For the week ending 7 January 2006 / 7 Tevet 5766

Thank G-d Its Shabbat

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: I. Licht in Miami

Dear Rabbi

Why did G-d rest on the seventh day? Was he tired??? Did he leave the world incomplete intending to return to it? How do we know the details of Creation? G-d was presumably alone, yet the account is written in the third person. Is this one of the things he told Moses?

We normally think of Creation as follows: There was nothing, then for six days G-d created Heaven, Earth and all they contain, after which He "rested." This understanding poses serious problems, though. G-d is Infinite, transcending time, space and matter which are all finite creations. How can anything finite exist simultaneously within infinity? Mathematically speaking, any sum added to infinity necessarily yields a sum total of infinity. When the Infinite created the finite, the finite should have imploded back into infinity.

Judaism reconciles this tension with the notion of “yesh m’ayin”, the mystery of G-d’s having created something from the primordial nothingness of anything other than G-d. Kabbalsitic teachings refine this concept further with the notion of “tzimtzum” in which the Infinite is hidden within the finite. Again, mathematically speaking, this can be compared to the fact that there are an infinite number of points within a finite segment. Alternatively, Creation may be considered as a finite spectrum in the gamut of infinity.

What emerges from this is that Creation was not a proactive or creative process per se from which G-d had to rest. Rather, it was a refraining from expressing His Infinite Essence; a constriction or concealment of Himself within the finite. Accordingly, during the six days of Creation G-d progressively held back Infinity; His “rest” was a reversion back to Infinity. Shabbat, therefore, represents the re-fusion of the finite, multiplicity of creation back into the Oneness of the Infinite Creator.

In fact, since Creation was the beginning of time and space, pre-Creation was a state of “perfect” or absolute infinity. And since Creation commenced on the evening of the first day [as in the verse, "It was evening, it was morning, one day"] the period of pre-Creation corresponds to the perfect Shabbat. G-d’s “rest” on the seventh day created a venue for the Creation itself to re-connect with that primordial Shabbat of Infinity. The six days of the week relegated for creative activity are like rungs in a latter enabling us to climb back up to the Shabbat of Infinity, and then act as partners with G-d to draw that Infinity back down into the finite of the coming week.

Interestingly, according to this, G-d did not, as you put it, leave the world incomplete intending to return to it. Materially speaking, the world was basically complete: “And the Heavens and the Earth and all of their hosts were completed”. Rather, in reverting to Infinity, He left it incomplete in a spiritual sense, intending that it should return to Him through the sanctification of Shabbat, and in turn be sanctified by Shabbat.

You note that the Creation is conspicuously in the third person. What we know of the event, as you say, was dictated by G-d to Moses at Sinai. So why didn’t He dictate to Moses, “In the beginning, ‘I’ created Heaven and Earth…”? One reason is to communicate G-d’s humility; He has to reveal how existence came into being, but He doesn’t have to be egocentric about it. In addition, if He had dictated in the first person, we would not know who “I” is.

But the idea goes deeper than that. If G-d had said “I”, we might mistake Creation as a manifestation of His true, Absolute Essence. Yet Creation is finite and He is Infinite. G-d therefore refers to Himself as Creator in the third person by the name “Elokim”, related to the attribute of “gevurah” or self-control. This intimates the inner dimension of Creation that we explained above. Namely, G-d’s creating was not proactive as understood from our perspective within the paradigm of the finite. Rather, it was an “act” of withholding Infinity in order to create that paradigm, followed by a “rest-stop” called Shabbat on the way back to Infinity.

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