On the first six days of creation, God created (Day 1) the heavens and earth, light as separated from darkness; (Day 2) the firmament to separate the water (Day 3) dry land, a bringing together of the waters of the earth, plant life (Day 4) the sun and moon, the motion of the luminaries in the heavens (Day 5) the creatures of the sea and the creatures of the air, (Day 6) animals of the land, and, finally, Adam and Eve. And then God rested.
According to Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), God created the world by contracting and limiting Himself. The world maintains itself by God continuing to limit Himself. It is therefore understood by the kabbalists that every moment of the world's existence is only because God so wills it in His continuing act of creation.
What, then, does it mean that God rested on the seventh day, since God is always in a continual state of creating the world? Obviously God didn’t simply put up His feet and take a nap.
The feat of creation is described by the commentators as “yesh may’ayin,” meaning something from nothing. Before God created the world, there was nothing. In every act of creation, God fashioned something that had never existed before. When the Torah states that on the seventh day God rested, it means that God ceased to create anything completely new. Henceforth, all things that came into the world were built upon something that had previously existed.
While humans can be quite ingenious, people are only able to create from matter that already exists. Refraining from m'la'chot, the creative work prohibited on Shabbat, is a gift from God for the Jewish people to let us relate, on some level, to what it means to “hold back” and let the world run its normal course.
This Treat was originally published on October 16, 2009.
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