Creation and Shabbat, Part 2
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 continue to 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 in lesson 1.
1. Suggested Answer to Question 5: We are now going to take a closer look at the literary structure of the text. You may want put this text up on overhead projector or on a powerpoint. בראשית א:א Bereshit 1:1 בראשית ב-ג:א Bershit 2:1-3 בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא א-להִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם… אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא א-להִים לַעֲשׂוֹת Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host… that God created to do.
In the beginning They were completed a) The Torah uses many of the same words in both verses. b) The first word of Chapter 1 is: “בראשית” – “In the beginning”, while the first word of Chapter 2 is: “ויכלו” – “They were completed”. c) The verses are linked, not only by word choice but also by use of the verbs “in the beginning” and “they were completed.” It seems that the first verse is clearly an introduction to the narrative of Creation, while the verses from chapter 2, i.e. Shabbat, are the conclusion.
2. Suggested Answer to Question 6: The following verses further demonstrate the link between Shabbat and the previous days of Creation. בראשית א:ב Bereshit 1:1 בראשית ב:א-ב Bershit 2:1-2 וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ א-להִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם: Now the earth was in chaos, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם וַיְכַל א-להִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their hosts.God completed on the seventh day His work that He did. Chaos Order
3. Suggested Answer to Question 7: The universe (or whatever existed before God created it) was “תהו ובהו” – total chaos. However, when God completed the universe, everything was in order –structured in a way so that the universe that could reproduce and continue with this order. You could note that the Torah emphasizes that each form of life is created in a manner that guarantees its survival, i.e. its ability to reproduce: (i) plants: “esev mazria zera” – seed-bearing vegetation & etz pri oseh pri” – fruit-bearing trees (1:11-12) (ii) fish and fowl: “pru u’rvu“- be fruitful & multiply (1:22) (ii) Man: “pru u’rvu…” – be fruitful & multiply (1:28) From total chaos, God created complete order capable of sustaining itself.
4. Suggested Answer to Question 8: Using the table below, explain the structure of the beginning of Sefer Bereshit. Passuk number Quote Meaning 1:1 In the beginning… Introduction 1:2 Now the earth was in chaos The state of the universe 1:3-31 God said… God brings order to the Universe 2:1-3 The earth was completed Conclusion
5. Suggested Answer to Question 9: Students should be able to support their opinions from the text. From a literary perspective, it seems that the Seventh Day is the climax of the Creation narrative. Despite the random division of the chapters, the Seventh Day is not the beginning of a new subject. The Torah is saying that Shabbat completes the Creation. The question we must ask is why is this point important? What message is the Torah trying to teach us by linking Creation and Shabbat? This will be discussed in the next question.
6. Suggested Answer to Question 10: Without Shabbat, Creation is incomplete. Shabbat – not Man, who was created on the sixth day – is the climax of Creation. Via the Shabbat, God adds a spiritual dimension to Creation. During the first six days, a physical universe is created. The world was created and Man must work it. When working, however, Man might not even recognize that the world was created by God. Shabbat gives Man the opportunity to acknowledge God, to see the spiritual side to life and to remind him of the purpose of his struggle. Man must work towards the Shabbat just as God did.
7. Conclusion: The Torah speaks of seven days of creation not six. Even though the Church Fathers separated the seventh cay of creation from the previous six, from a literary perspective, the whole subject is one unit. The Torah wants to understand that that Shabbat is the climax of Creation. People often just see nature but don’t appreciate it. The Torah’s description of Creation enables us to see the godliness behind it. Shabbat reminds us of God’s design of the universe and gives us a spiritual dimension to our daily existence. If you’d like, you can point out that the Seven Day Week is not a natural division of time. It does not depend on the lunar or solar cycles or on the seasons. If a person were to become lost, there would be no way of working out what day of the week it was. The weeks are a direct result of the creation narrative. You could even argue that it is a spiritual division of time. Furthermore, in Hebrew, none of the first six days of Creation have names, yet the Seventh Day does: Shabbat. This again emphasizes the importance of Shabbat to the Jew: During the whole week we are building up to Shabbat.