The Deep Connection Between the Biblical Holidays | Aleph Beta

The Transcendence of Shabbat

The Deep Connection Between the Biblical Holidays


Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Rabbi Fohrman begins this fascinating series on the Shalosh Regalim, Three Pilgrimage Festivals: Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot, by first taking a look at where we are introduced to these holidays in the Bible. The chapter on the holidays (in Leviticus) seems to begin in an odd place and has many references to Shabbat, which seems to be out of place. What can the Shabbat have in common with these holidays? 

Join Rabbi Fohrman as he begins to paint a beautiful picture where fantastic patterns begin to emerge. Shabbat seems to be a much bigger element in our world than we’ve ever realized. Understanding this concept is crucial in understanding the holiday cycle. 


Announcer:  The premium course you are about to listen to was recorded in front of a live audience. Enjoy. And as always, please leave questions and thoughts in the comments.

Rabbi Fohrman:  The focus of this series is on Shabbat. When we think of Shabbat, generally speaking we think of Shabbat. But the case I want to make to you, in short, is that Shabbat is actually an extremely pervasive theme throughout Chumash in general. It pops up in the places that you would least expect it. There are many, I'm going to argue, permutations of Shabbat that go beyond Shabbat itself. The idea of the Sabbath becomes -- I don't know what the right metaphor is. A lynchpin? Probably not. Maybe a center of gravity for many other aspects of the Torah. I want to explore with you some of the ways in which that is so. 

One of the ways this is so, is through a series of texts which I went through with this group a couple years back. So I want to briefly review that. Then what I want to do is go on to the Torah reading. Maybe I'll introduce this, actually, with the Torah reading for the cycle of the mo'adim, actually, which we read on Sukkot for the first and second days. It's the same Torah reading as the second day of Passover. It comes from Parshat Emor and it basically goes through and lists the mo'adim

There are some kind of tricky and interesting aspects of this. Maybe we'll begin with that and then I'll go back, when I have the PowerPoint, I'll do the stuff in Genesis and we'll go through it from there. If you have a Tanach, this will begin on page 302. This is in Parshat Emor, it is in Leviticus Chapter 23, towards the beginning of the chapter. 

Let me begin with this question. We read this on the mo'adim. This is the Torah reading for the mo'adim here. If it was up to you to decide where this Torah reading should begin, where would you begin it? 

Audience Member:  Verse 1. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  You would begin it with Chapter 23, Verse 1? 

Audience Member:  No, Verse 2. "Daber el Bnei Yisrael." 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Any other nominations? Read through -- 

Audience Member:  Verse 4. Oh, you're saying because the beginning is just about Shabbat, and the rest are about the mo'adim

Rabbi Fohrman:  Where do the mo'adim really begin? What we have here is we have a list of the holidays. Let's just remember what's listed here. Let's just refresh our memory as to what's in here. What's in here is Passover. After Passover the next main topic is Omer, it's the Omer offering, which was brought the day after the first day of Passover. Then you have Shavuot 49 days later. Then after that we have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. 

Now, if you were going to start this somewhere, start the Torah reading somewhere, where would you start from? You'd start from Passover, which is where? It's in Chapter 23, Verse 4. "Eileh mo'adei Hashem mikra'ei kodesh asher tikre'u otam l'mo'adam. Bachodesh harishon b'arba'ah asar lachodesh bein ha'arba'im Pesach la'Hashem." That's where you might have started. 

Another alternative beginning might be where? It could be Rosh Hashanah; that's later. The first of the mo'adim really is, here, Passover.

As it happens, we don't begin it here. We begin it earlier. Where do we begin reading from? Let's look at the paragraph before this. The paragraph before this is actually Chapter 23, Verse 1, "Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe laymor, dabeir el Bnei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem mo'adei Hashem asher tikre'u otam mikra'ei kodesh eileh heim mo'adai." Now, if you had a verse that began with that, what would you expect to hear next? 

Audience Member:  All about it, what it is. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  "Mo'adei Hashem asher tikre'u otam mikra'ei kodesh," these are the holidays of God that are holy. "Eileh heim mo'adai," the following are My mo'adim. What would you expect to hear next? You would expect to hear about Passover. Look at what you actually hear next, Verse 3. "Sheishet yamim tei'aseh melachah u'vayom hashevi'i shabbat shabbaton." 

Audience Member:  Aren't Verses 2 and 4 redundant -- one of them is redundant? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It sounds like it, doesn't it? 

Audience Member:  Is Shabbat also not a mo'ed

Rabbi Fohrman:  You would think. If we play our favorite Sesame Street game over here, which one of these things is not like the other, which one of these things just doesn't belong. So you play that game. You would say Shabbat doesn't belong. Shabbat is different. Shabbat isn't really a mo'ed. Passover is a mo'ed. Sukkot is a mo'ed. Shavuot is a mo'ed. Rosh Hashanah is a mo'ed. We don't think of Shabbat as a mo'ed

Nevertheless, for some strange reason, here we go with this introduction. "Eileh heim mo'adai," these are my mo'adim. The first mo'ed that we meet actually is Shabbat. How is Shabbat different from all of the other mo'adim? It is set on a weekly cycle, whereas all of the other holidays are on a yearly cycle. Shabbat is fundamentally different. So what is Shabbat doing here? 

