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Shabbat: Why Do We Rest?
Video 4 of 4
‘Melachah’ is the act of the Creator who is tinkering and perfecting with what they are creating. And what I mean by that, is that when you look back at the Genesis account - the six days of Creation, and the way that the Bible portrays them. For relatively little of that time, God was actually creating something from nothing. Yes, there was that moment in the beginning, bereshit bara Elokim et hashamayim v’et haaretz - When God, in the beginning, created something from nothing.” But for most of the time, stuff was there and God was shaping it into evermore sophisticated forms, according to His plans. Right? There were upper -- there were waters, and God separated them into upper and lower waters; and God caused the water to go over here and not over there, and the dry land appeared. And then god caused life to emerge from the water, God caused life to emerge from the land - there were different kinds of lives, there were different kinds of trees.
So what God was doing was sort of building, right? But he’s building in a creative kind of way. If you want to be a little more precise about it, you may say, ‘Melachah’ is a creative merger of mind and action. In order to really create, I kind of need mind and action together, If you think of action alone, without mind, that’s a sort of brute, forced labor - that’s what I mean by the kind of labor that you exert yourself, that you get tired of - and that’s the only kind of significance of that labor. It’s just brute force.
But there’s another kind of labor which is - and I’m using human forms here even though we are talking about God - where you would imagine mind directing the labor. What I mean by that is, that in your mind you have a plan; you have a sort of teleological thing that’s going somewhere. But your mind alone isn’t going to actualize your plan, you will actually have to do something in order to actualize your plan. But, what you are doing is directed by your mind. So, what you are doing is, you are taking the world around you - taking what there is - and shaping it into evermore sophisticated things according to your plans. Your plan is kind of gradually emerging. I think that’s kind of what I would call Melachah. It’s your tinkering with what it is that you’ve created. You’ve created something, and you are building it, you are making it better according to the way that you’ve wanted it to be.
So, let’s get to rest, then! If rest is always going to be the compliment of work, right? So, if I’m doing work that’s defined by exertion - so, as we’ve said before, I have a certain kind of rest. I have a rest which would be defined as a breather - something that is going to give me time to recoup my strength, as it were. But if I have this, ‘Melachah’ - the act of a Creator who is perfecting what it is that they are creating - what does rest do in that kind of scenario? What is the nature of rest?
Imagine a creator who doesn’t get tired. There’s no kind of exertion - a Creator who is infinitely powerful. But they are tinkering with what they create. Why would a creator like that need to rest? What kind of rest does ‘Melachah’ demand, irrespectively, of how much exertion might be involved in doing the ‘Melachah’?
So, I want to suggest that the answer to this takes us to a certain kind of paradox involved in the idea of rest. That paradox gets back to an idea which we talked about earlier. You find this actually in the traditional Shabbat prayers on the Friday night; and that is this notion that rest is the tachlit, in Hebrew, of Creation. Tachlit is sometimes translated as purpose. It’s probably a very decent translation that comes from the word kalah, which really means ‘end-point’ - the ‘finishing off’ point of Creation. Its the natural end point of Creation.What I mean by that - and here’s the paradox - is that the final creative act in making anything is, paradoxically, stopping to create. And the reason for that is that what rest does is that rest grants independence. This is a kind of continuum over here of what we are going to describe as positive rest.
I think the first stage of that continuum, the first thing to understand, is that rest grants the thing that you are creating - independence from you, the Creator. When I am creating something, I am not creating it so that the thing that I’m creating is perpetually tied to me, like a little marionette. I want to ultimately break these strings that connect the thing to me. I want it to be independent. As long as I am working on something, as long as the thing that I am creating is still under construction, it doesn’t really exist yet. At least in the sense of something that is separate from me. I’m still tinkering with it. It’s only in the act of ceasing and stopping and pulling back that I say that the thing that I have created - ready or not - it is what it is, and it is now independent from me. I’m breaking these bonds that connect me to the thing. It now exists independently. And once it is independent to me, once I am up here and the thing is over here, then for the first time, I can relate to the thing that I have made. And the thing that I’ve made - the creation that I have made - can relate to me.
