Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
In this week's Torah portion we receive one of the greatest gifts in human history: Shabbat. What's the secret of Shabbat that makes it such a precious gift?
Shabbat gave a framework to time. During the French revolution, the government decided to dispense with all religious associations and so the days of the week were set according to the number of fingers on our hands; a week would consist of ten days instead of seven. This arrangement was tried nowhere else except in France, and it did not last long. The seven day week was soon reinstituted with the victorious return of Shabbat.
The ancient Greeks mocked Jews for their Shabbat observance. The Greeks, who considered the Jews lazy because they did not work one-seventh of the time, failed to understand the function of Shabbat. It was not a day for idleness, but for rejuvenation. Those who dedicate one day out of seven to cessation of all work and to rest are never worn down and remain fresh.
Regarding time management, it is customary to say that we need to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. What is urgent is bound to dominate our daily agenda. And yet, progress in life is measured by our attention to what is important: family, community, study, prayer, conversation, song and, above all, our souls.
Perhaps it's not by chance that we receive the gift of Shabbat immediately after leaving Egypt since Shabbat, in giving us respite from our daily mundane concerns is, in itself, an Exocdus from slavery to freedom.