What's Special About Sabbath? Part I
Chapter 5, Mishna 8(a)
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are: the
mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators]
(Numbers 16:32), the mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the
desert], the mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Balaam] (ibid., 22:28),
the rainbow, the Manna, the staff [of Moses], the shamir worm, the script
[of the Torah], the inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments],
and the Tablets. Some say: also destructive spirits, the burial place of
Moses, and the ram of our father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of
Isaac] (Genesis 22:13). And some say, also tongs -- which are made with
This mishna lists a number of "magical" objects which were created at the
end of the Sixth Day of Creation immediately prior to the Sabbath. This
time period -- which I translated above as "twilight" -- literally
means "between the suns" ("bein ha'shemashos"). It refers to the period
between sunset and nightfall and is considered the transition from day to
night. In Jewish law, this entire period is considered a question mark --
possibly day and possibly night. (According to the Sages, the transition
from day to night is only a moment long, yet we do not know precisely
which moment this is in this entire period.) We are thus stringent
regarding its status in both directions. Thus, for example, we begin
Sabbath observance before *sunset* on Friday evening and conclude it only
after *nightfall* on Saturday.
The objects G-d created in this time period were unique. To understand the
difference between them and the rest of the universe, created on days 1-6,
I would like to first spend a number of paragraphs (the rest of this
week's installment) discussing the difference between the workweek and the
Sabbath in general. We will then be able to more fully understand the
unique nature of those objects created so close to the Sabbath -- during
the transition from mundane to sacred. (Much of the remainder of this
class is based upon R. Aryeh Kaplan, "Sabbath -- Day of Eternity"
(published by Mesorah Publications (www.artscroll.com) in The Aryeh
Many people, Jews included, have a basic misconception regarding the
Sabbath. We tend to think of it as simply a day off -- a day to relax our
minds and bodies from the stress and tediousness of the workweek. Now that
in itself would certainly be a wise religious injunction. People need time
off from the daily grind -- a welcome interruption from our unending
struggle to earn a living and fill our stomachs.
However, the many restrictions of the Sabbath seem to paint a somewhat
different picture. We may think of relaxation as driving to the beach,
watching a good movie, or going shopping. Yet none of these activities are
permitted on the Sabbath. Alternatively, we might expect actions requiring
exertion to be forbidden. Yet, technically speaking, a person may move
heavy boxes or pieces of furniture on the Sabbath -- while he may not
strike a match or flip a light switch. Likewise, we must travel on foot --
though this requires far more effort than driving a car. If so, what is
the purpose of the Sabbath laws -- and how do they remind us that G-
d "worked" for six days and "rested" on the seventh?
The idea is as follows: During the Six Days of Creation, the world was
incomplete. G-d was constantly molding and acting upon the world,
transforming it from more primitive to more advanced states. When the
first Sabbath arrived, G-d's work was finished: the world was complete and
perfect. G-d no longer had to change the world and improve upon it.
Everything the world required and would ever require existed and was put
into place. G-d had only to leave the universe, allowing all its
components to function in harmony.
This was the idea of the "rest" that G-d enjoyed on the Sabbath (Genesis
2:2). It was not, of course, that G-d was "tired" and had to take a break
from His work. It was that G-d had brought the world to a state of
completion and perfection. He no longer had to intervene -- altering and
modifying the world in order to improve it. G-d could sit back and admire,
so to speak. His handiwork was complete; all of creation could now "rest":
it could exist just the way it was -- and live together in peace and
This phenomenon is reenacted each week in the concept of the Sabbath.
During the week we view the world as incomplete. We must labor: clear the
land, till the soil, build shelters, plant, harvest, cook, manufacture --
all in order to make the world a suitable habitat for man. For six days,
we -- as did G-d -- must force our mark upon the world -- altering it from
its natural state in order to make it a vessel worthy of man.
On the Sabbath we recognize that G-d's world is perfect.
When the Sabbath arrives, we are commanded to cease interfering with the
world. We may no longer assert our mastery over it, changing it from its
natural state. We may not build, burn, work the earth -- or even pick a
flower. Any act that changes the earth from its natural state in the
smallest way contradicts the spirit of the Sabbath. We cease doing acts of
*creation* -- and by so doing, gain the sense that the world as created by
G-d is essentially perfect.
When Creation was completed and the world enjoyed its first Sabbath, it
should have remained eternally in a complete and perfect state. An
everlasting Sabbath should have ensued. However, with the primordial Sin
of Adam and Eve, the world fell from this state. Man would no longer live
in a perfect world -- dwelling in the Garden of Eden, enjoying the ready-
to-eat fruit of the Garden through no labor of his own. He would now have
to work: to conquer the world and eat bread only through the sweat of his
Ultimately, we are taught, the world will again be perfected in the End of
Days. Man will again live in harmony with the world and nature, devoting
his being and his energies to G-d alone. That time period is known as "yom
shekulo Shabbos" -- a time of eternal Sabbath, a time which we eagerly
await today. (Israel returned to this state briefly at the revelation at
Mount Sinai -- and then lost it again with the sin of the Golden Calf. But
these are all discussions of their own.)
Yet once a week, G-d granted Israel a small taste of that ultimate,
blissful state -- the gift of Sabbath. The Talmud writes that the Sabbath
is 1/60th of the World to Come (Berachos 57b). On the Sabbath, the world
reverts in a small way to its perfected state. The Jew who merits it can
gain a sense of the world's perfection. He does not have to labor and be
productive to sustain himself. The Talmud writes that expenses a person
spends for the Sabbath are reimbursed by G-d (Beitzah 16a). We live in a
world which is potentially perfect, in which G-d Himself sustains us
through no effort of our own. And to the extent that the Sabbath is
meaningful to us, this plane of existence becomes our reality.
(As an aside, it was no accident that the Christians replaced Saturday
with Sunday and the Muslims selected Friday. The Sabbath was G-d's special
gift to Israel; He saw to it that it be shared with no other.)
We have now begun to understand the meaning and sanctity of the Sabbath.
Next week, G-d willing, we will discuss the significance of the items of
our mishna -- created immediately before the Sabbath. As we will see, they
too share the special quality of the Sabbath -- and reflect a holiness and
"completion" not found in the physical world. More G-d willing next week!
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.