This Shabbat, we begin a new yearly cycle of Torah reading. Again, we start from
Bereshit, “the beginning.” Again we return to the starting point which occupies
the thoughts of billions of people. How did it all begin? How and when was the
world created? These issues, and the story of the sin of Adam and Eve and their
exile from the Garden of Eden, are described in this parsha.
fascinating topics that have been and continue to be dealt with by many people
throughout human history. But we will deal this week with a topic that seems to
be “hiding” in this week’s parsha: Shabbat.
The description of the first
Shabbat in history revealed to us in this parsha is wonderful.
description provides us with a lofty perspective on ourselves and the entire
This is how the Torah describes the creation of Shabbat: “And
God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there
was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth
were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His
work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which
He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in
it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.” (Genesis 1:31 –
2:3) This description tells us about the completion of the world’s creation. God
looked at what he had done – at the world we know – and He saw that it was “very
good.” The result of this was stopping to work. He saw that what He had done was
perfect, and from now on the world would function on a permanent basis based on
the laws of nature which were determined in advance. This rest merited two
special qualities: blessing and holiness. The day on which God stopped working
was set as a blessed day and a holy one.
In order to understand the
significance of Shabbat, let us imagine a man who builds himself a house. He
buys land, digs the foundations, buys the construction materials and invests
tremendous effort in the construction.
After the house is standing, he
does the finishing touches, the floors, painting, buys new furniture, installs
appropriate lighting in the various rooms. At some point, the man looks at the
house and says to himself, “That’s it. The house is perfect.” He sits down on
his new porch, rubs his hands together in enjoyment, and... rests! Resting after
creating something symbolizes the creation’s perfection. If something was
lacking in the house, the man would not rest with a sense of satisfaction. If
there was still something to do, to fix, to add, there would be no ability to
stop working. When the man rests, he is expressing his full satisfaction with
Just as the hardworking man rests on his porch as the
construction is completed, thus the Shabbat that comes after the world’s
creation could not have taken place without the previous verse, “And God saw
every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” If the world had
not been “very good” the process of creation would not have ended. Only when it
is clear that the creation is perfect does God stop the work of creation and
give the world the freedom to function according to the laws of nature that were
determined in creation.
When we keep Shabbat, we are actually expressing
our sense that the world in which we live is “very good.” At the end of every
week, we join God’s resting and say, “Indeed, the world is perfect.” We do not
work, we do not cook; we avoid effort as much as possible, enjoying special food
and spending time with family. We create an atmosphere in which everything is
good, everything is perfect, as though nothing is pushing us to keep working,
This is the Shabbat we read about in this week’s
parsha. Now it is quite clear why Shabbat is a day both blessed and holy. It is
a day when we allow optimism to rule our perspective; it is the day that carries
endless blessing on its wings. This is the day we confirm the faith that the
world is functioning appropriately and perfectly, and despite all the visible
difficulties, it is heading toward a better future. This is a holy
The Jewish nation which received the Torah and was commanded to keep
Shabbat, received by this a rare invitation to a lofty, positive and optimistic
perspective in which evil is temporary, difficulties are solvable, pain is
ephemeral, and what the future holds for all of humanity is the victory of good
and truth over evil and lies. In one word: perfection.
The author is
rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.