Moreover, as you suggest, we have a double introduction. We have "eileh heim mo'adai," and then following that, Shabbat. We finish with Shabbat in two verses, and then again, "eileh mo'adei Hashem mikra'ei kodesh asher tikre'u otam b'mo'adam," Verse 4. These are the mo'adim that you should call in their appointed times. Then, "Bachodesh harishon b'arba'ah asar lachodesh" we have Passover. So we seem to get a double introduction to the holidays, and we seem to be hearing about Shabbat when we would least expect to be hearing about Shabbat. Why is Shabbat being lumped together with these yearly mo'adim? So that's question number one.

However, getting back to the question of where this reading begins, the reading doesn't even begin here. Not only does it not begin with Passover, not only does it not begin with Shabbat earlier than that; it actually begins a paragraph before this. It begins at the end of Chapter 22. If you look at Chapter 22, back in Verses 26 and 27, we have these words. "Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe laymor," and God said to Moses. "Shor oh chesev oh eiz ki yivaleid v'hayah shivat yamim tachat imo u'miyom hashemini vahal'ah yeiratzeh l'korban isheh la'Hashem." If you have one of these animals that gives birth, seven days it's with its mother and you can't offer it as an offering until the eighth day. That's when it's pleasing as an offering for God. 

"V'shor oh she oto v'et bno lo tishchatu b'yom echad," and as for an ox or a sheep, you cannot kill the mother and the child on the same day. "V'chi tizbechu zevach todah la'Hashem lirtzonchem tizbachu, bayom hahu yei'achel." Various laws. You should keep these commandments. "Lo techallelu et sheim kodshi," you shouldn't be mechallel My name. "V'nikdashti b'toch Bnei Yisrael," I'll be sanctified among the Jews. "U'shemartem mitzvotai," you should keep My commandments because I am God, "hamotzi etchem mei'eretz Mitzrayim liyihot lachem lei'Elokim," the God who took you out of Egypt to be your God. 

We have these laws about korbanot (offerings) over here which seem to have nothing to do with anything. But guess what, that is where the reading begins. That's where we begin reading on all of the mo'adim, from "shor oh chesev oh eiz." So my question is, why do we begin there? We certainly could have crunched in the requisite amount of aliyot starting later, starting at Passover, or even starting at Shabbat. What are we doing starting "shor oh chesev oh eiz"? 

The answer must be -- 

Audience Member:  It's connected. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Right. You know me well enough. It must be it's connected. So the question is, how is "shor oh chesev oh eiz" connected to all of this? It must be that this is really connected to parshat hamo'adim. So that's question number one, how is this connected to parshat hamo'adim. Let's read through parshat hamo'adim now and see what other strange things strike us. 

Let's read on a little bit more. We have Shabbat, we have Passover. Let's refresh our memory about Passover. When does Passover take place? Which month? Nisan, known here as chodesh harishon, the first month of the year. We're counting years from Nisan, counting months from Nisan. Nisan is the first month. When? "B'arba'ah asar yom lachodesh," on the fourteenth day of the month, "bein ha'arbayim Pesach la'Hashem," it's the holiday of Passover, followed by "u'vachamishah asar yom lachodesh hazeh," on the fifteenth day, Chag Hamatzot (the festival of matzos) begins. By the way, what's significant about the fourteenth and fifteenth days of months?

Audience Member:  All the holidays are then. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yeah, but why? Full moon. This is a lunar calendar, so you have a full moon on the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the month. Anyway, "Chag Hamatzot la'Hashem shivat yamim matzot tocheilu," so you should eat matzos for seven days. "Bayom harishon mikra kodesh," the first day is special. You bring an offering for seven days, and the seventh day is special. You shouldn't do any melachah (labor) on these days. So much for Passover.

We then move on to the korban ha'omer. Let's hear how the korban ha'omer is described, Verses 9 and 10. "Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe laymor," and God says to Moses. "Daber el Bnei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem ki tavo'u el ha'aretz," when you come to the land, "u'ketzartem et ketzirah," and you reap the grain. "Vahaveitem et ha'omer reishit ketzirchem el hakohen," so you should bring the omer, the first of your cuttings, to the kohen (priest). "V'heinif et ha'omer lifnei Hashem," and he waves the omer offering before God, "li'retzonchem," to be pleasing to you. "Mimacharat hashabbat yenifenu hakohen," the day after Shabbat shall this offering be brought. 

So now when do we bring the offering of the omer

Audience Member:  The day after Shabbat.

Rabbi Fohrman:  The day after Shabbat. So when would that be? 

Audience Member:  Sunday. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Sunday, right? 

Audience Member:  But it's not. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  But it's not. It sounds like, when you read this text, that you're always supposed to bring the omer offering on Sundays, on mimacharat hashabbat. In fact, historically, this is what the Sadducees always did. This is one of the classic disputes between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. We, who hail from the Pharisees, do not bring the omer on Sundays. We view that as a mistake. The great dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, similar to that between the Karaites and the rest of the people, the Sadducees basically rejected the Oral Torah. They tried to go with the literal reading of the verses. They said that literally, mimacharat hashabbat means you bring it on Sunday. The Pharisees always said it doesn't mean Sunday. What does it mean? The day after the first day of Passover. 

