The following teaching from the riches of the Oral Tradition is about a level of understanding the Sabbath which is relevant to Jews and non-Jews alike. It is based on a teaching by Rabbi Chaim ben Atar (1746-1793), known as "the holy Light of Life," based on the title of his most famous work.
The created world can be divided into four basic categories: the inanimate, plant, animal, and 'speaking' life - man. Man, the highest level of creation, is the only creature endowed with the capability of speech, and this is what singles him out as a completely separate category - he has the greatest potential to develop a relationship with his Creator. He is the center of creation and its purpose and crowning achievement. For this reason, he was created last, and introduced into the Garden... to enable him to enter into a complete world, ready for him, furnished and equipped in advance to house its illustrious occupant.
Man is followed by the members of the animal kingdom. Next in line comes the plant kingdom, and finally, inanimate creation - the lowest level of creation, as exemplified by stone. Even stone, the Torah teaches, possesses some degree of life-force, however weak. For it is impossible for something which the Holy One has created to be incapable of recognizing Him. Therefore, commensurate to that degree of life-force, awareness of the Divine could be said to exist within it...
And so the soul, the essence, of every creature, each according to its level of understanding, has some inkling of the greatness of the Creator, and actually carries on a relationship with Him. This soul is constantly driven with endless passion to come closer to the source of all life, the Great and Perfect Light of the L-rd... how much more so should this be true among the higher, more spiritual elements of creation who understand to some extent what it means to 'cling' to the light of the living G-d.
Herein lies one of the greatest secrets of creation...
All life on earth... and even the actual physical elements that comprise the planet itself - the entire world as one, including every level of creation, from the lowest level of the inanimate - stones and earth, to the highest and most intelligent life-form, man himself; an endless pageant which spans every creature, plant and animal - all are constantly and inexorably united by an all-consuming, burning desire for G-d. This is the vital force which drives the world; this desire is the power which fuels the universe... it reverberates within the entire life-force, and the whole globe, like a man beating with one heart, knows on the deepest level with absolute clarity that there is nothing as sweet, desirable, and sustaining as 'Dveykut' - the ability to 'cling' close to the light of the Creator. This is the purpose of life itself, and on the deepest collective intuitive level, all are aware that nothing else is worth living for. This longing is itself the vital life-force of everything, and the entire world draws from it at once. In other words, this longing for G-d is what fuels the world to go on.
Because G-d is the Creator of all existence, He maintains an intimate link with each and every creature, regardless of its spiritual capacity. Obviously not all of creation is equal in spiritual sensitivity. Regardless of this, that link of intimate knowledge still exists, according to its degree of conciousness and development.
The entire earth whirls and spins through time and space, constantly seeking to re-align as much as possible with the one true reality, the light of the living G-d. But the 'earth's desire' on the whole is not an even thing at all, because the distribution of this longing - and its intensity - is based on knowledge and recognition of G-d, which in turn is a product of ascending levels of spiritual awareness. All of creation seeks to immerse itself in this G-dly light, thereby reconnecting with the Divine.
The Holy One, in His great wisdom, sees to it that His influence reaches this world in a way which enables all of creation at once to have constant, equal access to the life-giving radiance of Divine light - but at the same time allowing for each facet of creation to receive the specific amount it can appreciate, according to its own unique level of spiritual progression.
Perhaps our sages were alluding to this concept when they commented (BT Chagigah 12:B) "what a pity it is that people do not realize what holds the world up..." - for if we could only be conscious and aware of the sublime and lofty drive for holiness which is manifest in every minute level of creation; and if we could only see how even the lowest inanimate level - the very bedrock of planet earth itself - is filled with hope and aspiration to draw ever closer to the source of the brilliant Divine light - then perhaps, if we understood all of this, we would conclude: "How much more so should we ourselves be caught up and consumed by this desire, with attainment of this light as our only goal - for we are not inanimate, but men, possessing understanding, who know what it means to draw close to the living G-d!"
The glory of G-d's presence is itself the purpose of creation... for G-d sought to make His honor known to man. And despite the fact that on a conscious level, not all are aware of their true motivations as they live their lives... even if they themselves are not aware, the desire for holiness craved by every living thing on earth is nonetheless the very core of their lives.
In Genesis 2:1 we read "And the heavens and the earth and all their hosts were completed" - what is the significance of this verse?
It is important to realize the difference between studying the Bible in the holy language, Hebrew, or in any other language. The Bible was written in Hebrew, the world was created through Hebrew, and every letter of this holy alphabet is laden with meaning and significance.
In this verse, the root of the word 'Va'yechulu' - Hebrew for "and they were completed," has another meaning as well, one which is totally different from this usual translation... and it is in the context of this double meaning that a form of this word is employed in Psalms, Ch. 84: "My soul yearns - and even pines - for the courts of the L-rd... my heart and my flesh will sing out to the living G-d."
