b).

By refraining from creative work on Shabbat, a person testifies to God’s creation of the world and His continued involvement in the work of creation. Talking about business not only focuses a person on him/her self, but turns one’s thoughts away from the greater spiritual nature of the day.

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