What's Special About Sabbath? Part II
Chapter 5, Mishna 8(b)
By Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
"Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are: the
mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators] (Numbers
16:32), the mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the desert], the
mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Balaam] (ibid., 22:28), the rainbow, the
Manna, the staff [of Moses], the shamir worm, the script [of the Torah], the
inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments], and the Tablets. Some
say: also destructive spirits, the burial place of Moses, and the ram of our
father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of Isaac] (Genesis 22:13). And
some say, also tongs -- which are made with tongs."
Last week we discussed the concept of the Sabbath in general and its unique
nature as compared to the workweek. This week we will complete the
discussion and begin to describe the equally unique nature of the items of
our mishna -- created as they were during the transition from mundane to sacred.
As we discussed last week, the Sabbath is not only a day of rest. It is a
day of harmony. G-d spent the Six Days of Creation molding and forming the
world, acting upon it to bring it to a finished state. When the Sabbath
arrived, G-d "rested". The meaning is that G-d no longer had to "create": He
no longer had to exert His mastery and force His mark on the world in order
to make it function. All the world's components were complete and in place.
G-d had only to leave the world in its natural state of perfection, allowing
all its parts to function together in peace and harmony.
This progression is reenacted weekly with the Sabbath. During the week man
must toil: he must alter the natural world -- plowing, harvesting, building,
manufacturing -- to transform the world into a habitat worthy of man. When
the Sabbath arrives, we are reminded that in essence (and in actuality in
the End of Days) the world as created by G-d is perfect. We need not and may
not perform any acts of creation, interfering with the natural order of the
world in any way -- even with so trivial an act as picking a flower. The
world reverts to its perfect state, ready to serve and sustain man as is.
Acts of creation are no longer necessary; all exists in peace and serenity.
There is one more concept we must add to the above (also based in part on
_Sabbath -- Day of Eternity_ by R. Aryeh Kaplan). The more perfect and
complete an object is in this world, the more it is a reflection of G-d.
"Perfect" and harmonious creations reflect and attest to a perfect and
unchanging Creator. Further, the more a physical object (or time period)
reflects sanctity, the more it becomes aligned with sanctity and acts as a
conduit for it. Thus, physically-complete creations, in attesting to G-d's
glorious handiwork, become spiritually charged as well. They allow spiritual
forces to flow unobstructed from the heavens, infusing and energizing the
physical world with spiritual vitality.
Thus, the Sabbath, in addition to being a time of physical beauty and
harmony, is a time of great spiritual potential as well. It is a time when
the physical and spiritual worlds becomes aligned. On the Sabbath the world
is not only in harmony with itself; it is in harmony with G-d as well.
This is evident in the Sabbath observance. We celebrate the Sabbath
physically with cessation from work, fine clothes and feasting. But the
Sabbath is much more than that. Physical revelry is accompanied with
increased spiritual devotion. We begin the evening and day meals with the
Kiddush -- special verses and blessings sanctifying this day. More time is
spent in the synagogue, in study and in prayer.
And this is the uniqueness of the Sabbath. It comprises both physical and
spiritual enjoyment, yet on this special day they coexist in complete
harmony. During the workweek they may well conflict -- the more physical you
are, probably the less spiritual you are -- but on the Sabbath they
complement. Physical and spiritual all merge into one magnificent whole,
serving as a reflection of the one all-encompassing G-d of heaven and earth.
We can now begin to understand the sanctity of the objects of our mishna,
created immediately before the Sabbath. My teacher R. Yochanan Zweig
(www.talmudicu.edu & www.torah.org/learning/rabbizweig) explained that these
items were in essence "Sabbath" creations. They were not just supernatural
objects. They were physical entities which existed in complete harmony with
the spiritual realm. Through them, spiritual forces would be focused and
directed uninhibited earthwards. Theoretically, these objects "should" have
been created on the Sabbath. Yet since G-d ceased acts of creation on the
Sabbath, He created them immediately prior. And they would be reserved for
times and places in which G-d would reveal His truth and justice
unrestrained to mankind, allowing them to pour forth in ways the world would
never ordinarily see.
We can now examine the objects of our mishna more closely. The well and the
Manna of the desert were used by G-d to provide Israel with physical
sustenance. Their needs were supplied instantly and directly from the
heavens -- without intervention of natural processes. Moses' staff was used
to perform many of the plagues in Egypt and the miracles of the desert.
Through it, heaven-sent spiritual forces were channeled earthwards, meting
out G-d's justice in sudden and marked fury. The mouth of the earth which
swallowed Korach as well as the mouth of the donkey which rebuked Balaam too
were instruments of G-d's exercising and speaking for immediate justice.
The rainbow is almost a quirk of nature. The focusing of such breathtaking
beauty in such vivid display is a clear sign of G-d's handiwork and
handwriting. The rainbow can be said to represent the breaking down or
conversion of light -- the most spiritual and ethereal of G-d's creations --
into its more basic components -- the various colors of which it's composed.
It thus represents the link between the spiritual spheres and the physical
world -- the breaking down of spiritual forces as they traverse the worlds.
We explained earlier, in Mishna 2
(www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter5-2.html) that after the Flood
the link between the spiritual and physical worlds lessened. G-d designated
the rainbow to represent that the alignment was still there, yet the
spiritual light of Heaven would be filtered, so to speak, down to the level
The shamir was a type of worm which produced a highly corrosive substance.
The Talmud writes that it was used to hew stones for the Temple's
construction or engrave inscriptions on the stones of the High Priest's
garments (Sotah 48b). It used a force which emanated directly from G-d, and
was used in the construction of the Temple -- the structure which enabled
G-d's Divine Presence to dwell in the physical world.
Space does not permit me to dwell on the final examples in detail -- each of
which of course deserves a class of its own. Conceptually, however, the ram
of Abraham represents the spiritual force which directs the stages of human
history. The Sages tell us that one horn of the ram was blown at the
Revelation at Sinai, while the second will be blown at the arrival of the
Messiah (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31). Thus, the ram represents the spiritual
mission of Israel -- from birth to nationhood to salvation -- as imprinted
upon the march of history.
The words of the Torah and their inscription upon the Tablets served as
physical manifestations of the spiritual force of Torah, enabling physical
man to build a relationship with an infinite G-d.
The grave of Moses was a physical place possessing unique spiritual
dimensions. The Talmud writes that the place is impossible to reach in this
world, and that when Roman soldiers were sent to find it, to the soldiers
below it appeared above and to the soldiers above it appeared below (Sotah
14a). R. Yochanan Zweig explained that from this place Moses, at the end of
his life, was able to view the Land of Israel and see future events as they
actually occurred. It was a place unconstrained by the physical universe --
in which this most perceptive of human beings was able to exist beyond the
bounds of time.
Finally, tongs deserve an honorable mention -- if nothing else because they
make an interesting diversion. :-) I don't know if they too represent a
merging of physical and spiritual realities, but they address one of those
logical dilemmas which has plagued man throughout the centuries. It takes a
pair of tongs to shape a second pair over the fire. Who made the first one?
Did the first blacksmith torture himself for the benefit of the future of
mankind? It too could have only been an act of G-d -- not during the Six
Days in which He created the natural world, but as a special gift to allow
man to get on with the task of living and prospering in the world we know.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org.