When Lemech named his new son (at the end of last week’s reading, Gen. 5:29), he called the boy “Noach”, saying “this shall comfort us (yeNaCHameinu) from our work and the difficult labor of our hands.” But the name Noach was prophetic in a different vein, as the name also means to be at rest (“NaCH”). The Zohar, the fundamental work of the Kabbalah, of Jewish mysticism, says that “Noach” is thus a hint to the Sabbath, the day of rest. “Shabbos” is derived from the word “SHeVeS,” which also means to be at rest: “for in [the seventh day] He rested (“SHaVaS”) from all His work.” [Gen. 2:3]
In this week’s reading, Noach is commanded to make sure there is a light in the Ark, using the unusual word “Tzohar” (found nowhere else in the Bible) to indicate brightness like midday (“Tzaharayim”). The Avnei Azel writes that when we combine the numerical value of “Tzohar” with that of the Ark, “Tayvah,” the sum is the value of “Shabbos.” The Sabbath encapsulates both the Ark, the shelter from the flood, and the brightness within it.
We live throughout the week with work and other responsibilities, building up (and sometimes crashing down) around us. Shabbos is quite literally a shelter from the storm, and opportunity to withdraw from all the distractions and focus upon what is truly important. It is the busiest executives who, when they decide to fully observe the Sabbath, and stop using all electronic devices and not do business on that day, frequently remark that they don’t know how they survived without it.
Viewed correctly, the Sabbath isn’t about restrictions, but is the opportunity to focus upon the light within.
I usually “get in trouble” when I post anything mentioning mysticism or Kabbalah, and I want to assure you that I tend to see mystic writings metaphorically, since I am nowhere near being any sort of “mystic” myself. But in reading Rabbi Menken’s commentary on last week’s Torah portion, I can’t help but once again be captured by the “magic” of the Shabbat. I don’t think it’s so much the mechanics of the seventh day, but the idea that God has provided the Jews with a way to wrap themselves inside a comforting blanket of sorts, that provides peace and a special closeness with God for one day a week. It’s as if the week is a cold, winter’s day with an icy wind blowing, freezing you to the marrow as you make your way about your tasks, and Shabbat is staying in bed late in the morning, toasty warm and pleasantly relaxed inside and under your comforter, while that self-same icy wind blows impotently outside.
I have been told more than once that the Shabbat is the sign of the Mosaic covenant with the Children of Israel and as such, is not “transferable” to the rest of the world, but of all the blessings that God provided the Jewish people, I must admit, I continue to “covet” only this one. I find it a particular disappointment that when Jesus made it possible, through certain blessings of the Abrahamic and New covenants, and through his broken body and blood, for we non-Jews to also enter into covenant relationship with God as his disciples, he didn’t make it possible for us to also enter into a weekly Shabbat as well.
More’s the pity.
But then again, early Christianity, when it threw off its Jewish mentors and guides like old rags and “reinvented” itself in the centuries after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in Holy Jerusalem, set aside many of the “Jewish” aspects of its own Messianic worship, including meeting with other like-minded Gentiles and Jews in the synagogue to daven on Shabbos. We abandoned the potential for such a “rest” in both God the Father and in Christ. We did it to ourselves.
I say all of this because I’ve contacted a Pastor and set up an appointment to meet with him in a little less than two weeks to discuss my “situation.” As I’ve said in other Days blogs, I pretty much have to “fish or cut bait.” I can try to sit on the edge of a razor blade forever, or pick a side and jump off into whatever awaits me below. So I picked a side and jumped. Now, I’ll be in free fall for the next week and a half or so, and then I’ll arrive at ground level and make the first “bounce” in my landing. Believe me, I’ll make sure you hear it when I go “thump.”
But the closer I move toward Christianity and the church, the further I feel I am distancing myself from Judaism and, in some aspects, particularly from my Jewish wife. And as I said, of all the Jewish practices and values I have been exposed to, the Shabbat is the one closest to my heart. Even though the Shabbos candles are no longer lit in my home on Friday evening, I do not abandon it in my heart. But with my body and everything else, having chosen a “course correction” for myself which is designed to increase my trust in God, what am I leaving behind?
In describing the Shabbos, the verse in Bereshis (2:3) writes: “For on it [the seventh day] Hashem rested from all His work which He created לעשות —to do.” This final word in the verse…does not complete the thought of the verse the thought of the verse smoothly, and it seems to even be an extra word altogether.
A cursory observation of the world indicates that Hashem continues to sustain the world on Shabbos just as on every other day. Plants grow and creatures thrive on Shabbos, with the ongoing providence of Hashem overlooking every detail just as on the weekdays. In what manner, then, is the seventh day a day of rest for Hashem?
The Bnei Yisasschar explains that when the world was created, it was set into place with the potential it needed to continue, and for nature to take its course. Creatures were given the instincts necessary to procreate, and plants were placed into their environment for survival and in order to prosper. As the world continues to exist on Shabbos, it is within the realm of work that was put into place before Shabbos, and the work takes place on Shabbos automatically without further input.
The verse tells that Hashem created the world “to be done.” Hashem continually renews the world every moment. Yet, from the day of creation and onward, this supervision of Hashem is manifest in a manner as if the world is set and conducts itself naturally.
Daf Yomi Digest
“A World Set in Motion”
Commentary on Shabbos 17
I’ve sometimes wondered about Creation, the Seventh Day, and entropy, that property of all systems including the universe, to go from a more to a less organized state, very slowly running down like an old clock worked by a mainspring (if you’re old enough to remember such clocks and watches). When God “rested” and He built-in to His Creation the ability to continually move forward under its own “momentum,” so to speak, is what we see of the universe’s expansion, and the general long-term decay of systems (including human being “systems”) part of His “rest?”
Jewish philosophy sometimes states that God is continually renewing the universe and if He was to cease, even for the briefest of moments, existence itself would fly apart. But I seem to notice (and I believe the scientific world will agree with me here) that the universe is rather very slowly, ponderously, “flying apart” anyway. Sort of a disturbing counterpart to the “warm, comforting blanket Shabbat’s rest” I described above.
But if God’s rest isn’t a literal, one-to-one model of Shabbat between Creator and creation, then perhaps it is a twist on the metaphor that we should regularly rest in Him, or otherwise “fly apart” for lack of any rest in God at all. However, I understand that we can also consider the Shabbat as a hint or foretaste of the Messianic era to come, when all of our current concerns and labors will come to an end and we will all perpetually rest with Him.
The Jewish people are compared to the stars twinkling in the high heavens. By their light, even he who walks in the darkness of night shall not blunder.
Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual strength to influence friends and acquaintances, and bring them into the light.
Wednesday, Cheshvan 5, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
God gave a good many gifts to the Jewish people, not the least of which is the Shabbat. Although both Judaism and Christianity tend to agree that we non-Jews don’t enter into a weekly Shabbat’s rest (no Christian ever treats Sunday like an observant Jew treats the Shabbat, so no, Sunday is not the “Christian Shabbat”), it is much to our own regret that we fail to do so. For we have robbed ourselves of not only a weekly renewal in God, but of a preview of what life will be like when the Jewish King and Lord will take possession of his kingdom, and rule the world in true justice and in peace.
And yet today and in the weeks ahead, I find myself deliberately walking on a path that leads away from that peace. I hope this is me trusting in God rather than me just being foolish.