Work (Melakhah) in The Tanakh, Part 1

 

By Yochanan Zaqantov

 

Work is something we do 6 days a week and on the seventh day we do not work.  We see this in the Ten Commandments. Shemot/Exodus 20:9-10

 

9Six days you shall labor (ta’avod תַּעֲבֹד) and do (va’asiyta וְעָשִׂיתָ) all your work (kal-mela’kh’tekha כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּךָ), 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yehovah Eloheykha: you shall not do (ta’aseh תַעֲשֶׂה) any work (kal mela’khah כָל־מְלָאכָה)—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger (ger’kha גֵרְךָ) who is within your settlements.

 

We see from here that we are to labor (service) and do (make) our work for six days.  The seventh day is for us to cease on and not to do (make) our mala’khah (work).

 

So lets look at some of the Hebrew words we will be looking at for this study.

 

Mela’khah (Work) whose root is (lamed-aleph-kaf-sofit) and related to Mal’akh.  It is a Noun Feminine found by reference number 4399 pg. 521 BDB, and NEHC pgs. 705-706

 

Mal’akh (Messenger – Divine or Human) whose root is (lamed-aleph-kaf-sofit) is a Noun Masculine from reference number 4397 on pg. 521 BDB, and pgs. NEHC 704-705

 

Lamed-Aleph Kaf-Sofit is messenger/send, be sent, wait on, minister as found in other Semitic languages. 

 

Avad (serve/to serve/served) is (ayin-bet-dalet) and is the Verb and root for this word referenced as 5647 on pg. 712 of the BDB, and pgs. 887-889 in the NEHC

 

Avodah (Labor/Service) is from the root Avad and is a Noun Feminine and reference number 5656 pg. 715 BDB, pgs. 894-895 NEHC

 

Eved (slave/servant) ) is from the root Avad and is a Masculine Noun and reference number 5650 pgs. 713 BDB, pgs 889-894 NEHC

 

First let look at Mela’khah.

 

Even before the commandments we are commanded to not do work on the 1st and 7th days of Chag hamatzot (Feast of unleavened bread). 

 

Shemot (Exodus) 12:16

 

16You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done (kal mela’khah lo ye’aseh

 כָּל־מְלָאכָה לֹא־יֵעָשֶׂה) on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared (done) for you.

 

Here we see that one should not make work on these days.

 

We read Shemot (Exodus) 20:9-10 already so we won’t read it again.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 31:14,15

 

14You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes (mechal’leyha מְחַלְלֶיהָ – makes common) it shall be put to death: whoever does work (mela’khah מְלָאכָה) on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. 15Six days may work (ye’aseh mela’khah יֵעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה) be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete ceasing (Shabbat Shabbaton), holy to Yehovah; whoever does work (mala’khah מְלָאכָה) on the sabbath day shall be put to death.

Again we make our work.  The way we make the Shabbat common is that we work in it.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 35:2

 

2On six days work may be done (te’aseh mela’khah תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה), but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete ceasing (Shabbat Shabbaton), holy to Yehovah; whoever does any work (mela’khah מְלָאכָה) on it shall be put to death.

Again repeating how it is the work we make.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 16:29-31

 

29And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work (mela’khah מְלָאכָה), neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you (hager hagarהַגֵּר הַגָּר). 30For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before Yehovah. 31It shall be a sabbath of complete ceasing (Shabbat Shabbaton) for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.

 

Yom Kippurim (Day of Atonements) is referred to as a Shabbat Shabbaton as is the weekly shabbat.  Both we are not to do mela’khah (work).

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:3

 

3On six days work (mela’khahמְלָאכָה) may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete ceasing (Shabbat Shabbaton שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן), a sacred occasion. You shall do no work (kal mela’khah lo ta’asu

כָּל־מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ); it shall be a sabbath of Yehovah throughout your settlements.

 

Here we see again that one should not make their work.  This was specific for Shabbat. 

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:26-32

 

26Yehovah spoke to Moses, saying: 27Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to Yehovah; 28you shall do no work(vekal mela’khah lo ta’asu וְכָל־מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ) throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before Yehovah Eloheykha. 29Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day shall be cut off from his kin; 30and whoever does any work (mela’khah מְלָאכָה) throughout that day, I will cause that person to perish from among his people. 31Do no work (mela’khah) whatever; it is a law for all time, throughout the ages in all your settlements. 32It shall be a sabbath of complete ceasing (Shabbat Shabbaton

 שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן) for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your sabbath.

 

So for the weekly Shabbat and Yom Kippurim we are not to any work.  What about the other Chagim (Feasts)?

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:3-8

 

5In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to Yehovah, 6and on the fifteenth day of that month Yehovah’s Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days. 7On the first day you shall celebrate a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. (kal mela’khet ‘avodah כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה) [all work of service]  8Seven days you shall make offerings by fire to Yehovah. The seventh day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. (kol mela’khet ‘avodah כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה) [all work of service] 

 

Here we see a qualification of a type of work.  These Mikra kodesh are not shabbat shabbaton, or just shabbaton, or just shabbat.  Is it possible, the only work, which could not be done, was a work of Avodah (service).  If you refer back to Exodus 12 we see that the only work that was allowed was cooking on these two days.  Therefore it tells us that this was not just occupation forbidden but all forms of work save cooking and all work related to that.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 12:16

 

16You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done (kal mela’khah lo ye’aseh

 כָּל־מְלָאכָה לֹא־יֵעָשֶׂה) on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared (done) for you.