Audience Member:  Isn't that what we do? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  That's what we do. The omer offering is brought the day after the first day of Passover. So the Pharisees always said that Shabbat here refers to the first day of Passover. Of course, the question is why does it say Shabbat if it means the first day of Passover? Just say the first day of Chag Hamatzos (the festival of matzos) already. So it seems like the Sadducees have a leg up on us here because it does say Shabbat, it does say the day after Shabbat. The Oral Torah says it doesn't mean the day after Shabbat. But then the question is, okay, Oral Torah, if it doesn't mean the day after Shabbat, why does it say the day after Shabbat? Is it just trying to confuse us and then have the Oral Torah interpret it? That doesn't seem very smart. Why do that? Is it some kind of code? So this is another question we have. 

Audience Member:  Weren't the Sadducees the priests? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  No. I mean, sometimes there were -- 

Audience Member:  Wouldn't they know when to bring offerings if they were priests? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  There were priests on both sides of the dispute, so it wasn't just -- okay. Anyway, this is the omer. Let's just remind ourselves, what does the omer do? The omer is an offering whose purpose is to be matir chadash. So what it does is it allows you to eat the new grain. The new grain can now be eaten after the omer offering is brought. 

Audience Member:  Does that create kemach yashan (old flour)?

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, the idea of kemach yashan is that until the omer is brought, you eat yashan, which is the grain from the old year. The grain from the new year, chadash, can't be eaten until the omer is brought in Israel. That's the point of Verse 14, "V'lechem v'kali v'karmel lo tochlu," you shall not eat bread from the new grain, essentially, "ad etzem hayom hazeh ad havi'achem et korban Elokeichem," until you bring the offering of the omer, "l'doroteichem b'chol moshvoteichem."

All right. So now continuing, that's the omer. "U'sefartem lachem mimacharat hashabbat," you should count for yourselves from macharat hashabbat. What is macharat hashabbat, the day after Shabbat, i.e. the day after the first day of Passover. Count for yourself, "sheva shabbatot temimot tihiyenah," count for yourself seven Shabbats. "Ad mimacharat hashabbat hashevi'it," until the day after the seventh Shabbat. Notice another macharat hashabbat. Now there is, if you think about it, you have a little sandwich. You have 49 days, but on either side you have a macharat hashabbat because you began the omer the day after Shabbat, i.e. the day after the first day of Passover, and then after these 49 days, after these seven Shabbats, so the day after the seventh of the Shabbats, the say after the seven cycles of seven, so then is the fiftieth day. That's the day on which you have a new offering and a new holiday, which is what we know as Shavuot.

What it says here is that on this day, you bring a special offering. What is the special offering we bring on this day? We bring lechem habikkurim, and we bring what's known as shtei halechem. Where is that here? Right, "Mimoshevoteichem tavi'u lechem tnufah," Verse 17, "shtayim, shnei esronim solet," you bring two loaves of bread on this day. "Chametz tei'afenah," and you bake it as chametz (leavened). That's significant because as far as I know, this is the only offering that is brought as chametz on the altar.

Audience Member:  So when was this brought, on Shavuot? 

Rabbi Fohrman:  This was brought on Shavuot. The purpose of the shtei halechem, the two loaves of bread which were brought on Shavuot, is similar to the omer offering but it's to be matir chadash lamizbei'ach, which is to say that even from the time that chadash, that the new grain, regular people are allowed to eat it, but still it wasn't used for offerings until the shtei halechem was brought on Shavuot that would be matir chadash l'mizbei'ach, from that point on chadash could be brought upon the altar.

Audience Member:  That's like, out with the old, in with the new. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Out with the old, in with the new. Not necessarily out with the old, because you could still use it, but in with the new. 

Audience Member:  I'm saying the last two, the chametz, two loaves are chametz

Rabbi Fohrman:  These two loaves are leavened, right. Okay, moving on. Next halacha after the shtei halechem is what? 

Audience Member:  More offerings. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, that's all part of the -- we'll call those offerings part of the shtei halechem ceremony. So what do we have after the shtei halechem? We have Verse 22, "U'vekutzrechem et ketzir artzechem lo techaleh pe'at sadcha b'kutzrecha v'leket ketzircha lo telakeit le'ani v'lageir ta'azov otam." We have leket, shikecha, and pe'ah, the ideas that when you are reaping your grain, you have to leave behind certain things for the poor. If you forgot a sheaf, you leave that over. You leave over a corner of the field. The laws of leket, shikecha, and pe'ah, if you forget to pick up stuff, so you have to leave it over. All of those laws. 

Then we move on directly from there to Rosh Hashanah. "Bachodesh hashevi'i b'echad lachodesh," in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, "Shabbaton," there is a holiday, "zichron teru'ah," and that is Rosh Hashanah. Followed immediately by Yom Kippur, "Ach be'asor lachodesh hashevi'i hazeh," on the tenth day of the month, "yom hakippurim hu mikra kodesh yihiyeh lachem v'initem et nafshoteichem," you fast, you're me'aneh your nefesh, and you don't do any labor. "Shabbat shabbaton hu lachem," it's a Shabbat of Shabbats for you. 