And so too in our verse: 'Va'yechulu hashamaim' - rather than read this as 'and the heavens were completed,' we can read these words as 'and the heavens pined'... for G-d... and through this, through this desire, they - the heavens, their hosts and all of creation - were completed; 'va'yechulu' in both senses of the word. The inauguration of this collective global yearning is the act which accomplished the completion of creation.
This universal passion for G-d is so all-encompassing and overwhelming that those who are caught up in it want nothing else but to nullify themselves completely, to blend in and become one with the whole... King David knew this, and it was this great secret which he was alluding to in this Psalm... that the very thirst for G-d itself is the power which sustains the world.
Thus we find that in some literature G-d is called "chay ha-olamin" - the life of all the worlds: every life depends upon the insatiable yearning of coming closer to Him.
Now we all know that G-d created the world during the original six days, and rested on the Seventh. Everyone thinks that G-d refrained from His creative activities on Shabbat, and did not introduce anything new into the world... but did G-d perhaps "create" something on the Sabbath? The Talmud indicates (BT Chagigah 12) that yes, something new certainly was introduced into the fabric of the world with the advent of the Sabbath...
It was the element of permanence. "The world was unstable and shaky," say the rabbis, "until the arrival of the Sabbath... then the earth was firmly anchored into place." Why? What is it about the Sabbath that brought "stability" to the world? Before the Sabbath, the whole of creation was a shaky and insecure thing. It is as if the permanence of creation was debatable, uncertain; an open question hanging in the balance until the arrival of the seventh day; it almost seemed as if there was some doubt as to whether or not this will be a sure thing... the earth hung suspended in the universe, lacking a sense of cohesion... quivering and heaving with the possibility that perhaps all is only temporary.
Indeed, something about the Sabbath had the capacity to bring the world its sense of permanence, and lock it into place... but just what is it? The powerful answer is at once both beautiful in its simplicity and staggering in its depth:
This is the mystery of the words "And on the seventh day, He refrained (from work) and 'Vayinafash' - He rested..."
"And He rested" according to its simple meaning, but actually a form of the word 'nefesh' meaning soul: for the secret contained within these words is that when the Holy One stopped the process of creation, in so doing, "vayinafash" - the nefesh, the life-force was brought down into each level of creation and became fixed there within in permanent fashion. Before the Sabbath came, the world literally stood by like a body without a soul, and every aspect of creation was devoid of the inner essence of life. The holy Sabbath day became the soul of all creation, and through it, existence became whole.
We can find a similar idea which explains the secret of why the commandment of circumcision is required to be carried out on the eighth day of a child's life. What is so special and unique about the eighth day in particular, that the Torah specifies this as the singular and proper time to fulfill the commandment of circumcision?
The Sabbath Brings the Soul
Again, it is the secret of the first Sabbath. Just as we have now seen that it was necessary for the first Sabbath to arrive upon the world scene to imbue G-d's creation with the soul, the inner essence for life; so too, by establishing the eighth day of life as the day in which to perform the circumcision, then naturally if a minimum of eight days pass over the child, this will include one Sabbath - and thus, the child will be prepared to enter into the holy "brit," the covenant of circumcision, for he will have that same inner strength, that soul-power which only the Sabbath can bring - in the words of the rabbis, he will be a "baal nefesh" - literally, one with a soul. Just as the Sabbath brought the world its soul, so too every child is imbued with that same life-force and quality of permanence by the arrival of the first Shabbat in his life.
Previously we had asked, did G-d create something new on the seventh day as well, as the verse would seem to imply, that He completed His activity on the seventh day? The Permanence of Creation
We have explained that the very day of the Sabbath itself brought the aspect of conclusion to creation. This was the completion which the verse refers to.
When G-d "concluded His activity on the Sabbath," it was not that something was missing from creation which had yet to be provided, but rather, all had been created and was not lacking in completion - but was lacking in firmness, in stability - and it was this which came about through the Sabbath.
That Shabbat confirmed the permanence of existence. But during those first days of creation, prior to the arrival of the Shabbat, are we to understand that everything in the universe simply hung on in standby status... if so, then what power drove the universe?
G-d Himself revealed the answer to this question in the language of the Ten Commandments, in the words of the commandment which relate to Shabbat (Exodus 20), if we but examine the words carefully: not as many people erroneously read, "For G-d created the world in six days..." - but rather, the verse clearly reads "For six days, G-d created the heavens and the earth..."
This is one of the powerful secrets of Shabbat. When the Holy One originally created the world, He only endowed creation with sufficient power to last for six days, for reasons known only to Him (but also somewhat revealed to those who have merited to study these mysteries). Then He created Shabbat, and on this day G-d restores and revives the world's soul, enabling it to carry on with the burden of existence for another six days. Thus, the process continues throughout the ages, and through Shabbat, the world is constantly renewed, and given a new lease on life.