A relationship implies independence. There’s no such thing as relating to something that you are still in the business of making. Something which is completely just your marionette, something which you are still in the process of making is not sufficiently separate for you to relate to it. To think that you are doing so is really just an exercise in narcissism. All I’m doing is relate to an extension of myself. In order for a relationship to be real, in order for a relationship to be significant, the thing has to have a certain kind of separateness from me. I have to be over here, the thing has to be over here. Without stopping the creative process, that distance isn’t there, and there can be no relationship.
So, stopping to create is a kind of positive rest. It’s not something which is negative; it’s not just that I’m trying to get my breath back so that I can work some more. It is a ‘presence’, it is ‘doing something’. It is a) the final creative act that makes the thing what it is, it grants independence; and b) having done so, then allows me to achieve the real purpose of creation, which is, it allows me to enjoy and to relate to the thing that I have created. It allows the thing to be something separate which can relate back to me.
To think about this in a slightly different way, the energy of fixing something, you might say, is very different from the energy that is involved in relating to it. If you imagine, even in the human realm - if you get away from the abstract theology of God - think about just ourselves as human beings. When we are involved in fixing something, we aren’t really relating to it. Imagine that you are a musician, you are creating a musical piece. Right? You are playing it a little bit, you are figuring out how you can adjust the notes here and there. you’re not in a position where the piece is what it is, and you play it and you enjoy it, and you can relate to the piece. You’re just involved in fixing it; you’re just testing it out.
To take a more human example, relationships. I’m married for 20 years, but I am always trying to fix my spouse. I’ve always got these power tools in my hand and I’m always trying to make them better and work with them in these kinds of ways, to the extent of that they are just involved in tinkering and fixing and trying to improve and ‘fix you here’ and ‘fix you there’. I’m not really relating to you, as a father to a child, not necessarily to a spouse. If all I’m doing is fixing you - there’s a time of fixing and child-raising and all of that - but the goal is so that the child can achieve a certain kind of independence. When the child achieves that independence, then I have a fully-formed relation with the child. Two independent beings - me the parent, you the child - is now relating to each other. When I can create something, and then nurture it through to independence - that is the purpose of what it is that I’m trying to achieve when I am involved in the process of creating. If I never get there, I sabotage myself.
Speaking of sabotaging myself, let’s talk about the opposite. Let’s talk about what happens with ‘creativity with no rest’, with none of this sort of positive rest. What happens then? Let’s look at the arrow going in the other direction.
If I don’t rest, if I never stop creating, then what happens is, I create a perpetual attachment between me and the creature - the thing that it is that I am creating. It’s never really separate from me. Me and they never relate as independent being. And here’s the final kicker: the creature is ultimately destroyed through my ongoing tinkering.
Think about what happens if - as a Creator - I never stop tinkering. I am always trying to fix something; I am always trying to make it better. What if I am an artist and I can never stop painting? I’m always adding the next kind of curly cue, I’m always just - “Oh, wouldn’t it be better if I just had a little bit more paint over here?”; and i never stop doing that? What happens to my painting? It collapses under its own weight; its own artistic integrity is destroyed. The process of creation ultimately, scarily, would lead to destruction if it is not stopped.
Take a different example: what if you never let go of your child? You’re always fixing the child; you are always fixing the child, you are always tucking the child in, and you never let go, and you’re never able to just let the child be independent and skate on her own. What happens then? Well, it’s all very nice and cute when the child is nine years old; but what happens when the child is 20? What happens when the child is 30? What do you do? You destroy the child.
And this, I think, gets back to the center of the Shabbat, and the center of the rainbow. But that’s a story that’s going to have to wait for another video.
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