Taking time out for Shabbat lets us reflect on our own creations

Exodus 35:1-40:38
I Kings 7:51-8:21

The essence of a story in the Midrash: Shabbat came to HaShem with a complaint. “Every other day of creation has a partner, except me. Won’t I get a partner too?” HaShem replied, “I’ll give you a partner too.” Shabbat asked, “But who will that partner be? There are an uneven number of days in creation!” HaShem answered reassuringly, “Don’t worry. One day there will be a nation called the Children of Israel, and they will be your partner.” And Shabbat was happy and comforted.

A sweet story, but rather unclear. What is this midrash talking about? Why do days have partners? Isn’t a day a unit unto itself, or else part of seven that make up a week? What does it mean that Shabbat is somehow concerned for the lack of a partner, and how are the Jewish people the answer?

One might think that the days are paired sequentially: that days one and two go together, days three and four, and so on. However, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch makes an alternative suggestion. He explains that the correct model pairs up day one with day four, two with five, and number three with number six. How does this help?

A closer look at the order of that which is formed during Genesis clarifies this insight. Day one offers the creation of light, and day four the creation of the sun, moon and stars that actualize the potential of the light. Day two consists of the creation and separation of sky and water, with the corresponding day five bringing life to the skies and oceans in the form of the birds and fish. Finally, day three marks the withdrawal of the waters to reveal dry land, and day six presents animal and human life to that land.

The pairings then follow a common thread of potential and actualization. Each of the first three days of creation offered a plain of existence (the concept of light, the skies, the oceans and dry land), and the next three days actualized their potential and brought it to life in the form of the heavenly bodies as well as aviary, aquatic and terrestrial life.

These pairings, however, leave out Shabbat. When Shabbat asks whether it will receive a partner, it is seeking actualization. The notion that there is a time to create and form and change the world, distinct from a time to pull back and reflect and see that world for what it is, is a worthy concept indeed.

There were six days of creative impact, of formation and of input into the universe. Shabbat was the day of allowing what is to be just that, and to remain unchanged for just a little while. But without a partner to actualize it, to bring it into the ongoing course of history, it would have been at best a memory. So HaShem pairs Shabbat up with the Jewish people, who will live the Shabbat weekly and bring it into life in a tangible way.

The Torah portions (it is a double parashah) of the week, Vayakhel-Pekudei, deal with only two subjects: Shabbat and the execution of the construction designs for the mishkan (tabernacle, the portable temple carried by the Jewish people through the Sinai Desert). The link between the two subjects is what comforted the Shabbat.

The mishkan was an incredible example of the range of human talent, the product of the creative efforts of an entire nation. The most talented minds, hands and hearts of the Children of Israel went to work to create a magnificent spiritual home. Our Torah portions describe a dizzying attention to detail: metal and woodwork, dyed tapestries and skins, color and shape as well as functionality.

That dazzling display of what we are capable of producing also became a symbol. It is classically seen as the Jewish people’s “universe created in six days,” from whose activities we rested forever after on the seventh day as “partners” to the Shabbat.

Rabbi Judah Dardik is the spiritual leader at Oakland’s Beth Jacob. He can be reached at [email protected] .