So first of all, let's play our little game, which one of these things just doesn't belong. Leket, shikecha, and pe'ah. What exactly is leket, shikecha, and pe'ah doing here? It's like, it sounds like since we were talking about harvesting already, let's just mention some other -- do a little tangent on the whole harvesting thing. But still, that's not very pretty. What is leket, shikecha, and pe'ah doing in this list of mo'adim

So we have two questions now about which one of these things doesn't belong with the Shabbat question. We have the shor oh chesev oh eiz, these laws about the offerings at the beginning. Then we have these laws of leket, shikecha, and pe'ah which all of them don't seem to have to do much with offerings. 

Then we have Sukkot, again in the seventh month, we have the holiday of Sukkot for seven days. "Bayom harishon mikra kodesh…shivat yamim takrivu isheh la'Hashem." Then again on the eighth day, "bayom hashmini mikra kodesh yihiyeh lachem v'hikravtem isheh la'Hashem atzeret hee," there is an atzeret on the eighth day. "Eileh mo'adei Hashem asher tikre'u otam mikra'ei kodesh," these are the holidays of God. 

Now what's interesting here, if you look at Sukkot, is when does the list of mo'adim seem to be over? What verse? Sukkot begins in Verses 33-34. Then at the very end of this, in Verse 37, "Eileh mo'adei Hashem asher tikre'u otam mikra'ei kodesh," these are the holidays of God that you should call mikra'ei kodesh so you would say that's the end, right? Verse 37. The problem is, it's not the end because even after that finale, we continue with Sukkot. 

It then says, "Ach b'chamishah asar yom lachodesh hashevi'i b'ospechem et tevuat ha'aretz," but when you gather in all of your grain, "tachogu et chag Hashem shivat yamim," you should celebrate the holiday of God for seven days. So again, you have Sukkot. Then we explain the four species and basukkot teishvu, you sit in the sukkahs. Finally, at the very end of all of this, "Vayedaber Moshe et mo'adei Hashem el Bnei Yisrael," Moses told this holidays of God and finally it's over. 

So what's interesting is at the very beginning of this whole thing you have a double introduction, as we said before. Remember the introduction before Shabbat, followed by the introduction before the mo'adim. Then at the very end, you have the same thing, a double conclusion. Just when you thought it was over, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. So you get a double, these are the holidays, then followed by again Sukkot, these are the holidays. So it's kind of symmetrical that way. 

All right, so we have a lot of questions here. What's interesting here is that if you notice, there is a theme that runs through all of these holidays. The theme that runs through all these holidays is what? Shabbat. In other words, let's thing about all the Shabbat references that we've seen thus far in these holidays. 

So aside from Shabbat itself, let's talk about Passover. What other Shabbat references do we have in Passover? Well, one is obvious. The fact that the Torah itself calls Passover Shabbat, according to the Pharisees. Remember when the omer offering is brought mimacharat hashabbat, the day after Shabbat? So the Pharisees who say that means the day after Passover, are in effect saying that Shabbat is a synonym for Passover over here. So let me put it to you this way. The only way this is going to make any sense to be a Pharisee is going to be to say that it's not coincidental that Passover is referred to as Shabbat, but that there, in fact, is something very Shabbat-like about Passover that the Torah would call it Shabbat even though it's really Passover. So we want to discover what that is. 

At the superficial level, what is Shabbat-like about Passover? Look at how the Torah describes Passover. Anything Shabbat-like about Passover?

Audience Member:  You can't do work. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  First of all, you can't do labor on it. 

Audience Member:  And it's kodesh (holy). 

Rabbi Fohrman:  It's holy. What else? "U'vachamishah asar yom lachodesh hazeh chag hamatzot la'Hashem shivat yamim matzot tocheilu." The most obvious feature of this is it's a seven-day-long holiday. A seven-day-long holiday which has the following features. "Bayom harishon mikra kodesh," and "bayom hashevi'i mikra kodesh." The two end days are holy. The first day is holy and the seventh day is holy. So in Shabbat, the seventh day is holy. In other words, the weekly Shabbat, the seventh day is holy. Also, here too, we have a holiday which begins with a holy day, but then on the seventh day of it, on the Shabbat day of this holiday, it again is holy. 

Now, again, also think about it. When does this holiday take place? It takes place on the fourteenth and fifteenth, which is on -- the fourteenth, by the way, is a multiple of seven, and then the fifteenth is the macharat hashabbat, as it were, it's the day after that Shabbat of the full moon. Again, it's the first of the month. 

What I want to argue, really, is that the numbers that you are going to see, invariably, are going to be ones and sevens. All of these numbers are ones and sevens. It's like a base-seven system that we're going to be working off of. It's all ones and sevens. So it's no coincidence that the holidays are all clustered up around which month? The first month, which is Nisan, and the seventh month, which is Tishrei. The first of the seventh month is going to be Rosh Hashanah. Fourteenth and fifteenth days of the seventh month, that's going to be Sukkot. First month, so then there's going to be on the fourteenth and fifteenth days you've got Passover. 