 

Lets continue.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:15-21

 

15And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: 16you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Yehovah. 17You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering; each shall be made of two-tenths of a measure of choice flour, baked after leavening, as first fruits to Yehovah. 18With the bread you shall present, as burnt offerings to Yehovah, seven yearling lambs without blemish, one bull of the herd, and two rams, with their meal offerings and libations, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yehovah. 19You shall also offer one he-goat as a sin offering and two yearling lambs as a sacrifice of well-being. 20The priest shall elevate these—the two lambs—together with the bread of first fruits as an elevation offering before Yehovah; they shall be holy to Yehovah, for the priest. 21On that same day you shall hold a celebration; it shall be a sacred occasion (Mikra kodesh) for you; you shall not work at your occupations. (kal mela’khet ‘avodah כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה) [all work of service]   This is a law for all time in all your settlements, throughout the ages.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:23-25

 

23Yehovah spoke to Moses, saying: 24Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete ceasing (shabbaton), a sacred occasion (Mikra qodesh) commemorated with loud blasts. 25You shall not work at your occupations (kol mela’khet ‘avodah) [all work of service]; and you shall bring an offering by fire to Yehovah.

 

Here we see the Chag Teru’ah is a shabbaton.  Though a rest day it has the same restriction as the spring and summer Chagim.

 

Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:34-36, 39

34 Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to Yehovah, [to last] seven days. 35 The first day shall be a sacred occasion (Miqra kodesh מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ): you shall not work at your occupations (kal mela’khet ‘avodah כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה) [all work of service]; 36 seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to Yehovah. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion (Miqra kodesh מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ) and bring an offering by fire to Yehovah; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations (kol mela’khet ‘avodah כָּל־מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה) [all work of service].

39Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of Yehovah [to last] seven days: a complete ceasing (shabbaton) on the first day, and a complete ceasing (Shabbaton) on the eighth day.

 

Thus, like the spring Chag the restriction is work.  While the term dealing with service also seems to be applied we don’t have a reason, which shows us that this was different, then other places which refer to simply all work.  The one kind of work, which may be done on the spring feast days, is meal preparation.  Some would use haqqesh (analogy) to apply that one may do meal preparation on this other chagim also. 

 

So what is the service work?  As we have shown earlier that Avodah is the feminine noun  form deriving its meaning from the verb Avad.  Let look at this word for its meaning.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 15:13

 

13And He said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved (va avadum וַעֲבָדוּם) and oppressed four hundred years;

 

As a servant or slave they served.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 29:14-15, 25

 

14 and Laban said to him, “You are truly my bone and flesh.” When he had stayed with him a month’s time, 15 Laban said to Jacob, “Just because you are a kinsman, [and] should you serve me (va avad’taniy וַעֲבַדְתַּנִי) for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”

 

25 When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I was in your service (avad’tiy עָבַדְתִּי) for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?”

 

As a contracted laborer.

 

So Avad can be the service/labor done freely or by force.  So service work is work which one does to serve another.  What we do everyday at our jobs is a form of Avad if we serve someone and earn pay.  This why we see that for even our servants and animals are to rest on shabbat, shabbaton, and Chag. 

 

Shemot (Exodus) 20: 8-10

 

8Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor (ta’avod תַּעֲבֹד) and do all your work (mela’kh’tekha מְלַאכְתֶּךָ) , 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of Yehovah Eloheykha: you shall not do any work(mela’khah מְלָאכָה)—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.

 

We have established that while there are requirements for shabbat, shabbaton, and Chag about work we see that on shabbaton or Chagim it is restricted to not doing service work. In most places but in others it states no work at all. What I believe we see here is that your Melakhah is the same as your Avod.  Thus, one way of referring to Avodah is to also refer to it in conjunction with Melakhah. 

 

So what kinds of things are work or service

 

Avad (service)

 

Let look at the avad of Yakkov.

 

In Bereshit/Genesis 30 we see that Yakkov was a shepherd and breeder.

 

29But he said, “You know well how I have served you (avad’tiykha עֲבַדְתִּיךָ) and how your livestock has fared with me. 30For the little you had before I came has grown to much, since Yehovah has blessed you wherever I turned. And now, when shall I make provision for my own household?” 31He said, “What shall I pay you?” And Jacob said, “Pay me nothing! If you will do this thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flocks: 32let me pass through your whole flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted animal—every dark-colored sheep and every spotted and speckled goat. Such shall be my wages. 33In the future when you go over my wages, let my honesty toward you testify for me: if there are among my goats any that are not speckled or spotted or any sheep that are not dark-colored, they got there by theft.” 34And Laban said, “Very well, let it be as you say.”

 

At first he served Laban for his wives caring for Laban’s flock.  Afterwards the flocks became his wage.  Shepherding is an avad.

