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Shabbat for the Universe

by Miriam Ben-Yaacov

Finished were the heaven and earth, and all their host.  On the seventh day Gd finished all His work which He made.  He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He made.  Gd blessed the seventh day, and He sanctified it, for in it He rested from all His work, which Gd created to make. –Genesis 2:1-3

The Genesis recitation of “It was evening and it was morning…” shows the creation of time.  Each of the six days of Creation was special unto itself, with its own theme, as it were.  Each also symbolizes slots in time, and can be seen in the six millennia of history.

  • On the first day Hashem created light and darkness.  The light represented the soul of Man, an enlightened being, made in the image of the Creator Himself.
  • On the second day Hashem separated the waters. Due to the strife associated with the separation of the waters, Hashem did not end the day with the usual saying:  “It was good.”  This day represents the Flood, which took place during the second millennium. 
  • On the third day Hashem created the trees and the grasses from the Earth.  On this day He twice said: “It was good.”  The first saying is associated with the decree to end the Flood and the Exodus from Egypt.  The second saying is associated with the giving of the Torah in the year 2448 after Creation.
  • On the fourth day Hashem created two great lights—the sun and the moon.  The fourth millennium was the age of Israel’s kings in the Land.  There is also allusion to the two Temples, which were built in this period.
  • On the fifth day Hashem created the fish, birds, and the great dragons.  It was in the fifth millennium that the Temple was destroyed and the nations, like the great dragons, came to dominate the weaker.
  • On the sixth day Hashem created Adam, which is allusion to the Mashiach.

The concept of time only exists in the physical world.  It is for this reason that time is sanctified in this world, not in heaven.  Hashem sanctified the seventh day—Shabbat—He made it holy.  He separated it from the rest of the week as a special day, unlike the others, the heartbeat of time through the continuity of the ages.  He gave it to Mankind to sanctify, for time is of our world and therefore our responsibility.

On the seventh day Gd rested.  Of course, we understand that Gd does not need rest.  Yet we are told that He rested.  One of His Names—Shadai, is literally two words: “Sha”—“That” and “Dai”—“enough.”  Each day Hashem spoke Creation into existence.  Had He not spoken: “Dai” (“enough”), the universe would have continued to expand unto infinity.  Being physicality, however, there had to be an end, there had to be boundaries and limitations for form and substance.  When the seventh day arrived, the one thing Hashem created was rest—it did not exist before in the world.  So it was the entire universe that rested—rested from creative work.

On that very first Shabbat, Adam enjoyed the primordial light that had been concealed after its creation on the first day.  That made the day 36 hours long—12 on the eve of Shabbat and 24 through Shabbat.  When the day came to an end, darkness descended and Adam was terrified of his first exposure to darkness.  That evening, Moetze Shabbat, Hashem created fire for Adam.  It is from this idea that Adam is credited with the blessing said over fire in the Havdalah service, in which we end Shabbat and welcome the coming weekday.

“Blessed are You, Hashem, Who creates fire and its various colors and shades.”

The Torah is not in chronological order.  Adam was created; he named the animals; Chava (Eve) was created from his side; they sinned; all that happened on the sixth day, then came Shabbat.

Gd had said: “On the day you eat of the tree in the midst of the Garden, you shall surely die.”  The Man and his wife were very aware of their guilt.  The moment they ate the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, they knew more than they really wanted.  Yet there was no going back to their lost innocence.  Fear came upon them for the first time, for they glimpsed death, their own mortality.  Justice demanded that Gd execute Adam, as He had said.  However he was spared in the merit of Shabbat, who pleaded:  “The world has never tasted death.  Will You execute this punishment on Shabbat?  How can this sanctify and bless this holy day for all time?”  Adam then arose with the song:  “A song and a poem for the Shabbat day…” 

