Our Weekly Reminder That God Is CreatorFebruary 21, 2022 - 12:00 am
Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day. — Exodus 35:3
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel, which means “assembled,” from Exodus 35:1—38:20.
When I was growing up, I have to admit, I didn’t always like all the restrictions on the Sabbath that we had to adhere to as observant Jews. From sundown on Friday to sundown Saturday, we don’t turn on or off lights, cars, or anything that uses electricity. We don’t cook, talk on the phone, or watch TV.
As a child, I used to wonder, “If the point of Shabbat is to prohibit work, why can’t I talk to my friends on the phone or put something in the microwave? Is that really work?” I used to bristle against such prohibitions.
But as I grew older, I not only began to understand the reason for this weekly cessation of work, but I also came to treasure it! When we stop working on Shabbat — specifically, mileklet machashevet, “creative work” — it is our weekly reminder that God is the true Creator of all things and Master over the world. It keeps our human role in proper perspective.
Our Weekly Reminder
Right at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, immediately after the prohibition of work on the Sabbath in Exodus 35:2, the Bible singles out one specific activity: “Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” Why was fire singled out? And does that relate to creative work — and to our modern-day concept of work?
Think about it. Fire is how we change the world. Look at any item around you, metal, plastic, or almost anything else. They’re made by applying heat. Without fire and heat, most of the man-made things in our lives would not exist. Electricity is the consumption of energy that leads to change. So modern rabbis taught us that just as fire is prohibited, so is electricity.
By refraining from actively using electricity, we honour God by holding back from changing the world on the Sabbath. As my beloved father, abba, IFCJ Canada Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of blessed memory, taught, “God is the ultimate source of being, creation, and human creativity. Man is to recognize that he is not God, although he is created in His image and likeness. Only God is LORD” (from How Firm a Foundation, p. 71).
Your turn: Carve out your own “Sabbath” time to refrain from “creative work” and honor God’s mastery over all things.