 

The Avad of B’nei Yisrael in Mitzrayim

 

Shemot 1:13-14

 

13The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed (vaya’avidu וַיַּעֲבִדוּ) upon the Israelites 14the various labors (ba’avodah בַּעֲבֹדָה) that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor (avodah עֲבֹדָה) at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks (avodatam עֲבֹדָתָם) in the field.

 

Making building material, assembling building materials, and tasks of the field (plowing, seeding, and harvesting)

 

The Avad of Pesach

 

Shemot (Exodus) 13:5-8

 

5 So, when Yehovah has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall observe (and serve you – ve’avad’ta וְעָבַדְתָּ) in this month the following practice (the service - et ha avodah אֶת־הָעֲבֹדָה):

6 “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of Yehovah. 7 Throughout the seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten; no leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in all your territory. 8 And you shall explain to your son on that day, ‘It is because of what Yehovah did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

 

Keeping the days of unleavened bread is a service as well as removing the leaven from our homes.  What we read in verses 6-7 is the service therefore the we see that this was a service but not considered work.

 

The Avad of serving Yehovah

 

Shemot 23:25

 

25You shall serve (va’avad’tem וַעֲבַדְתֶּם) Yehovah Eloheykha, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst.

 

When we serve him we are we are doing things (service).

 

The Avad of the Levites

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:24-26

 

24These are the duties (service – adodat עֲבֹדַת) of the Gershonite clans as to labor (la’avod לַעֲבֹד) and porterage (ulemassah/and to burden 4853 וּלְמַשָּׂא): 25they shall carry the cloths of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting with its covering, the covering of dolphin skin that is on top of it, and the screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 26the hangings of the enclosure, the screen at the entrance of the gate of the enclosure that surrounds the Tabernacle, the cords thereof, and the altar, and all their service equipment and all their accessories; and they shall perform the service

 

Here the carrying the burden of the tent of meeting and parts was a service (avad).

 

The avad of keeping a vineyard

 

Devarim 28:39

 

39Though you plant vineyards and till (and service – ve’avad’ta וְעָבָדְתָּ) them, you shall have no wine to drink or store, for the worm shall devour them.

 

The servicing of the vineyard is a work of service.

 

The avad of the ground

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 2:4-5

 

When Yehovah Elohim made (asot – 6213 עֲשׂוֹת) earth and heaven—5when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted, because Yehovah Elohim had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till (to service –la’avod לַעֲבֹד) the soil,

 

Man was not there yet to service the ground.  Make it productive.

 

Eved (a servant or one who serves)

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 24:2

 

2And Abraham said to the senior servant (av’do zeqan עַבְדּוֹ זְקַן) of his household, who had charge of all that he owned,

 

Avraham’s eldest (zeqan) servant (av’do) completed the errand that he swore to finish.  Thus, he served him. Which was getting a wife for his son.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 26:25

 

25So he built an altar there and invoked Yehovah by name. Yitzchaq pitched his tent there and his servants (av’dey עַבְדֵי) started digging a well.

 

One who serves Yitzchaq was the one who dug the well.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:7

 

7Not so with My servant (av’diy עַבְדִּי) Moses; he is trusted throughout My household.

Moshe was Yehovah’s servant.  The one who served him.

 

Bamidbar (Numbers)14:24

 

24But My servant (ve’av’diy וְעַבְדִּי) Caleb, because he was imbued with a different spirit and remained loyal to Me—him will I bring into the land that he entered, and his offspring shall hold it as a possession.

 

He we see that Yehovah refers to Calev as his servant.  Or one who serves him.

 

Shofetim (Judges) 2:8

 

8Joshua son of Nun, the servant (eved עֶבֶד) of Yehovah, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.

 

Yehoshua was the servant of Yehovah

 

Next let us look at Avodah.

 

The hard labor (service) of slavery

 

Shemot (Exodus) 1:13-14

 

13The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites [vaya’avidu mitz’rayim et-beney Yisrael bafarek  וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ

 – And served them Egypt sons of Yisrael with harshness] 14the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor (ba’avodah בַּעֲבֹדָה) at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks (‘avodatam עֲבֹדָתָם) in the field.

 

Tools made for the Service of the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting)

 

Shemot (Exodus) 27:19

 

19all the utensils of the Tabernacle, for all its service (avodato עֲבֹדָתוֹ), as well as all its pegs and all the pegs of the court, shall be of copper.

 

We can see now that avad, eved, and avodah are all forms of service.  In which we serve someone by working for them.  So the work of service in Vayikra 23 in reference to the Chagim is referring to these types of actions (serving) or positions (servants).  We also see in the commandment on shabbat in Exodus 20 that we are to do all our avod (service) at our melakhah for seven days.  Therefore the distinction I believe is reminding of the commandment that avodah is the service we work at which we see includes many things than just serving another.  Thus, when reading Exodus 12 we see that there is no distinction made to avodah and simply melakhah and so when reading the same rules in Leviticus 23 we see that avodah is simply what we do when we work.

 

So what kinds of activities are works?  We saw previously that building, farming and shepherding livestock.  Next week we will see what is work in the Tanakh as defined by itself.