A psalm, a song. For the Sabbath day.
It is good to thank the Lrd, and to sing praises to Your Name, O Most High.
To relate Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness in the nights.
Upon the ten-stringed instrument and upon the lyre, with singing upon the harp.
For You, Lrd, have made me glad through Your works; in the works of Your hands I will rejoice in song.
How great are Your works, O Lrd!  Your thoughts are very deep.
A brutish man does not know, neither does a fool understand this.
When the wicked bloom like grass, and all the workers of iniquity flourish; it is that they may be destroyed forever.
But You, O Lrd, are on high forever.
For, lo, Your enemies, O Lrd, for, lo, Your enemies will perish; all the workers of iniquity will be scattered.
But You have exalted my horn (pride) like the horn of the wild-ox; I am anointed with rich oil.
My eyes will gaze upon my watchful foes, my ears will hear of the downfall of the evildoers who rise up against me.
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree; he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the House of the Lrd, they will flourish in the courts of our Gd.
They will still be fruitful in old age; they will be full of sap and richness.
To declare that the Lrd is upright, my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
--Psalms 92

When Adam began to sing, Shabbat stopped him, saying, “No, do not sing to me, but rather let us both praise Hashem, Who created us.”  Together they sang a song of the ages, as Adam saw forward to all the generations to come from him, even to the day of Redemption.  They sang of faith in Gd’s justice, that the wicked prosper in this world, only that they will be punished in the next.  They sang of the righteous and of Mashiach, who would ultimately correct the damage of the sinful course of history.

An ancient Midrash tells of the angels created over each day of Creation beneath the Throne of Glory. When Adam began to chant the song, Hashem asked the angel in charge of Shabbat why he, too, was not singing.  The angel then began to sing.  This is reminiscent of Miriam at the Sea when she “spoke up to them” (Exodus 15:21), alluding to her prophetically knowing the angels complained that they were being made to wait until both the men and women had praised Hashem before they could.  She then gave them permission to praise in a similar way to Adam’s prompting the angel’s song to Hashem in this story.   Indeed, the verses about the instrumental praise, also allude to the Song of the Sea.

On this first Shabbat Adam was enjoying the light of Creation.  In that light he saw King David, destined to embody the soul of Mashiach, yet who would be still-born.  Adam wanted to give of himself to enable David to live, for the soul of Mashiach to come into the world.  Hashem allowed him to give David seventy years of his own lifespan.  Adam was thus connected to Mashiach, and to the hope of all subsequent generations that his light would restore the world to the Creation state. 

From the Creation story, in which Hashem rested from His work and sanctified the day, there is the idea that Adam, too, rested and acknowledged the Shabbat as holy.  Indeed, all the universe, stopped its usual practice.  However, this was completely voluntary for Mankind at the time.  Then the Torah was given to Israel, and for Israel this day became a commanded obligation. 

Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it.  Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work; but the seventh day is Shabbat to Hashem, your Gd; you shall not do any work—you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your animal, and your stranger within your gates—for in six days Hashem made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day.  Therefore, Hashem blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.
–Exodus 20:8-11

Israel emerged from Egypt a full-fledged nation.  At the first stop after crossing the Sea of Reeds, the waters of Mara, Hashem re-iterated the Seven Universal Laws and gave them three more.  Among these three was Shabbat, for they were being prepared to receive the Torah.  Sivan 6, 2448, the day the Torah was given from Sinai, was Shabbat.  Israel was like the bride, being given her ketubah (marriage contract) on her wedding day.  The first Shabbat had been created as just such a day, to be celebrated each week anew as a celebration of this wedding.

The idea of the Torah lifestyle is to bring Mankind back to the perfect will of Hashem when He created the world.  Israel is called His witnesses, His servant, His priestly nation—all in relation to the obligation to live the Torah in the world, on behalf of all Mankind.  Remembering Shabbat to make it holy in the world, preserving it as the island in time it was meant to be, is a critical part of this obligation.  For time to be sanctified, it must happen in our world, and this has been Israel’s role as a constant from the giving of the Torah through history.

However, as we envision Adam’s light on that first Shabbat, in which he saw the Mashiach and the hope of restoration of all he had lost, we see a broader celebration of this most holy day.  The Prophet Isaiah (chapter 56) foretold the days of Redemption for all Mankind in much the same way.

Thus said Hashem:  Observe justice and perform righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come and My righteousness to be revealed.  Praiseworthy is the man who does this and the person who grasps it tightly:  who guards the Shabbath against desecrating it and guards his hand against doing any evil.

Let not the foreigner, who has joined himself to Hashem, speak, saying, “Hashem will utterly separate me from His people”…

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Shabbat against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly—I will bring them to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Copyright 2005©Miriam Ben-Yaacov


Also see: Sabbath, Holy Days and Worship by Michael Dallen


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