Shabbat - Part 2

  • Rav Ezra Bick


III - Creating and creativity

Last time, we advanced two versions of the meaning of the cessation (shabbat) of creating on Shabbat. The first saw our rest as commemorating God's rest on the seventh day; the second as affirming God's creative activity on the six days. Both suggestions were found wanting, not completely accounting for the place Shabbat occupies in Jewish life. Today I would like to suggest a third variation on the theme, one that will affirm creativity as the highest value, and, at the same time, make Shabbat, the day of rest, the culmination and goal of the days of the week.

How does one become creative? How does an individual develop? From where do creative powers arise? The answer of Judaism is a dual one. On the one hand, creativity is inherent in the human personality, because Man is created in "the image of God." This means that the plan, the limits, the blueprint, so to speak, of man is nothing else other than God, nothing less than God. Everything else is created in the image of itself, according to a set of specifications which define the limits of its ability. Man is created in the image of God, with the ability to surpass himself, to transcend his present state, to grow. In other words, other things ARE; Man is BECOMING. To grow, to aspire to God, to walk in His ways, is the definition of Man by virtue of his creation.

On the other hand, at any given point in time, an individual is equal to - well, to what he is. Measured by himself, weighed objectively, captured in a snapshot, frozen in time, man is merely a natural creature. From where does the force come to raise him above himself, to push him forward? The answer of Judaism is that it cannot come only from within, from the exercise of pure will, but rather from actions. This is the secret of mitzvot, of Halakha, placing the emphasis on deeds rather than on beliefs or character traits alone. Jewish ethics, for instance, reverses the relationship of personality to actions. You do not perform actions which express your personality; you mold your personality by doing actions. You do not give charity because you are charitable; you develop as a charitable individual by giving charity. This is especially true for creativity. One becomes creative only by engaging in creative actions, by engaging the world and the environment and trying to mold and change it. Talent, present potentially in a child, will go nowhere if it is not actively exercised, if the child does not engage his talent and confront it with the material of the outside world. One must confront the outside world in order to discover oneself - in fact, in order to have a self at all.

Ultimately, however, creativity is valued not for the things created, not for the buildings built or the tapestries woven, but for the personality which develops, for the unleashing of creative powers within the individual. This, then, is the relationship between the six days of the week and Shabbat. Six days shall you work, six days you actively engage your powers in changing the world, in using raw materials, in interacting with THINGS outside yourself. But on the seventh day, Shabbat! No more outside materials, no changing the world. On this day, you have to see what has happened to you inside, how much creative potential is active within, how much more you have grown.

What would happen if six days of work were followed with six more days, and six more, without a break? If one is always expressing one's creativity outward, always depending on material objects to objectify one's creativity, then there remains no core of personality which lives that creativity. How often do we see someone who pours himself out in projects, in monuments, in buildings, and remains inwardly a hollow shell? By being totally outward-directed, by investing THINGS with value, the inner soul, the true measure of the image of God, becomes vitiated, losing its transcendence to the static, limited value of natural objects. By always acting, doing, being busy, experiencing the interaction with the outside world, the personality has never had a chance to experience itself.

Shabbat is the cessation of outward creativity in order to measure the growth of inward creativity. Can you go twenty-four hours living off your own vitality, without having to rely on the outer world to "fill you up?" If the days of the week have been full of work and creative activity, this Shabbat should be a deeper one than the previous one, since you have filled your inner batteries with more creative juice. Just as it is a mitzva to cease on Shabbat, so it is a mitzva to work for six days, for without the growth and development of the six days, there will be no soul to live on its own during Shabbat. Shabbat is a time to enjoy yourself, your relative maturity. Without that time, one is in danger of having no self at all, of losing it to the objects in which it has been invested.

This is the meaning of the statement that Shabbat is a taste of the world-to-come. The next world is one which transcends materialism, a world of souls who live without food, without ingesting, just by virtue of their own inner life. In order to develop sufficiently to be able to sustain one's own life from within, one has to first experience the world of objects, of inert materials which we can mold and change. The world as created is not complete, not perfect; on the contrary, it is just waiting for us to try and perfect it. That is why it is there. Every Shabbat is a taste of that self-sustained existence, the culmination of a short cycle of living. Act, fight, struggle, grow - then sit back and let that personality experience itself. If you never invest in the world, you will have never grown. If you only invest in the world, you will not be anyone at all. The week is a cycle, with Shabbat the goal, the queen, and the six days the engine. One achieves inner value ONLY by directing one's energies outward, day after day. Shabbat celebrates that inner value, and for that I have to turn back to myself. Pure Shabbat equals pure potentiality. Pure activity equals mere BEING, no more than the sum of the things we have changed and acted upon. The combination of the two is potentiality in growth, developing - in other words, "tzelem Elokim," the image of God, BECOMING.

Hence Shabbat is not a day without creativity. It is a day to experience creativity without raw material, a day to let inner creativity flourish. One learns Torah, spends time with family and friends, with other tzalmei-Elokim, avoiding the crutch of experiencing material things in order to experience ourselves. The Sages have an expression about Shabbat that is both impossible to explain, and immediately understood by one who experiences Shabbat. They say that one has "an additional soul" on Shabbat. (The smelling of spices at the conclusion of Shabbat is meant to help restore us as the additional soul leaves.) I think they are referring to what I have described, a soul that is innerly alive and self-sustaining. This is called "rest," not in the sense of inertness, but because the soul is sustained by its inner life rather than by external activity, by interaction with the world. The need to stop interacting with the world is not opposed to human commitment and creativity; it is the peak and the result of that creativity. It IS creativity itself, self-creating, the enjoyment of self-value. Without it, there would be no meaning, no infinite ground, for all that endless activity.