So what is Shavuot, which doesn't work? Notice how the Torah never refers to the month in which Shavuot appears. The Torah doesn't care what month it appears. The point about Shavuot is that it's seven times seven weeks after the holiday that appears in the first month. The Torah is base-sevening everything. Everything is base-seven. So even Shavuot is just sheva shabbatot, seven weeks. What's Yom Kippur, but shabbat shabbaton. What is Rosh Hashanah, but a shabbaton

Audience Member:  Having nothing to do with seven.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Well, it does have something to do with seven, which is it's in the seventh month. It's the tenth of the seventh month. Again, the ones and the tens. It's the tenth of the seventh month. So in the numbers, everything seems to be revolving around Shabbat. Everything seems to have a Shabbat-like quality. 

But we're not a nation of just numerology. The numbers have to refer to concepts. So the question is, what are the concepts that underly the numbers? How is it conceptually that these holidays, in numbers, seem to all be revolving around Shabbat? It's almost as if the way this is structured seems to suggest that Shabbat is sort of the sun, and everything else is the planets that sort of orbit around Shabbat. 

Or, to make it a little bit more precise, what you might say is this. Let's come back to one of our questions before. 

Audience Member:  Well, I know (inaudible 00:27:16) is like it's shleimus (perfection). Seven refers to the concept of perfection. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  If you think about the -- one of our questions was, what was Shabbat doing here? It doesn't seem to fit. The answer is, it has to be here because everything is based off of Shabbat. Or, to put it another way, if Shabbat is different because it is the one weekly holiday and all of the other holidays are yearly holidays, we might say what Shabbat is to the week, these holidays are to the year. They're nothing but expressions of Shabbat in a different timeframe, in a yearly cycle rather than a weekly cycle.

Then let's try to figure out how that might be so. What is Shabbat-like about these holidays? So then we have to go through the holidays one by one and really see that, and then the other interesting question is, notice where this portion begins. The portion does not begin for Shabbat; it begins for shor oh chesev oh eiz. So let's actually go back and ask ourselves, is there anything Shabbat-like about shor oh chesev oh eiz? Well, there is because what's the law? "Shor oh chesev oh eiz ki yivaleid," when an ox or a sheep or one of these animals goes and give birth, well, "shivat yamim," it has to be for seven days "tachas imo," under its mother. 

Then only on the eighth day, the macharat hashabbat, the day after Shabbat, can the animal be used for an offering. Then the very next halacha is that mother and child, under no circumstances can be slaughtered b'yom echad, on the same day. It's all about ones and sevens. There's the seven for animals, and there's the one. The prohibition on the one is on the same day you don't kill them, and the prohibition on seven is you can't touch them for seven days. The same way that all of our holidays have ones and sevens. The first day is holy, the seventh day is holy. Here too there is a first day that is holy for the animals, there's a seven days that are holy for the animals. The first day we don't kill them both on the same day, we can't do that, and you can't kill them for seven days. 

So again, just at the level of numbers, without even getting into concepts, it doesn't seem coincidental that shor oh chesev oh eiz is included in this list. It seems to be, at least at the level of numbers, another permutation of these ones and sevens. So it's very intriguing. 

So now the question is, conceptually, how do we link all these things? How does that really work? 

I guess, why don't we start at the beginning, as Julie Andrews once said. A very good place to start. So let's talk about shor oh chesev oh eiz. What is Shabbat-like about this? So let's think about Shabbat for a moment, think about why we observe Shabbat. So Shabbat is one of these things, you know, it's really scary because it's just such a common part of life. Often I'll just sit back and think, why do we observe this? But what are we really doing when we observe Shabbat?

Let's just think about that for a moment. What are we doing when we observe Shabbat? Anybody? 

Audience Member:  Well, there are two reasons. Ma'aseh Bereishit, to emulate the Creator, and the exodus from Egypt 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Okay. So we remember God as Creator, and we remember God as the one who took us out of Egypt. Okay, fine. So what do we do on the seventh day? We rest because God created the world, and He rested on the seventh day. Okay, fine. 

Audience Member:  Also consecrating time. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Okay. All right. So now let's just back up for a moment. I just want to ask a couple of theological questions about Shabbat for a few moments. We talked about some of these a couple years ago when we talked about Shabbat, but just to kind of throw them again. You have a kiruv Shabbaton coming up, so here are some questions -- 

Audience Member:  We need the answers.

Rabbi Fohrman:  We need the answers. All right, so here are some of the questions that kids on a kiruv Shabbaton might ask you about Shabbat, if they felt comfortable enough to ask you these questions and they had their thinking caps on. So they might say, put yourself in the shoes of a non-frum kid, kind of thinking about Shabbat. You'd say okay, fine. So we've got this idea. Let's say God created the world in six days, and He rested on the seventh day. So He decides that that's going to be a very special day, He was very happy, He rested. So then He's going to command us we should rest, too. That's how we're going to memorialize God having created the world. 

Let's just step back from this. What is strange about this picture? 

Audience Member:  Because you don't usually not do something to memorialize, you do something. You're proactive. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Okay. You don't usually not do something to memorialize, you usually do something. Even more so, specifically here, what are we memorializing? What are we testifying to? Aren't we testifying to the fact that God created the world? That is what we're testifying to. So now if you were making up your own religion and it was up to you to commemorate, on a weekly basis, God creating the world. You wanted human beings to just have some sort of symbolic way of doing something to commemorate God creating the world. If you were making up your own religion, give me a nice, creative, spiritual-sounding thing that you could do once a week to commemorate God creating the world.

