Obviously, when the Torah was given, there was no such thing as electricity, much less an I-Phone 6 (although there were two Tablets!). The majority of forbidden labor on Shabbat has to do with agriculture. Of course, these laws did not change, but our perception of them has. I think there is a very meaningful idea at work here.
For our ancestors who lived an agriculturally based life, field work was their obsession. Winnowing, harvesting, reaping, these were the activities that consumed their day-to-day lives. When Shabbat came around, it was precisely in these areas that they needed Divine permission to rest from. But in our reality, these farm-based chores are no longer a daily worry for us.
Our new daily struggles are in the electronic realm. During the week, we are chained to our devices and what they offer, be it Facebook, email, Twitter, texting, and more. As a Rabbi and director of a Chabad Center, I spend much of the day on my phone. Twitter is our winnowing, Snap Chat is our threshing, and Facebook is our harvesting. These are the labors which consume us most of our attention today.
Two-thousand years ago, if you asked someone to think of a labor not to be done on Shabbat, they would likely say “Plowing a field”, whereas today it is our electronic labors that we associate with hard work. And it is precisely this work which we need special “permission” (in the form of a Divine command) to desist from once a week. To know that for a full day, the outside world can wait. This day is all about family, prayer, Torah study, and of course, food and sleep.
So while the prohibition of agricultural activities is still fully in force, most of us are not farmers, and our Shabbat rest takes on a form that we can truly relate to and appreciate.
Please partner with us this Chanukah, and help us brighten up the Coast! Visit our website to make a donation, and take part in our upcoming Holiday programs.
Rabbi Akiva Hall