Purpose of Creation

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

What can we derive from Genesis’ depiction of God’s completion of creation in Genesis 2:1-3?

The heaven and the earth were completion, and all their array.

And God concluded on the seventh day His work that He performed. 

And God rested on the seventh day from all His work which He performed.

And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it—for on it He rested from all His work that God had created to do. 

Let’s now understand each statement…

“The heaven and the earth were completed, and all their array”

“Completion” and “all” their array depict a discreet scope, a limited plan: there was only so much that was to be created, and once created, there was “completion.” “All” their array too depicts a limited quantity that was reached, and nothing further was necessary. Completion refers to some objective…there is a plan, which now has the full set of elements (all creations) necessary for achievement of the plan. This verse points to a plan. What is this plan?

“And God completed on the seventh day His work that He performed” 

We now see the first of three mentions of a “seventh day.”  God says that in addition to creation, there is an additional value that completion took place on “day seven.”

“And God rested on the seventh day from all His work which he performed”

As God already completed His work, what additionally is taught with a new state of “rest?” Doesn't rest mean the same thing as completed? 

Conclusion of creation is one matter, which we refer to as completion. But as God then states there is a “rest,” this is an additional phenomenon, subsequent to “completing” creation. Typically, rest is viewed as the lack of activity, but not here. God “resting” is a positive and fundamental principle: disengagement from physical creation, but engagement in what? 

Most people view creation as the focus; they think the physical entities are God’s goals. Whereas God says creation was only the first step, and not the objective. What then is the state of rest? It is the state where the mind is enabled to be active. It is the state of withdrawal from physical activity and the engagement of the mind. God teaches that the objective of creation is not what was created. But in truth, creation’s objective is man’s intellectual appreciation of God’s wisdom displayed through creation. Rest offers man the opportunity to investigate creation. This now explains the final verse…

“And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it”

“Blessing” the seventh day means this Sabbath day is more prized than the six days of creation. The goal of Sabbath is man’s disengagement from physical activity and his use of his mind. Being restricted from all creative, physical activities allows man to withdraw from the physical and free his mind to view all the wisdom in creation. 

“Sanctifying” or distinguishing the Sabbath means a second idea: the one creature that can recognize the Sabbath’s unique nature must relate to the Sabbath day differently than the other six days. Man must treat the Sabbath with honor, as it embodies man’s objective. Sabbath provides man with the freedom to indulge in wisdom and draw closer to God through understanding His will for man; to recognize and appreciate the good in this purpose. God gave only one creation an intellect, because this is the objective of that creature. Therefore man must have at least one day a week where his mind is free to reach this goal. But if man does not use his mind to pursue God’s wisdom, then creation’s purpose is not realized; Earth has no purpose. And without man pursuing Torah and wisdom, Rashi says God will return the Earth back to its pre-creation, chaotic state (Avos 2:8).

“For on the Sabbath God rested from all His work He had created to do”

God sets an example for man: we rest because He rested (although in Genesis there is not yet any command that man rests on Sabbath). By God resting, He displays to man that creation is step 1, and Sabbath is step 2 where physical activity ceases, and gives man the opportunity for pondering creation and recognizing God. As God elevates the Sabbath in sanctity over the six days of creation, He teaches man to value this sanctified day and follow God’s rest. We copy God for our own good, and also our rest is on display to the rest of the world which notices one nation not engaged in work. When they ask us why we rest, we can respond that we are following the creator’s command, thereby spreading monotheism to all people (Maimonides).

Sabbath is crucial to our lives as it reminds us why God created us. Physical activities, although necessary to sustain us physically, must be viewed as second in importance behind our primary purpose, which is to perfect our ideas and values through thought. For it is only through these that we live eternally.