“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Thus the Torah begins its narrative of God’s creation of the world. It is an account of God’s power over nature: God commands, and things come into being – light and darkness, heaven and earth, stars and planets, the sun and the moon, the seas and the land, vegetation and animal life, and finally man. But next, the Torah gives us a totally different perspective of the creation: “This is the story of the heaven and the earth in their creation, on the day the Lord God made earth and heaven” (Ibid. 2:4). The account that follows this statement makes no mention of the creation of the heavenly bodies, and it glosses over the early history of the earth. Instead, it skips quickly to the role of man on earth and his relationship to God.
Besides the difference in content of the two chapters, there is also a difference in form. The creation narrative in the first chapter refers to the creator by the name Elokim, which generally is rendered into English as “God.” The Hebrew name Elokim denotes power or authority, but it also connotes God acting through natural law. However, in Genesis 2:4, quoted above, the Torah for the first time refers to the creator by the name YHVH (rendered into English as “the Lord”), a name that connotes mercy. (See my commentary on Va’etchanan – posted on 23 July 2009 – for further discussion of these two names of God.) Thus, in the creation narrative that begins with Genesis 2:4, the inversion of the order from “the heaven and the earth” to “earth and heaven,” and the use of the name YHVH, highlight God’s relationship with His creations, and specifically with humankind. The two creation stories complement each other: the first being a God’s-eye view of creation, whereas the second creation story is told from a human perspective, omitting those details that do not fall within our ken.
The God’s-eye view of creation ends with the Sabbath day, the day that God sanctified as the culmination of His creation (Genesis 2:1-3), the day that recalls God’s creation of heaven and earth (Exodus 20:8-12), in commemoration of which we are to cease from our labors in imitation of God. This is the view of the Sabbath presented at the end of the first creation narrative (Genesis 1:1 through 2:3) and in the first version of the Ten Commandments. However, just as the two creation narratives differ in their perspective, so too do the accounts of the Sabbath day differ in the two versions of the Ten Commandments. As stated above, the first version of the Ten Commandments, presenting the reason for the Sabbath from a God’s-eye point of view, tells us that the Sabbath commemorates God’s creation of heaven and earth. But the account of the Sabbath in the second version of the Ten Commandments, though equally God-given, views the Sabbath from a human perspective. Instead of basing Sabbath observance on a remembrance (zakhor) of the creation, the second version of the Ten Commandments bases the Sabbath on the formative event of our history: we are to remember that we were slaves in Egypt, and we are to observe (shamor) the Sabbath day as a commemoration of God’s redeeming us from bondage. (See Deuteronomy 5:12-15.)
Thus we see how the Sabbath day is the mirror of creation – the creation of the world and the creation of the nation of Israel. It exists simultaneously in two worlds – the world of God and the world of humankind. And, through its citizenship in both worlds, the Sabbath is a link connecting us to God and giving us a taste of the world above.
© Copyright 2009 by Ben Roshgolin. All rights reserved.