Audience Member:  Cholent.

Audience Member:  (Inaudible 00:33:41) project. 

Audience Member:  I see it this way, because -- the reason is because you're stepping back and showing it -- 

Rabbi Fohrman:  All right, but you're giving it -- got it, that's the answer. But let's just understand the problem. The problem is that most people would say, the way you would memorialize someone creating would be by creating. If you wanted to say God created the world, so we do science projects and we would say, this is what God did. God did this science project. We take a globe, we make a globe out of papier-mâché. So every week you'd have to make a globe out of papier-mâché. So God creating the world, something like that. 

It's very strange to rest because God rested, to signify God creating the world. My great example of this is Rosa Parks Day. Imagine that we were to have a holiday commemorating Rosa Parks and then we say, what should we all do? We should all go home and take naps. Because Rosa Parks, after her very exhausting bus ride, she came home and she took a nap. So we, too, ought to commemorate her great civil rights ride, instead of marching onto buses and refusing to sit on the back and going around the city in some great, symbolic act like that, we should all go, we should all take naps to commemorate Rosa Parks day. This would not be a very inspiring way to commemorate Rosa Parks. 

So the best thing we can think of is that God took a nap on the seventh day? Anyway, why did God have to take a nap on the seventh day? Was He tired? If God is really an all-perfect, all-powerful being, so God can't have been so tired. So if He wasn't so tired, why was He resting? 

Now, what's strange about this is that if you listen to our prayers, the prayers actually proclaim Shabbat -- in this hyperbolic terms (inaudible 00:35:31), "atah kidashta et yom hashevi'i l'shimcha, tachlit ma'aseh shamayim va'aretz." Listen to these words. You made holy the Shabbat day, "tachlit ma'aseh shamayim va'aretz." The ultimate purpose, the zenith of the creation of heavens and earth. Now, that's like saying a vacation is the zenith? Like, your work is all leading up to the Alaska vacation? That's what it's all about? I mean, it seems to belittle the work a little bit, that it's all about vacation. 

So why is it -- you think it probably is about the Alaska -- but you know, you would think that the purpose of Creation would be Creation. The purpose of Creation wouldn't be so that you can take a break when you're done with it. Then don't bother in the first place, if you don't like creating. What is this idea? So how is it that we understand this? 

So I think the answer, to some extent, comes from -- if you look at the language of Shabbat in Exodus 31. "Sheishet yamim yei'aseh melachah u'vayom hashevi'i shabbat shabbaton kodesh la'Hashem kol ha'oseh melachah b'yom hashabbat" -- no, wrong one. I'm sorry.

Here. "Vayechulu hashamayim v'ha'aretz v'chol tzeva'am vayechal Elokim bayom hashevi'i melachto asher asah, vayishbot b'yom hashevi'i mikol melachto asher asah." Now, there's a subtle contradiction in this verse. Rashi points out the contradiction. "Vayechal Elokim bayom hashevi'i melachto asher asah," God finished on the seventh day the labor that He was doing. "Vayishbot b'yom hashevi'i mikol melachto asher asah," and He rested on the seventh day from all the labor that He did. 

Now, if he finished on the seventh day doing his labor, it sounds like what did He do on the seventh day? He was, like, finishing up the end of His labor. But if He rested on the seventh day from all His labor, it sounds like He spent the whole day resting. So Rashi is bothered by this question, what did He do on the seventh day? The first part of the verse sounds like He's finishing up labor. The second part of the verse sounds like He's resting. So what did He do? 

Rashi has an ingenious answer. Rashi says He did both. He actually rested the entire day, but He created something on that day. There was a final act of labor that He did. What did He create? He created rest. Now, that sounds like an ingenious answer, except if you start to think about it too long, it starts to not sound so smart because you think to yourself, okay, so you're telling me that God created rest on the seventh day? What's the problem with this notion? 

Audience Member:  Because it's still creation. Creation and rest are --

Rabbi Fohrman:  Rest is not a creation. Why? 

Audience Member:  It probably existed before He started working. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  All you need to do to rest, is what? 

Audience Member:  Not.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Stop working. That's not creating anything. Its essence is absence. I'm not working. I don't have to create an absence; I just have to stop doing. In other words, that's like saying God -- notice that in the beginning, God did not need to create darkness. God only created light and then separated between the light and the darkness. Why? Because all darkness is, is an absence. It doesn't have to be created. In the beginning of the world, it was all dark. That was absence. 

Nevertheless, if Rashi is telling you that God created rest, he's actually telling you something very profound about the type of rest that God created. God did not create an absence. You don't need to create an absence. He created something positive. It means there's an idea called positive rest. That's what God created. God created active rest. 

So now the question is, what is active rest? Proactive rest is different than just not working, which explains a lot about the way we observe Shabbat. Notice that we don't observe the absent kind of rest on Shabbat. It's not just like, oh, well, we'll just hang around. The type of rest we observe is a rest specifically from melachah. Melachah as opposed to avodah. Avodah is work; melachah is not work. Melachah is creative work, it's technological work, it's taking the world and molding it to suit our needs and our desires. Thirty-nine categories of melachah, that's what we rest from.

