Keeping it forever

October 23, 2015 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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Rabbi Chaim Ingram pens an essay for in honour of the Shabbat Project….

Where does the Creation narrative end?

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Those who follow the Torah reading carefully from a Chumash will have discovered, two weeks ago (or several years ago), the intriguing discrepancy between  the end of the creation chapter – as per the Biblical chapters conventionally used – and the end of the Creation parasha – the conclusion of the first Aliya (call-up to the Torah).

Lest we forget or lest we never knew, the Biblical chapters are of Christian origin.  Judaism adopted them due only to historical necessity.  Our ancestors in mediaeval times were required by the church to take part in disputations to justify their existence as Jews. (The famous disputation between the apostate Pablo Cristiani and the victorious Ramban was brought to life a generation ago in a memorable inaugural exhibit at the Bet haTefutsot museum in Tel Aviv.)  Invariably the hostile church clerics would harangue the Jewish disputant by saying “In chapter X, verse Y of Leviticus it says ….”  and therefore familiarity with the ‘chapters’ would be essential. And so the Torah was set out by chapter and verse in the earliest printed editions to be retained ever after.

Chapter 1 of Genesis concludes at the end of the sixth day of Creation.  The account of G-D resting on the seventh day, Shabbat, begins the new Chapter 2.

Thus the Christian conception of the Sabbath was of a day unconnected with the other six.  Indeed many Christians refer to the Sabbath as “The Lord’s Day”.  The clear implication is that on the other six days one need barely be aware of the Lord.  In most denominations, a good religious Christian goes to church every Sunday.  Communal prayer and a concomitant awareness of G-D beyond once a week is not required of the masses.

Judaism sees it differently. The first parasha (portion of the Sidra) concludes following the description of Day 7, the paragraph Vayechulu which has become, of course, the opening declaration of the Shabbat evening Kiddush.  For the Jew, Shabbat is not disconnected from the six days of creation. Rather it is the apotheosis of Creation and indeed its very raison d’etre.  Sof ma’aseh be-machashava tekhila.  “Last in production, first in thought!” (Rav Shlomo haLevi Alkabets, Lecha Dodi).

But lest we thought we had it all sussed out, we have reckoned without that ‘annoying’ little last word of the Creation parasha.

And G-D blessed the seventh day and made it holy 

for on it He rested from all his creative and productive work

which G-D had created la’asot  to make (Gen 2:3).

I still recall from my long-distant Cheder days how that final word used to jar on me.  I didn’t see the need for it.  G-D rested from all His creative activity. Fine!  What is the point of this la’asot?

As a child I would not have appreciated the sublimity of the answer.  For one thing the explanation, properly understood, serves to secure the connection between the six days of creation and Shabbat.  For another, it uncovers the stupendous revelation that the Creation narrative does not end even with Shabbat.

Firstly to return to the connection between the six working days and Shabbat.  A tangible entity connects and cements the two. That tangible entity is Man/Woman.

Adam and Eve were created last, on the cusp of Shabbat.. Purposefully so.  For only man/woman is capable of mixing the kedusha (sanctity) represented by Shabbat into the mundanity of the working week. And only s/he is capable of infusing the mundane with kedusha.

This is why, symbolically, we have tosefet Shabbat, why we ‘steal’ a little bit of barely-defined weekday time immediately before and after Shabbat and make it a part of Shabbat.

Woman takes the leading role in this at the outset.  Eve was created closer to Shabbat than was Adam. Woman is the pinnacle of Creation.  She has an extra degree of intuitive spirituality, She is the first to inaugurate Shabbat, whether fifteen, eighteen or, in Jerusalem, forty minutes prior to sunset, by hadlakat neirot, by the lighting of Shabbat candles.  She, assisted by her husband (who is expected to prepare the wicks) initiates the process of suffusing the mundane with sacred light, advancing the kedusha of Shabbat into the prior working week.

The magic of Shabbat descends upon us for twenty-four-plus sacred hours.  By its conclusion a remarkable phenomenon has occurred. The light that inaugurated Shabbat has transformed into a fire capable of warming us through the coming week.

That is why the Havdala candle is a multi-wicked flame.  This time the roles are reversed with the man, as principal breadwinner, (see Gen 3:19)  leading (as a rule) the Havdala ceremony with his wife assisting by holding the candle.  .An overall equal partnership. . The ensuing six days of toil will not disconnect entirely from the kedusha we have just experienced. Instead a portion of that kedusha will carry over into everything we do during those six days until the next Shabbat.

This is the meaning of la’asot.  For on it He rested from all His ….work which G-D created  la’asotThe end of the sixth day does not mark the end of the Creation chapter.  Nor does the end of the seventh day. Man in partnership with Woman will continue la’asot, to make the world – their world – a holy place, a place where G-D feels welcome to enter.

So the real answer to our question is: the Creation narrative does not end.  Man and Woman are ongoing partners with G-D in the creation process.  The first Shabbat in history had marked the raison d’etre of creation, the infusion of kedusha into the creative process. Our role is to keep the kedusha there through the rest of the ensuing six days – forever!

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We Jews have never sought easy solutions.  Judaism demands spiritual growth continually. On the ladder connecting earth with Heaven in Jacob’s dream, the malachim (angels) were either ascending or descending.  None were static.  If we don’t rise, we will fall!

The Shabbat Project in 2014 in Sydney was stupendous.  By popular consensus, Sydney led the way.  Yet if 2015 is merely a repetition of 2014, even with minor differences, we shall have failed.

Perhaps the above holds the key.  The sacred must be allowed to invade the secular.  We must hold on to the magic beyond this weekend. The Havdala which we do together will be so much more meaningful if we grasp its true meaning. The Havdala flame must ignite the ensuing six days.  A pocketful of kedusha must remain for us to take into the ensuing week. And then …and then we shall really have no choice but to keep another Shabbos together one week later in Sydney, Melbourne, London and indeed around the world and enable the sacred light and fire to stay alive.  For ever!

 

Comments

One Response to “Keeping it forever”
  1. Benzion Klatzko says:

    Amazing! Joining Shabbat.com and downloading the app will help keep the Shabbat spirit going each and every week!

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