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Shabbat: Why Do We Rest?
Video 3 of 4
So, in Genesis Chapter 2, Verse 2, if you look really carefully, you can find what I think is a contradiction, between the first half of the verse and the second half of the verse. Let’s read this and see if you can find a contradiction, maybe see if we are on the same page here.
Okay, so the vayechal Elokim bayom hashevi’i - God finished on the seventh day. On the 7th day, god finished. Melachto asher asah - His work which He had made. Okay? The word ‘work’ over here is the translation of melachah that I’m not crazy about, but I'll Talk to you about that a little bit later. Let’s just keep it for now. So, on the 7th day, God has finished His work that He had made. Vayishbot bayom hashevi’i mikol melachto asher asah- And He rested on the 7th day from all His work that He made.”
Okay. Now, if you draw a line right over here - or, right over here in English - and you say this over here is the first half of the sentence and this over here is the second half. So, what’s the contradiction between the first half and the second half? How do these, sort of, not make sense? First half - on the 7th day, God finished His work which He had made; second half - He rested on the 7th day from all of His work which He made. Right? Take a look at that; see what you think.
Okay, here’s what I think. So I have crudely here outlined the first half of this and the second half of this. I’ve put the second half in kind of mauve and the first half in kind of bluish underline. Not very pretty, but underlined, nevertheless. So, what do you say? On the 7th day that God finishes all that He had made, and then He rested. On the 7th day, from all his work which he made. Let’s just take a look at the first half of this for a moment, right?
Just looking at the first half of this sentence over here. “On the 7th day, God finished His work which He had made.” Now, if I asked you this question: was God doing any work on the 7th day? ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? Was God doing any work on the 7th day? So if you just look at the first half of this verse, the answer would have to be - or, it would seem to be ‘yes’. Because, there’s this word over here: God ‘finished’ all of His work which He made. So, on the 7th day, if God was finishing, it sounds like God was sort of finishing up His work. So, if you are finishing up your work on the 7th day, the answer is ‘yes’, you are doing something on the 7th day. You are finishing up; you’re finishing up your work on the 7th day.
Another problem is, if you look at the second half of the verse, it says that “God rested on the 7th day from all His work that He had made.” That sounds like: was God doing any work on the 7th day? The answer would be ‘no’! Right? God rested from all His work that He had done on this day. So, if God rested from all His work, it sure sound like the answer is ‘no’. God did not do any work; He was resting on the 7th day.
Okay, so Rashi, for one, takes this contradiction very seriously. So as it happens, Rashi has an ingenious solution to this problem; Rashi is sort of the grandfather of the medieval commentators. Rashi proposes the following solution: yes, God did create something on the 7th day, just like the first half of the verse, seems a suggest. And yes, God also rested all day long too, just like the second half of the verse suggests. Now you argue that those two ideas seem to contradict each other.
“Well,” Rashi says, “They don’t contradict each other!” If you actually think about it, there is a logical solution that will allow both of these things to be true. Okay, so try puzzling over this for a moment, folks. How could it be that God created something on the 7th day, but also rested all day long on that day, too? How could you create something on the day, but also rest all day long at the same time?
Well, there is an answer; you probably guessed at it by this point. And Rashi’s answer is, on the 7th day, God created rest! Yes! God rested all day long and created something. What did He create? He created rest. “Well, brilliant!” You say, “Amazing! Who would have thunk it? God created Rest!” But there’s a problem with that. You sit back and you try this with your friends, say, “Yeah, sure! God created rest on the 7th day.” But if you actually think about that notion for just a moment, there’s a problem with it. What’s wrong with saying that God created rest on the 7th day?
The answer is: it just doesn’t sound like something that needs creating. Why would someone need to create ‘rest’? To be a little more clear about that, what do you need to create? You create ‘some things’. Rest isn’t a ‘something’; it’s the ‘absence’ of a ‘something’. What does it mean? Rest means ‘not working’. So, you don’t have to actually create something called ‘rest’, right? All you have to do to get rest is, just don’t work! Right? If you don’t work, you’re going to get rest. So, why would you say that rest would be something that can be created?
Now, imagine for a moment that someone said that you would need to create darkness. How do you create darkness? So, you say, “Darkness is just the absence of light! So I don’t need to create darkness; all I need to do is turn off the lights. Light would be something that I have to create, but darkness is not something that I have to create. Why do you have to create darkness?”
Similarly, why would He need to create rest? Rest isn’t a ‘something’; its the ‘absence’ of something. So, if Rashi tells us that on the 7th day, God created rest - if you really think about it, Rashi is telling us an amazing thing about this ‘rest’. Its a counter-intuitive kind of rest; not the kind of thing that you and I would normally think of as rest.
Welcome to the notion of ‘Positive Rest’. Rashi seems to be suggesting that there is a positive thing, a something called rest. That, the kind of rest that God experienced on the 7th day was not a ‘nothing’ kind of rest; it was a ‘something’ kind of rest. Now we just have to figure out what is that ‘something’ kind of rest. What is the strange nature of ‘positive rest’?
Now, a clue to that, I think, is going to come back to this notion of sort of an omnipotent, perfect being that, like God, never gets tired. Now, why would He need to rest? That’s odd! He wouldn’t need to have that normal, conventional kind of rest - rest, as an absence. Here, rest as a breather, getting you ready to do more work - that wouldn’t be the kind of rest that you would expect from an omnipotent being. But maybe the strange notion of ‘positive rest’ is something that even an all-powerful being could experience at the end of Creation. So, what is this rest?
So, I want to argue that it has something to do with what the work is, right? If you imagine ‘rest’ as a counterpart to work - so, if we want to understand this strange notion of this kind of positive rest, what we would really need to understand first is to understand this notion of work. What kind of work was God, so to speak, engaged in, in the 6 days of Creation?
So, interestingly, the Hebrew word for this is not the conventional word for ‘work’ which is ‘Avodah’. Its actually a specialized word for ‘work’, known as ‘Melachah’.
If you go back to this text over here, you will find that the word used over and over again to describe God’s work, the word which is conventionally translated as ‘work over here - remember, I told you that I didn’t like that translation? The answer is, because in this translation, this word over here - which is, in English, if you just translate it - known as ‘Melachah’, which is very different from the normal Hebrew word for ‘work’ which is ‘Avodah’.
‘Avodah’ is the kind of work that makes you tired; it’s regular, conventional work. What is ‘Melachah’? There’s ‘Melachah’ three times here in this narrative, describing the kind of work that God is doing. What is that notion of ‘Melachah’? Well, that would be the issue, that would be the thing which we need to define moving forward.
Once we understand what it is, we may understand its counterpart, too - the rest, which is mysteriously ‘positive’ in nature. So, we’ll come back and take a look at that in our next video.
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