Creation and Shabbat, Part 1
Students learn about the importance of Shabbat in Judaism by analyzing the literary structure of Bereshit 1-2:3. Even though the creation narrative is split into two chapters, it is still one literary unit. The seventh day – a day of rest – is the pinnacle of the six days of creation and therefore bears a special theological significance.
In this lesson, students study Bereshit 1-2:3 closely, looking for literary parallels and patterns, and learn about the godliness of creation and the importance of Shabbat.
The text of Bereshit 1-2:3 is available in English and Hebrew in the appendix. A marked-up text, showing parallels in the text is available in Hebrew only.
The student will be able to explain that the breakdown of chapters is random.
The student will be able to explain Creation and Shabbat function as one literary unit.
The student will be able to identify key words in Bereshit 1-2:3.
The student will be able to identify literary parallels in Bereshit 1-2:3.
The student will be able to describe that Shabbat is the climax of Creation.
The student will be able to describe that Shabbat gives spiritual purpose to life.
Literary Structure – the organization or framework of a text.
Resources & Equipment needed
copies of text; copies of worksheets;highlighters for students; overhead projector and slides (optional)
1. Discuss the concept of “chapters”. A chapter is a division in a book or a story. Ask students: How are chapters usually divided? Possible answers: by event or chronology, by theme or topic, by perspective. Explain that you are going to be studying the first chapters or perakim of Bereshit.
2.Read through the text with the students (using the handouts or their own texts).
3.Hand out the worksheets and work through together.
4. Suggested Answer to Question 1: The chapter describes creation. You may want to ask the students whether there were six or seven days of creation.
5. Suggested Answer to Question 2: The Seventh Day appears in Chapter 2: 1-3. (The Seventh Day is not actually called Shabbat until Sefer Shemot.) This implies that the Seventh Day was not part of the creation saga.
6. Request that the students read through Chapter 1, looking out for two key phrases: i) “ויאמר א-להים” – “God said” and ii) “ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום” – “It was evening and it was morning”. Students should underline/highlight each phrase in a separate color. Optional: use an overhead projector or a powerpoint display so students can check their work (see appendix). You may want to tell weaker students that “ויאמר א-להים” appears eight times and that “ויהי ערב ויהי בקר” appears six times. You could also ask them to search for the words: “וירא א-להים כי טוב” and for them to understand the significance of its appearance.
7. Suggested Answer to Question 3: i) the expression “ויאמר א-להים” introduces a new stage/day of creation. It is followed by a description of what created that day. ii) The expression: “ויהי ערב ויהי בקר” concludes a stage of creation.
8. You might want to point out that: each stage of creation is given its own paragraph or parasha. Note that days three and six each have two creative stages. The stages denote a new stage of creation, but they are linked to the previous stages.
9. Suggested Answer to Question 4: a) The Seventh Day does not begin with: “God said” and neither does it end with: “It was day and it was morning.” b) How does the seventh day, Shabbat, fit into this analysis? Is Shabbat part of this narrative or is it a new issue that is introduced? Are There Six days of Creation or Seven days of Creation? This depends on whether the Torah’s description of Shabbat is the conclusion of the previous six days or whether the Torah has completed its description of Creation and is now introducing a new concept. At first glance it appears that Shabbat is outside of the creation narrative, as it does not contain the terms: “ויאמר א-להים” and “ויהי ערב ויהי בקר”. The Seventh day also starts a new chapter: The previous six days are all part of Chapter 1, while Shabbat appears in Chapter 2. However, note that the Christian Bible introduced the chapters we use and it was the Church Fathers who separated Shabbat from the first six days, by putting it in a new chapter. They might have done this because its literary structure appears to be different, as we have shown, or because theologically, they wanted to downplay the importance of the seventh day. Nevertheless, through the next few questions, we will see that Shabbat is clearly part of this literary structure and that the Torah deliberately links the seventh day to the previous six. Why the Torah does this is the key to the lesson. First, let us see how the Torah links the Shabbat to the previous six days.