Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger
Former Shaliach in Boca Raton (1998-2000)
Currently Director of International Relations, Roots/Shorashim
Shabat – Focused on Heaven and well as on Earth
Mankind was created, according the description near the end of the first chapter of Genesis, in the image of God. But what does that mean? Much ink has been spilled in an effort to grapple with that question, but one answer stands out as most grounded in the simple meaning of the biblical verses. If man was created in the divine image, we can understand what that implies only by knowing what the divine image actually is. Now in the verses that precede the declaration that man and woman were created in God’s image, the Torah tells us only one thing about God – that He created the world. Nothing else! Not God’s qualities or moral stature, not
His metaphysical status, but rather just that He creates. It would therefore appear quite obvious that to be fashioned in the divine image means to be brought into this world with the mandate to create. Man must follow in God’s footsteps and continue the act of creation. God created the raw materials, and modeled what to do with them; human beings then take a cue from Him, molding them and improving them. We call it yishuvo shel olam – civilizing the world, and tikun olam – making the world a better place.
In this week’s Torah portion we have a second level on which man engages inimitatio deo (imitation of God). God made man at the end of six days of creation. Following that, the creation narrative says that God refrained from further creative activity and rested on the seventh day. In the Ten Commandments as presented in the Book of Exodus, which are read this shabat, we are exhorted to abstain from labor on shabat “because in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day He rested”.
Both our creative labor on the six days of the week, and our rest on the seventh day, are human reflections of divine patterns of behavior. Through both the doing and the abstaining, we are able to bear witness to God the Creator.
While the version of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus enjoins us, our families, and our servants to eschew any form of creative labor on shabat in commemoration of the cessation of God’s creative labor on the seventh day, the parallel version in the Book of
Deuteronomy commands us to rest on shabat in order that our families and servants may rest. Our rest is presented as only a means to ensure their rest. Furthermore, any reference to creation is lacking. Instead, we are told that the foundation of our shabat rest is the memory of God’s extricating our nation from Egyptian slavery. God redeemed us from bondage, and so we are to redeem the members of our extended households and communities from their own labors, once every seven days. In the commandment in Deuteronomy,shabat is a weekly microcosm of the Exodus, the memory of which inspires us and energizes us to weave its message of social justice into the fabric and into the structure of the societies that we build.
It is not uncommon for the Torah to present two perspectives on its ordinances. And so it does concerning the cessation of labor enjoined for the seventh day. The shabat of Exodus gives honor to God, whereas the shabat of Deuteronomy is for the welfare of man. Both perspectives are true, both are crucial. Let us do our utmost to ensure that our shabat rest – and our lives in general – uphold both poles, and that one never be allowed to overshadow the other.