The Sabbath


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim



Abstaining from labor on the Sabbath, the Jew reiterates the truth of creation, proclaiming of the existence of the Creator. Mimicking what G-d did - resting on the 7th day - we announce G-d’s presence to the other nations through our cessation from labor. As they ask us why we rest, we respond explaining the historical truth of creation by G-d. We publicize the Creator’s Existence in the world. (Maimonides)


On the Sabbath, one is involved in pursuits of wisdom, and we do not labor for our material needs. The “Licha Dodi” which we sing each Friday evening in temple states, “sof maaseh, b’machshava techila”, “[Sabbath is] last in creation, [but] first in His thought”. Meaning, although the Sabbath came last in creation, its place in creation’s order does not reflect its level of importance. What does this mean? It means that the physical world was created for a reason - the Sabbath.


The physical world’s purpose is only to serve as a means in the pursuit of wisdom. As King Solomon stated in his commencement of Ecclesiastes (Koheles), “all is futile” referring to the created world. The rabbis ask, “how can Solomon say that the world is futile, when G-d said, “and behold, it is very good?” What King Solomon meant to teach is that one who seeks the physical world as an ‘ends’, is missing the purpose of the world. It was only created so that mankind has the ability to procure his material needs - to the point that he facilitates a life of wisdom. Without a home and food, one cannot involve his mind in learning. He must feel that his needs are met prior to engaging in loftier pursuits. Therefore, the Sabbath is the goal of creation, as its prohibition from labor directs man to study, without distractions for concerns with his with material needs.


What is interesting is although we focus on the stupendous marvels of creation from nothingness (creation ex nihilo) Licha Dodi teaches us that our real focus must shift from the 6 days of universal creation - to the Sabbath. The physical world, in its entire splendor, and against popular opinion, was not created for itself! It was created only to enable man to contemplate his Creator and be involved in a discovery process during his short stay on Earth. This concept is quite intriguing. G-d created the elements of each day, but they were truly unrealized in their purpose until man and the Sabbath appeared on the horizon. Only then did the physical world have purpose in its creation.


Today, scientists marvel at Creation, and with good reason, it is awesome. But we are not to be scientists alone in this life. We are to be Torah-adhering individuals. This means that we don’t gaze star struck at matters attractive to our senses, but we seek G-d’s instruction for where we should direct our attention. If G-d focuses His Torah more on Sabbath than on creation, we must seek out primary ideas behind the Sabbath laws, if we are to truly understand creation, and Torah. We must study what is more significant about G-d’s rest, than His creation. G-d created the physical universe, but then He “rested.” His “rest” was not an unnecessary lesson to man.


Shabbos is not merely the abstention of G-d’s creative process. We read in the Torah something, which seems redundant, “G-d completed His work...G-d rested”. I wonder, doesn’t the first statement that “G-d completed His work” teach that He rested? If so, for what reason do we need the additional phrase “G-d rested?” I believe this is to teach that G-d’s Sabbath was not merely an abstention from creation. That is passive. G-d wanted to teach that His Sabbath is actually a “positive institution”, the intentional withdrawal from the physical and not just the mere cessation from labor. Shabbos has a positive, real quality and status as a day whose definition is not just a break from work, but primarily “a day dedicated to the involvement in the metaphysical”. A day devoted to study and awe of the Creator. But this is only derived by the additional word of “rested”.


Our inactivity on Shabbos also demonstrates our true belief in the ability for G-d to sustain us, as we do not work according to His word, and thereby, we do not feel we will suffer monetary loss. This explains why we do not make request for material needs in the prayers on Shabbos. This also ties in with the concept that the manna in the desert did not fall on Shabbos, to teach the Jews that they should have complete confidence in G-d’s word that he would sustain them. During the 6 weekdays, the manna fell each day just enough for that day. Anything left for the following day by a Jew, demonstrated his disbelief that it would again fall tomorrow, as G-d promised. Leftover manna would become wormy and rot for the purpose of forcing the Jews to comply with a belief in G-d’s word. But on Friday, the Jews were commanded to gather enough for that day, and that they may leave over for the Sabbath. When they did so, they found when they measured the manna in their homes; it miraculously doubled in size, to sustain them on Shabbos as well (Exod. 16:5 -Rashi). This miracle was enacted by G-d to engender the Jews’ faith in His word, that G-d would and will sustain them. Similarly, our abstinence from labor on the Sabbath demonstrates this concept today.


We are even commanded by the prophet Isaiah (58:13-14) not to talk about our business on Shabbos. Meaning, our involvement in concerns for our material needs should not exist on the Sabbath. One who truly abandons discussions concerning work, and involves himself in Torah study and appreciation of the creation, is one who lives in line with G-d’s plan that man have true faith in G-d’s word. (See Rashi on Talmud Sotah, page 48a, Rashi heading: “Men of faith” - “Anshey emunah”). Isaiah states that the one who doesn’t just refrain his speech and actions from business but rather idealizes the Sabbath as a true enjoyment (involvement in wisdom), this person will be given all his physical needs, “If you abstain from going in your way, seeking your (physical) desires and don’t talk about these matters, then will you rejoice in G-d and He will ride you on the high places of the Earth and feed you the inheritance of Jacob”. It is counter intuitive, but true, that he who follows G-d’s laws of abandoning business matters on the Sabbath will actually have his physical needs addressed by G-d.


The Sabbath teaches; 1) the world has a Creator, 2) that G-d prefers our pursuit of wisdom over material gain, and 3)it affirms our complete trust in G-d’s ability to provide.


G-d created the universe, but let this not steal the show. Yes, the universe is truly a display of G-d’s might and existence. But without Torah, man misses the point: G-d “rested”. G-d created the institution of a day - the Sabbath - where man’s creative activity must come to a halt. Man must be given at least one day a week, where he is not involved in physical labor, or concerns for his Earthly security. On this Sabbath day, man must actualize his true purpose: a life of wisdom.


We were given intelligence so that we may engage it. G-d teaches this by devoting a day to absolute cessation from creation. Although creation was complete, and G-d does not tire as man, G-d still desired that it be known that He “rested”. He did not rest for Himself, but as a quintessential example of what is the true focus of creation; that the universe is a “means”, not an “ends”. Our study of the Creator starts with the universe, but it must culminate in our higher study of G-d’s wisdom.


The physical universe, in all its glory, is here to supply our human needs. Our true purpose is to indulge in G-d’s wisdom encapsulated in creation and the Torah. This is the lesson of G-d’s “rest” on the Sabbath.