Suppose you find Shabbat boring? No television, nothing to do, nowhere to go. The object of the days of the week is the world. If your world has interesting challenges for you, the week will be interesting. The object of Shabbat is yourself, your soul. If Shabbat is boring, perhaps it is because you are boring.... Perhaps because you have not been busy enough, not challenged enough during w, there is nothing to look at, nothing to experience on Shabbat, no inner YOU! I assume that cannot be true. But often we need to be taught how to appreciate what is inner. Human existence without THINGS seems to be less real. To be left alone, without your computer, without something new from e-mail, without something external into which to pour your energies, can be frightening if you haven't yet learnt to experience the deeper but less tangible existence of becoming, the infinite depth of potentiality. Shabbat is a skill which has to be learnt, a capacity for appreciating the infinite which is ahead of you (but yours) rather than the finite which is already in your hands (but in fact, external). In other words, Shabbat is SACRED TIME, the value of time and process grounded in the holy, the infinite. But that - the meaning of holiness (kedusha) - is another shiur....


Once we see how the prohibition on melakha leads to creative autonomy on Shabbat, we can understand some other halakhot of Shabbat.

1. Hotza'a: This is actually a melakha. The last melakha in the list of the mishna in Shabbat is "motzi" - moving something from one domain to another. It is prohibited to transfer an object from the public domain - the street or a public square - to a private domain, such as your house, or a walled-in enclosure, or vice-versa. (The exact definition of the domains of Shabbat is very complicated. I am just trying to give the general idea.) Tosafot (Shabbat 2a) calls this activity "melakha geru'a" (an inferior melakha) because there is no real change in the object; in other words, there is no real creativity. The Torah has decided to consider a change in locale to be a significant change in nature. But if we see the purpose of the prohibition of melakha to be a detachment from reliance on external objects and a turning inward, toward self-sufficiency and inner creativity, it is clear that the very act of bringing in objects from "outside" must be prohibited. "Foreign trade" is as objectionable as new creation. We neither need new objects, nor should we be investing our energies in "exporting" objects. As far as the spiritual self of Shabbat is concerned, importing is the same as creating.

2. Techumin: "Ish al yeitzeh ish mi-mekomo be-yom ha-shevi'i" (No one shall leave his place on the seventh day, Exodus 16,29). This is interpreted as prohibiting leaving a place of habitation, a city or town, beyond a distance of approximately one kilometer. On Shabbat, one is bound by space. One has to establish a place on Shabbat, for Shabbat (liknot shevita), and that place become permanent for the duration of Shabbat. The center of one's "place" on Shabbat is defined by where one's food is; i.e., where the sustenance of life is. On Shabbat one is stationary, at rest - it is not a day for spatial, external exploration. Wherever you have to be on Shabbat, you have to get there beforehand.

3. Nolad: If something comes into existence on Shabbat, such as an egg which is laid or a fruit which falls from a tree, it may not be eaten, even though no melakha was done in its production. Remember the story of the manna, which fell on the Jews for six days but not on Shabbat? God tells the Jews, "On the sixth day, they should prepare that which they will bring...." (Ex. 16,5). Everything used on Shabbat must be prepared before Shabbat. (The actual status of this prohibition is composed of a blend of biblical and rabbinic laws. Again, I am just sketching it out in principle.) The more common application of this principle is in the law called "muktza." Something which could not be used at the beginning of Shabbat, or which was put away in order not to be used, cannot be used the whole day. Here we have the principle of self-sufficiency at its clearest. In a famous saying, the Sages write, "He who prepared before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat." Objects which have not been prepared - a raw potato, a stone on the ground, a fruit on a tree, are muktza, and, in fact, may not even be moved. On Shabbat, we are meant to live from within, from within the world we have built before Shabbat, the place we have settled in before Shabbat, using the material we have made "ours" before.

4. Kli: The word "muktza" is colloquially (but erroneously) used for a similar but distinct prohibition - moving utensils or objects whose use is prohibited on Shabbat, such as writing instruments, matches, or electrical appliances. This is called "kli she-melakhto le-issur." Now you might imagine that this rabbinic enactment is meant to prevent accidental use of the object, which would involve a melakha. This is undoubtedly part of the reason, but from the history of this law, we see that this is not the whole story. The Talmud (Shabbat 123b) relates that originally, in the early days of the Second Temple, the Rabbis attempted to prohibit the use of all utensils, except for those, such as tableware, which were used all the time. Only gradually did they widen the permissibility until only utensils whose use involved a melakha were prohibited. We see here an attempt, somewhat impractical, to prohibit the use of artifacts and utensils altogether. Ideally, one should rely only on oneself on Shabbat. Since we are not yet angels, and have to live in this world, and Shabbat is only a "taste of the next world," this needed to be modified.

5. One final, and not well-known, example. Feeding wildlife is forbidden on Shabbat. (This does not apply to animals whose sustenance is your responsibility; i.e., pets or farm animals.) The outside world is God's responsibility on Shabbat (this fits in well with the second level described in the previous shiur as well). You are to be concerned only with your own inner world. Since there can be no doubt regarding Judaism's concern with the natural world in general and animal welfare in particular, this should be understood as part of the detachment of Shabbat. One stops on Shabbat, not because the activity was wrong, but because we have to inculcate that activity within. On this day, you have to live as close to the next world, to a non-material world, to one of inner life and self-sufficiency, as is possible.

Question: Why do we not fast on Shabbat, thereby cutting ourselves off from this world even more, as we do on Yom Kippur? I think you should answer this yourselves, though we shall touch on this point in the next shiur, which will deal with the positive sides of Shabbat, "kavod" (respect) and "oneg" (pleasure).