Thursday, April 22, 2010

Resting with G-d

By Moshe Parelman


… And G-d finished on the Seventh Day His work which He had done, and He rested on the Seventh Day from all His work which He had done (Genesis 2:1).

Six days you shall work and the seventh day you shall rest … (Exodus 23:12).

Creating the world in six days was a mammoth undertaking. But did G-d really have to rest? We’re talking about G-d. Man getting a day off, however, makes perfect sense. What perplexes me is that G-d thought He needed to make the world’s rest day a commandment. Resting from backbreaking labor just makes good health sense. What did G-d add by consecrating my weekend? To answer that question, to understand how rest can be holy, we need to first consider something more familiar, the work that makes rest desirable.
Right now I am writing, which I consider work. To perform this work I must invest my creative powers. I draw from my intellect to determine what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it, the relationship between ideas, what words to use, where to put the commas, semicolons and periods … Yes, I know you’re impressed. I also invest my emotions. I can’t write sincerely or convincingly if I don’t love what I’m writing about. Above all, I must delight in my work. Without taking pleasure in the completed piece as I imagine it, I have no reason to channel my mind and heart into the writing.
Now while I’m doing the actual writing I can’t deploy the full force of my intellectual and emotional powers. As I channel my knowledge of Chassidic teachings on Shabbat into these sentences, I can’t access my understanding of the law of two who grab the same tallis or Rashi’s commentary on why Abraham told the Egyptians Sarah was his sister. By the same token, the love I feel for this essay must be limited to the present topic to the exclusion of my passion for, say, Matzah or Baal Shem Tov stories.
Above all, I can’t delight in my vision of the finished story while I’m occupied with writing it. In the midst of expressing my ideas and emotions, gazing at the computer screen and furrowing my brow, no one can see the pleasure with which I anticipate the final keystroke. Only when the job is done, when my intellectual and emotional faculties become disengaged from the work and return to me, will I delight.
G-d intended a satisfying conclusion to His work, the Six Days of Creation. But while He was engaged in the job, employing the supernal powers of intellect and emotion to construct the universe, the original vision G-d delighted in was not yet realized. Delighting at that point was irrelevant. Once G-d completed His work, allowing His powers to return from their labor to rest in their essence – once the Creation was at hand – G-d delighted. That pleasure is elicited anew every Shabbat.
G-d, then, had good reason to make resting a commandment. Besides its physical benefits, Shabbat recharges our spiritual batteries. In fact the Shabbat rest is a whole package deal, healing body, mind and soul, with tranquil rest and pleasure.
What about G-d, though? We need a good Shabbat to complete what we lack during the week. But G-d is perfect. He shouldn’t have had to rest after the inaugural workweek. Truth be told, He didn’t have to. He did it for us.
G-d created the world in a way that we can emulate, using creative powers in six days with a seventh day of rest. He did so because He wanted us to be His partner in perfecting Creation. To strengthen our resolve to complete the work, He gave us Shabbat, a time to renew our senses and a foretaste of the perfect world to come.
The culmination of our refinement of the world, week by week, Shabbat after Shabbat, will be the Era of Moshiach. The Talmud calls that time, our reward after 5,770 years on the job, the “day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for eternal life.” May we soon enjoy the fruits of our labor.