Why does a creator rest from that? Why would an all-powerful creator need positive rest? Why would that be seen as a creation, as an ultimate even act of creativity? His very last act of creativity is to create the rest, and that is the zenith, the end-state of the world. It must be, I think it's that for all the six days of creating, what was God doing? He was making and making and making. He was causing the world to become and become and become, to make it and make it and make it. 

What's the final stage of creation, for a creator?

Audience Member:  To finish the product. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  And then what? 

Audience Member:  To let it go on its own, to watch it. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  To let it be on its own, and then be in a relationship to it. That's it. If you never get to that stage, you're never done. Now, what's tricky about this is that the process of creativity, and this is what God knows and what God teaches us through Shabbat, is that the process of creativity is intoxicating. There's nothing like being a creator. It fills you with ego, with power, with everything. You are God in the world. You're making, you're doing. We all love it when we're creative. It feels like the best thing in the world. It's the most intoxicating drive we have. 

There's all kinds of creativity. There's intellectual creativity, there's artistic creativity. There's agricultural creativity, when we plant. There's sexual creativity, when we have children. But all of these things are very -- 

Audience Member:  That's why we have a brit on the eighth day. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  That's right, on the macharat hashabbat there. So the drive to create is always passionate, and almost always all-consuming, and almost always blinding. What you need to do, the blinding is that it feels so good to create, that you never want to stop. The problem is that if you never stop creating, what happens? 

Audience Member:  You don't get the relationship. You don't move to the next step. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  What also happens is that, think of the creator that never pulls back and never stops creating. Think of the artist who always needs to add another shmitchik to the painting. Think of the mother that even as she's walking the kid down to the chuppah, never really lets go. The problem is that if you never let go, you never get the final thing, which is that you create in order to make an independent entity that you can have a relationship with. But as long as you're creating, the entity is not independent yet and no relationship is possible because they're just an extension of you.

So all of life is a process of creating and pulling back, creating and pulling back. You have a child in your womb. You give birth to the child. The child is separate, but still not completely separate because you're nursing the child. But then you wean the child. Even if you think about the language of weaning, to be gomel. You normally think about to be gomel chesed. The kind of chesed we want is independent chesed, where we can allow someone to be independent and separate from us. But then even after you wean, they're still sort of dependent upon you. 

The most difficult piece is not just creating; it's being able to pull back and to be in a relationship with. As long as I'm not pulling back and the person is just a marionette, is an extension of me because I'm still fixing them. It feels good because I still have that connection, but I don't have that relationship of an independent being that I've created that I'm now in a relationship with. 

God says, learn from Me. You know what happened on the seventh day? On the seventh day, when I stopped creating, how do you think I felt? You might have thought I felt awful because I was all done, because I lost my baby, because I didn't have the world anymore. No, I was thrilled. It was the best. I made it a holiday for myself. The one insight that we have into God, very fascinating. If you think about it, if someone asked you, what is God like? What is it like to be God? We have no idea. The Torah doesn't tell us what it's like to be God. We never have any insight into God's world. There's only one part of the Torah where we get an insight into what it's like to be God -- it's Shabbat. 

All of the Torah is about our relationship with God. In other words, it's not a book of theology, the Torah. It's not like Saint Thomas Aquinas or The Heavenly City or Dante's Inferno or some sort of vision of celestial realms. That's not what the Torah is. The Torah is what it means for man to be in a relationship with God. It's not our business what it's like to be God, with one exception, with the exception of Shabbat. 

When it comes to Shabbat, we hear what it's like to be God. "Vayevarech Elokim et yom hashevi'i vayekadesh oto ki vo shavat Hashem mikol melachto." God was so thrilled with Shabbat, He made it a special holiday for Himself. He didn't even share it with anyone at that point, just for Him. This is what it's like to be God. That serves as an example for us with creativity, that God pulls back. God is so excited, this is tachlis shamayim va'aretz. He now has a world which actually isn't done because remember, there's place in man to then take the world further. Bread, there's no such thing as bread in the world. We have to make bread. There's just raw materials.

So the world is not done, really, but no creation ever is. What God says is that you're never done. I'm not even ever done. But the trick of being a creator is, somehow you have to learn to pull back even when you're not done. Let it be unfinished and independent and in a relationship with you, and trust it to complete itself. 

Audience Member:  Then Sunday comes, and you get to get right back in on Sunday. 

Rabbi Fohrman:  Then you get right back in on Sunday. So that seems to be Shabbat. Shabbat is the positive rest of if the six days are about becoming, about making, the seventh day is about being.

Audience Member:  On the seventh day you're not supposed to do melachah, which is creative work, so why is it such a mitzvah for pru u'rvu (be fruitful and multiply)?

Rabbi Fohrman:  Good point. Because seemingly -- this is actually a perfect segue. I didn't pay her to ask that question, but the point that you're pointing out is that Shabbat is not a be all and an end all. Shabbat is just a prototype. There are other Shabbats. So the type of Shabbat that the weekly Shabbat is, is specifically a Shabbat in the technological sense. It's a Shabbat in the sense of how we, as mankind, relate to creation around us. We are like gods in the world. God created the world through technological means. There was a Big Bang and then He started mushing stuff together and doing melachah and making things. 