Its unique quality and power is that it recharges and renews the spiritual energy of the world. The other weekdays literally derive their nourishment from it. This applies to the entire structure of creation... without this system of replenishment, the world would not survive, but after six days would immediately implode, returning to the chaotic state of "emptiness and void" - as the Torah states: "For six days G-d created the world"; meaning, for six days only. After this, without the lifegiving energy of the holy Shabbat, G-d would have to create the world anew...
This is so even today. Every new week which passes over us is actually sustained and receives its very life-force - courtesy of the holy Shabbat, and all of creation is given the ability to function for yet another week by the influx of Divine influence which it receives on this day.
And do not think that this is in any way a contradiction or limitation to that which we have learned earlier - that the power which drives the world is its collective desire to come closer to the light of G-d... for without the Sabbath, the world would lack the perception of G-d's presence in creation which is necessary to fan those flames of desire and longing... the two concepts are actually part of the same process.
This insight can help us to better understand a difficult Talmudic teaching: "Whoever sanctifies the Shabbat, and recites the 'kiddush' blessing over the wine together with the verse of 'Va'yechulu' on Shabbat, is considered like the Holy One's partner in the creation of the world" (BT Shabbat 119:B).
At first glance, this would seem to be a most extreme statement for the Rabbis to make, and certainly not meant to be taken literally. If the Sages are attempting to impart some sort of ethical teaching or example, its plain meaning is lost on us by what would appear to be the sheer exaggeration of such a statement - for how could a person become a partner in something which has already been completed previously, before his time? Has anyone ever heard of such a thing - that someone can come along and be considered a partner in something he had nothing to do with?
And even if such a concept could somehow be understood, why should it be said in reference to 'kiddush' - what is so special about this particular action that it could bring a person to such a level of identification with the Divine that he should be called a partner to G-d? If the act of 'kiddush' itself is so significant, then it would be understandable if the Rabbis want to emphasize the greatness of the reward which one merits for its observance... but to speak of a 'partnership with G-d' - is that not a bit much?
But according to what we have learned, it makes perfect sense: Since the Sabbath is literally what keeps the world alive; and every six days, a new Shabbat arrives, and resuscitates the world, breathing new life into it again for yet another six days; and one should understand:
Shabbat would not exist in this world if not for those who observe it; for if no one kept the Sabbath, for whom could it be said to exist, and with this, all the implications this would carry for the world; teaching; for whoever sanctifies the Shabbat, observing it and safeguarding its holiness, insures that there is Sabbath for the whole world - Shabbat exists through him, and through Shabbat, the world continues to exist... therefore in reality he is most certainly supporting the world, and is truly a partner in creation - the creation which is renewed each week through the holy radiance of the Sabbath. There could be no greater partnership than this...
And so not only does Shabbat keep the world alive, but he who observes the Sabbath, keeps the Shabbat alive... such is the level of the 'shomer shabbat' that he could rightfully be called 'the righteous, the "tzaddik", is the foundation of the world' for it is he who literally upholds the world.
And know that since the very inception of the world, from the dawn of man's history, there has never been even one Shabbat which was not kept to some extent - the world has never been without these 'righteous pillars,' the Sabbath observers, and every generation has, to at least some degree, seen each Sabbath observed. This should actually come as no surprise to us. After all that we have now learned, how else could it have survived?
This was so from the beginning of time... since the very first Shabbat. The first man, Adam HaRishon, was himself a 'tzaddik', a righteous man who kept the Shabbat (see Bereshit Rabbah 22 - He is also credited with the authorship of Psalm 92, "A Song for the Sabbath Day"). After him, it was observed by his son Shet, whom G-d considered to be a perfect 'tzaddik;' he was followed by other 'tzaddikim', righteous men who kept the Shabbat: Metushelach, Noah, Shem, and finally Abraham, the father of the Jewish people... and from Abraham's time, Israel has never been left without at least some element of 'Shmirat Shabbat', Sabbath obsevance, even during the spiritual chaos and upheaval of the Egyptian exile (Shemot Rabbah 81).
This requires some clarification. What sort of 'Shabbat' did these early tzaddikim observe? After all, the commandment of Shabbat was given many generations later, at the revelation of Sinai... and it was given specifically to the Jews, to the children of Abraham. How did these men who lived before Abraham's time relate to the concept of Shabbat?
While it is true that the Shabbat was given specifically to the Jewish people, and they are commanded in its observance as a sign of the intimate relationship that they have with G-d; the Midrash which we quoted above must be understood in the proper context... for it pertains to the world as it was in ancient times, during the eras which pre-dated the patriarchs of the Jewish nation - and many generations before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai.
We are speaking here of a different world, and it must be understood in a different light. That pre-Torah world - before there was Jew and Gentile, the world of ancient days - saw men such as these. They were all true spiritual giants, men of holiness, and they maintained full relationships with their Creator despite the fact that the Torah had not yet been bequeathed to Israel. The Shabbat belongs to Israel, but at this time Israel did not exist... Shabbat, however, did exist - it always existed, and these early righteous men were the ones who recognized it. Through this recognition, they kept the world alive.
The same is true today.
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