Bereishit: The Rest of Shabbat

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Chopping Down Tree

It might sound like a strange question – but does God (as it were) abide by His laws of Shabbos?

The opening paragraph of Friday night Kiddush, (also chapter 2 of our parsha) may be instructive:

Va’yichal Elokim ba’yom ha’shivii, melachto asher osoh, Va’yishbos ba’yom ha’shivii, me’kol melachto asher osoh. Elokim completed on the seventh day His work which He had made, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.

Note the tension in the verse. First, God concluded His melacha (work) on Shabbos – thus implying that He “worked” on Shabbos (Him and Synagogue Rabbis!). Later in the pasuk, we find that God “rested” on Shabbos “from all His work”, implying no work was done on Shabbos. Leaving aside the philosophical (“God-work, God-rest”) challenges, how do we reconcile the two halves of the verse? Much Torah exists to reconcile the tension.

Rashi, in his second approach offers us the following midrashic gem

What was the world still lacking? Rest. With the coming of Shabbos came menucha, (rest), and thus the work was completed and finished.

Thus, Hashem didn’t actually work (the verb) on Shabbos. Rather, He ushered in menucha, which served as the completion of Creation. Insofar as menucha was a part of creation, he thus completed His work (the noun).

What emerges from Rashi is the paradoxical notion that while menucha requires no effort, on some level, it is categorized as melacha (work); an idea that is certainly foreign to the halachic and pragmatic mindset. We are used to thinking that one is precisely what the other is not. In Rashi’s midrash however, we encounter a subtle, yet startlingly new notion of menucha – not as the absence of melacha – but rather as it’s completion! How shall we consider menucha as melacha?

Chazal have often expressed Shabbos as a metaphor. In different contexts, the Rabbis have taught

A running joke I have with my students is – sans preparation, one can always pull out a can of Tuna. Preparation for the next world is a must, exclaim the Rabbis: Mi shetarach b’erev shabbos yochal b’shabbos – Only one who labors on Friday shall eat on Shabbos! – because nobody wants to eat tuna for eternity.

The Rabbinic metaphor teaches the core idea that Shabbos is the goal and must provide the framework for the rest of our week. A holistic life must somehow utilize work in a manner that enhances our appreciation of menuchas Shabbos. Other than the obvious rest motif, how is this done?

Perhaps the notion is that Shabbos as a goal teaches that we must work to find Hashem (and find Hashem at work) so that when we rest, we can bask in His glow. If we appreciate Hashem in the craziness of 24-6, then the extended Shabbos time to pray, learn, eat, schmooze or simply reflect and enjoy our families becomes an elevated, exquisite high.

In considering this notion, I find it ironic that for some, Shabbos is a big disconnect – a long snooze button or a mind numbing experience climaxing in chulent, sleep or both. Shabbos the anesthetic, dulls a week of pain. Rather than an oasis, shabbos serves as an island – neatly tucked away from the rest of the week.

What is true in our micro existence is no less true in the macrosphere. This whole world is one Erev Shabbos! And if we miss the micro point, we run the risk of missing the BIG point – leading compartmentalized lives that may contain both spiritual and mundane elements, while tragically the twain never meet.

Just as the menucha of Shabbos is the final melacha, the capstone that orients all our labor, so must the sense of ultimate Shabbos be able to direct our lives. Even as we immerse ourselves within our frenetic world, we must be wholly conscious that the goal of that melacha is to find Hashem in every nook and cranny of our existence.

In that sense, good (micro) shabbos and Good (macro) Shabbos.

Asher Brander

We may now understand why many rishonim learnt that there is a mitzvah of remembering Shabbos during the week as well. Similarly, Rav Saadia Gaon claims that “Six days you shall work” is a mitzvah! The notion being, that one’s everyday life, when focused on Shabbos, becomes a part of Shabbos itself.

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.