Having concluded our festive celebrations of Simchat Torah, this Shabbat we will return to the beginning of the Torah and read the very first portion – Parashat Bereshit. Bereshit presents ancient Judaism’s version of a creation myth, depicting an all-powerful God who creates the world in six magnificent days, and rests on the seventh day. In the second chapter of Bereshit we read words familiar to each and every Bar and Bat Mitzvah student in our community, for these words are the very words of Kiddush that they learn to recite: The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that God had done (Genesis 2:1-3).
These words form one of the foundational concepts in all of Jewish life – the holiness of Shabbat, the setting aside of a day for rest, reflection, and spiritual rejuvenation. They are words that easily roll off our tongues, words that are easily sung in the synagogue (like V’shamru) or at home when we recite Kiddush, and words which remind us of how to live as Jews.
What is most remarkable about this small passage is the lack of description contained therein. We have no conception of how God spent that very first Shabbat in the heavens! We cannot know if God merely admired the handiwork of creation – man and woman, the animals of the land, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky from a distance, or if God engaged in some other kind of peaceful, restful activity. We know only that the day itself was holy, was set aside as a day for blessing.
These days, we do many things on Shabbat, we have many responsibilities, many errands to complete. But are such behaviors, no matter how restful, no matter how necessary – holy acts? How do we set Shabbat aside as a time for holiness, as a time for blessing? Do we enjoy festive meals with our family and other guests around the table? Do we participate in services or activities at the synagogue, using Shabbat as a time to separate ourselves from our technologically-inundated lives, reconnecting with sacred literature, setting aside quiet time and space for learning and reflection? Do we pause to appreciate the world around us, to recognize the blessings present in our lives, to strengthen ourselves for the week ahead, a week in which we will strive to make the world a better place?
Shabbat is not a time for responsibility; it is not a time for errands. Shabbat is a time to reconnect with family and friends and community, to reconnect with the deep, spiritual elements present within each of us, and most especially, to reconnect with God. On Shabbat we are given an incredible opportunity to recognize the holiness of this very special day, and to pause and appreciate each and every blessing that is part and parcel of our lives.