Audience Member:  It could have just been sound. Aseret hama'amaros.

Rabbi Fohrman:  Yes, but the asarah ma'amaros did -- think about what God did. What did God do on the seventh day? Look at the words, vayavdeil Elokim bein this and bein that. Vayitzer Elokim this and that. God's taking stuff that is stuff, and making it into higher and higher forms.

Audience Member:  His words created action, that's what you're saying.

Rabbi Fohrman:  So it's through His words. But still, the effect is molding the world into higher and higher states of being, which is what we do through melachah. Maleches machsheves is when -- that's why melachah has to be maleches machsheves. There's no such thing as melachah without your mind. It's not a melachah to do things unthinkingly. It's only when I use my mind in connection with my ability to mold the world into what I want it to be, that's when I do melachah.

Okay. But there are other Shabbats too. So for example, there are different ways that human beings act like God. One way that they act in god of the world is technologically. We, like God, can mold the world to suit our needs, but it's not the only way we act God-like.

Another way we act God-like is through sexuality. Because we are the only animal -- in other words, if we're the only technological animal that uses our mind to mold the world, we're also the only animal, so to speak, that uses our mind sexually in reproductivity also. All of the other animals are just driven by instinct. They have no real ability to connect, to reflect, to understand. We're the only ones who make reproductive choices, really. We choose who we mate with, when, how. But that doesn't seem to be what Shabbat is about.

There's another expression of Shabbat which is about that, which maybe we'll talk about next week. That, I think, is milah. If you look at the language of milah, you'll find -- I'm getting ahead of myself. I don't want to talk about this now. It seems like Shabbat Bereishit is not about that. There are other permutations of Shabbat in the Torah that deal with sexuality, but let's leave that aside.

I'm just about out of time -- I am out of time -- but let me get to shor oh chesev oh eiz. Let's ask ourselves, what kind of Shabbat is that? I'll end with that. "Shor oh chesev oh eiz ki yivaleid v'hayah shivat yamim tachat imo," for seven days. Now, who is that Shabbat for? Listen carefully to the verse, and the verse tells you who the Shabbat is for. "Shor oh chesev oh eiz ki yivaleid v'hayah shivat yamim tachat imo u'miyom hashmini v'hal'ah yeiratzeh l'korban isheh la'Hashem." If you want to bring an offering, you can't touch the child for the first seven days. Shivat yamim tachat imo. Who is this Shabbat for?

Audience Member:  The mother.

Rabbi Fohrman:  It's for the mother. This is a Shabbat for the mother of this animal. It has to be seven days by this mother. Why? What's the whole point of giving seven days tachat imo u'miyom hashmimi yeiratzeh. What happens? Animals are different from humans. They attain independence much earlier than humans do. It takes kids 21 years to attain independence, and then maybe you're pushing it. But animals, seven days it learns to walk, it's off, it does its thing.

So what's the Torah really saying? The Torah is saying that there is a cycle of independence with animals, too. What is the whole point? The whole point is a creator brings something and works on it, and then at a certain point, lets go and allows it to be. What the Torah seems to be saying is, let's say you say to yourself that you want to honor your creator. You want to honor your creator through an offering. What does God say? God says, you can't do that. You can't honor your creator at the expense of another creator. Even in the animal world, you have to pay homage to the creativity of the animal world and recognize that as sacred, too. She has seven days with her calf. While she is nurturing that child, you can't interfere with that until she is ready to let go.

Mimacharat hashabbat, once she lets go on the next day, then you can bring this child as an offering to Me. But you have to respect that Shabbat cycle in the animal world. In other words, you can play God with the animal world. You have the power to be God, just as Shabbat is always about the power to be God. We have the technological power to play God in our world, but we have to pay homage to our creator. We also have the power to play God with the animal world, because what can we do? We can kill. We can raise animals and we can kill them. We have the power of life and death over the animal world. We're in a Godly position in this world.

Nevertheless, even in our position, when we, in our Godly position in this world, want to use the animal world to reflect, to say thank you to our creator, we can't do that by stepping on their creativity. We have to pay due homage, even to the mother that we can kill. It's sevens and ones, and there's a one, too. It is, "oto v'et bno lo tishchatu b'yom echad," you never kill a mother and a child the same day. Even though you can kill, you can't do that because that's disrespecting the cycle of creativity. You can disrespect motherhood. To kill the mother and the child on the same day is an avel, you can't do that. 

This is the way we express Shabbat with our relationship to the animal world. Then in the mo'adim there are other expressions of Shabbat. As we'll come back next week and see, I think, it's connected. There are different realms of the world that we connect to through Shabbat. One of them here is the animal world. Another realm that we connect to through the weekly Shabbat is the technological world, or the way in which we relate to the world and make something out of it technologically.

What realm of the world do we relate to through the mo'adim? I think it's agriculture. There are agricultural Shabbats. There's the plant world. The animal world is shor oh chesev oh eiz. The plant world is the Shabbat of mo'adim. We'll come back and explore that next week.

Subscribe today to join the conversation.
Already a subscriber? Log in here!