The Sabbath is first mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the “seventh day” when God rested “from all His work that He had done” and it is mentioned as the first object of holiness: “And God blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon He abstained from all His work that God created to do.” (Gen. 2:3-2).
From the very beginning, the Sabbath has been interconnected with a divine template that refers to concepts of counting, resting, blessing and holiness. Their significance, and the human commitment inherent in them stems from the fact that the Sabbath is considered a reminder of the Creation, a divine template of a hallowed time, in which humans participate as part of a complex model of identification requiring a giving up on rulership and subjugating the tangible to the abstract.
Their deeper meaning creates the basis for the Jewish religion which is based on a book, a number and a story (sefer, mispar, sipur), on the holiness of time, on a preference for freedom over servitude, on subjugating the visual to the oral commandment, and on giving up on sovereignty and rulership in matters of holiness.
The creation of light and darkness, the seas and dry land, the celestial bodies, the animal and plant world are beyond the limits of human creation. Their creation or existence is not dependent on humans. In contrast, their perception in language, their definition by letters and numbers, their classification, taxonomy, establishment of their moral template with relation to law and order that refer to the laws of heaven and earth and the laws of ethics and justice are all jointly shared by God and man and therefore aredependent on man’s response to the divine commandment.
Nature, which is infinite and eternal and is the source of life and fertility, does not have a language, letter or number. The story of the creation in Genesis links the creation of space by God and its definition in a language common to God and man with maintaining the divine cycle of time which is delineated by the profane and the holy, action and rest, sovereignty and giving up on it, all of which have been handed over to man.
The distinction between nature and culture is based on the distinction between seeing and hearing: we were prevented from taking part in the creation of nature, and we see and experience it with our senses (light, darkness or any ability to make a distinction that is dependent on senses, differences, contrasts and changes) and we are dependent on the sense of sight for our existence and are bound by its force to the world of action and emotion.
Yet, the divine order that we impose on nature through name and number, differentiation and cycle we perceive through our intangible sense of abstraction. The counting at the foundation of the story of the creation is not based on the seeing eye (observation) but on the hearing ear (thinking).
It is not a function of the eternity of nature and its continuity that is experienced with the senses, but rather it is a function of the mutual relationship of the spirit and from language common to God and man which is reflected in the book, story and number and from the principles of justice and ethics that are anchored in calculation and thought.
The seven days of creation are the foundation for the perception of the Jewish time, for the establishment of the basic distinction between the six days of the profane and the holy Sabbath, between work and rest, between the visible state of the tangible and the audible state of the abstract. The seven days of creation are the foundation for a holy cyclical counting that forms the basis for the distinction between work and stopping, between the process of creation which belongs to the profane days and the process of stopping which belongs to the holy, between servitude and freedom.
The day of rest of the Sabbath is juxtaposed with the memory of enslavement in Egypt. The weekday sphere is that which is ruled and subjugated by man which is given to his immediate, existential needs that are limitless and throughout the entire world of deed. The essence of holiness, with its various halakhic expressions, is withdrawal, resting, separation and stopping. The purpose of holiness is to limit the rule of the existential, subjugating needs and to delineate the human sovereignty which is based on physical force and existential need.
This angle of seeing aims to ensure resting, and release from deeds, work and servitude and to sanctify the freedom that is reserved for all humans as part of the divine vision of the Jewish community from the realms of servitude that has no limits.
This concept that sanctifies the Sabbath developed in the ancient world in which slavery was commonplace and in which slaves who had no rights tasted the burden of an existence without rights, without a fixed time for rest and a promise of release and freedom. Sanctifying the Sabbath means ensuring the preference of freedom over slavery in a fixed rhythm, and the preference of the Festivals of the Lord over “with the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” This perception sanctifies the superiority of rest, stopping and freedom every week, every seven weeks, every seven months, every seven years, and every forty-nine (seven times seven) years over slavery which man so frequently and speedily imposes on himself and on others.
The concepts of Sabbath, Resting, Sabbatical, Festival, Sabbatical Year and Jubilee are all connected with a holy pattern of sevens that links seven to oath (shevato shevua)and which best express the resting, stopping and yielding that man is demanded to do by the divine vision of justice, since man by nature tends to enslave himself and others to the existential needs. It is worth noting that in Judaism, holiness is defined as a concept of place, space or being that cannot be ruled over, or as a sphere that cannot be approached and ruled by man.