Parshas Bereishis is not only the beginning of the Torah, it is where we begin to piece together our understanding of the world and how it works. By reading the pesukim and observing the order and style of how everything was created and designed, we can derive some understanding of how the world is supposed to function. For this reason, Bereishis is the most difficult parsha to understand in the Torah while also being perhaps the most important one.
After six days of creation, the Seventh Day arrived. The pasuk says, “וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה” “And Hashem completed on the seventh day His work that He did” (Bereishis 2:2). We know that Hashem didn’t ‘work’ on the seventh day because it was Shabbos, so how does the pasuk say that He completed His work on that day? Rashi explains with a medrash that the concept of ‘rest’ was missing from the world until Shabbos when Hashem ‘rested’, so Hashem really didn’t finish creating everything until Shabbos. (Exactly what is the concept of ‘rest’ is discussed in various commentaries.)
Two questions emerge from this explanation:
Perek 2 Pasuk 1 says that on the seventh day, the heavens and earth had been finished, meaning that with the creation of rest, the physical world was finally complete. but while rest is integral to our day-to-day lives, why is it integral to the world itself? Can’t it survive without us resting? Why is rest so integral that it is considered a foundation of the world?
The Sifsei Chachamim answers using a Rashi from the first pasuk in the Torah. The commentaries ask why the Torah starts with the word בְּרֵאשִׁית, which is translated as “in the beginning”, but is not the standard word the Torah uses when describing the beginning of something. It is more correctly translated as “the first” rather than “the beginning”. The medrash answers that this word shows that the world was created primarily for the Jewish People and the Torah, which are both called ראשית (in reference to Hashem’s preference for them).
Without the ability for Jews to study the Torah, there would be no purpose for the world’s creation and subsequently, the world would fall apart at its foundations. During the week, everyone is hard at work trying to make a living for themselves and their families. As a result, there is little time and energy available to study Torah. However, there is one day each week that is dedicated to rest, a day when no constructive work may be done (by Jews). On this day, we are free to dedicate ourselves to Torah study, thereby insuring the survival of the world through the strengthening of its foundations, the heaven and earth, which are built on Torah. So we see that the creation of rest is vital to the creation of the world.
The second question is: resting is not an active activity, it is a passive activity; so why is its’ creation called so? Hashem didn’t actually do anything, He just didn’t do anything!
The Sifsei Chachamim answers that question as well. While the answer to the first question dealt with the spiritual side of creation, this one focuses more on the physical side. Without setting up a plan of rest, where people would work for a certain amount of time before taking time to recharge, eventually people would completely break down physically, leading to the destruction of the human race and subsequently the world. (We are not discussing resting as the need to sleep, that was always necessary. We are discussing more the idea of taking a day off or taking vacation; the need for rest from daily routine for an amount of time after working for a while.) By placing this concept of rest into the fabric of the physical world, Hashem made it normal for people to rest up from time to time and recharge their batteries. And so it is in reality; though Shabbos is a Jewish idea, the concept of a weekend and vacation has developed into a big part of the secular world has well (it was not always that way). Every culture has an idea of using time to recharge their bodies and minds in order to remain productive and healthy.
Rest is not only helpful for physical exhaustion, but for spiritual needs too. Being physically and mentally tired drains our spiritual resources as well. So while Shabbos is a time to recharge physically, we should use it as a time to recharge spiritually too.
This is just one example of how studying Parshas Bereishis gives us an insight to the inner workings of the world. In this case, we hopefully have gained a better understanding of Shabbos. As we go through the sefer and study the different stories of our ancestors, let’s keep this idea in mind and hopefully learn more about Hashem’s plans for the world and for us.
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