God – Just Another One of The Guys
One of the challenges of studying parshat Bereshit is that we can get complacent because we are so familiar with the story. You know, six days of Creation, Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel. You have heard it all before. The challenge is to look at the parsha with fresh eyes and without preconceived notions.
So take for instance one of the first verses that we have all read or at least have heard before: “And God said, ‘Let there be Light’. And there was Light. And God saw that the Light was good.” Now if you stop and think you will realize that there are a couple of glaring questions in this description.
The Torah tells us that once God declared that there should be Light, it then came about. Well… yeah, would you expect anything else from God? He is all-powerful isn’t He? And if He states that something ought to be, would you expect anything otherwise?
And then it says that when He saw the Light, that it was good. Again, if God made something, would you expect it not to be good? So why is it such a seemingly surprise to God that what He made was good? Didn’t He know it was going to turn out that way? He is all-knowing isn’t He?
From the get-go the Torah’s narration is what is called anthropomorphism. And that is a fancy word for attributing human traits, emotions, intentions and reactions to non-human entities – in this case, God. It is a common theme in the Torah when expressing how God refers to Himself.
We see a glaring example of this by the time we get to the end of the parsha and things have gone really south regarding mankind’s level of morality. The Torah narrates (6:5ff) “And God saw the great evil of Man in the land; that all the inclinations and thoughts were only bad all day and every day. And God regretted that he made Man in the land, and this greatly pained Him in His heart.” Again, didn’t an all-knowing God know that things were going to turn out bad? And if so, why act so surprised and pained? And shouldn’t the whole idea of pain not apply to God at all?
The point here is that the Torah is quite deliberate in its description of God’s interaction with the world He created. There is no expectation for us to understand things from God’s perspective. He is outside of Time and outside of Space. Don’t try imagining that, it will hurt your head. For all intents and purposes the reality of an Infinite God outside our world is irrelevant.
The bottom line is that God shleps himself down into our world view and speaks about Himself as if he were part and parcel of us, operating and behaving as if He does not know the future, even though everybody knows that He does. Yeah, He sometimes breaks out of this and reverts back to His God role, like when He does miracles or tells prophets what is going to be, but those occasions are few and far between. Generally He sticks to our script and not His.
In Kabbalah they call this notion of God minimizing Himself, as it were, as “tzimtzum”. But you don’t have to be a Kabbalist to understand that we could not have it any other way. The only option for us to have a meaningful relationship with an Infinite Being is if we pretend that He is not. We cannot travel to God’s world view, so He has to travel to ours.
Now that we have this clear (I hope) and we understand that we are talking about God on our terms and not His, there is a very basic and seminal lesson that we learn from the six days/Sabbath Creation narration. And that is found when the Torah says, “God rested on the seventh day from all the work which He had done.”
This is the origins of Shabbat. And even though Shabbat was later given to the Jewish people as part of the 613 mitzvot, the fact that it appears here initially alongside the creation narrative of Adam – generic man, as in all of mankind – teaches a crucial universal lesson for all. And that is everyone needs time to just stop. To cease. To pull away. To be quiet and stop trying to get more and make more for yourself. If God felt it necessary to rest, so to speak, then for sure we humans must similarly deem it essential.
But Shabbat goes beyond the practical idea of resting to avoid burn-out. Because in the very next verse the Torah states that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested from all His work…” It’s telling us that the only way our work, our labour and our efforts become meaningful and holy is when we pause and stop. It’s the paradox that when we stop trying to make and create, at that point we achieve our dreams. That they take on a whole new meaning by rising to something beyond what we intended for them to be. Shabbat is the ultimate definition of Less is More. Through ceasing on Shabbat, all that we accomplish in the material world rises to become something greater as it becomes part of a spiritual end and thereby becomes holy.
One day a week we need to shut ourselves off from our job, our work, our phones and disconnect from the world. From its politics, its sports, its entertainment and its general madness. We need to step away, not just to preserve our sanity, but to get a perspective of what is real and meaningful and thereby catapult our weekly endeavors into the spiritual.
God felt the need to do this, so to speak. And if He had to, then surely we need to do it as well. God Himself became the first Shomer Shabbos, Sabbath Observer. So Shabbat Shalom – A Sabbath of Peace. Because that is the truest way to get Peace in our lives. Through the Holy Shabbat, just like God did during that first week of Creation.
These are the days
now that we must savour
And we must enjoy as we can
These are the days
that will last forever
You’ve got to hold them in your heart