Creation and Exodus: The Nexus

The Bible has no problem giving both cosmic and social reasons for Shabbat. Creation and liberation are tightly connected.

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To rest means to return to a state of nature, which is seen as loving, not "red in tooth and claw." For nature is where the earth grows peacefully as it wishes, without economic coercion, and the human community grows peacefully in natural clans and families, without institutional coercion. In this state of repose, the land and the community are directly in touch with each other: the land freely feeds the people without intervention by owners, masters, employers, or creditors, and the people freely "feed" the land without sowers, dressers, cultivators, or harvesters.

This is shabbat. It recreates the Shabbat of the beginning, the shabbat that seals the creation, because at that shabbat all was free, loving, and in the state of plenitude, sharing, and repose. For human beings and the earth to act in this way is most fully to honor and imitate the creator. And indeed for the creator to act again in this way--as in the liberation from Egypt and from every slavery--is most fully to repeat the act of creation.

Shabbat emerges from its cosmic place to dwell among the people Israel as the first step in the redemption of the human race from the curse of endless toil that ends the delight of Eden: "In the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread," says God to Adam; between Adam and adamah (literally, ground), between human and humus, "all the days of your life" there shall be agony and conflict (Gen. 3:17-19). But in the moment of liberation from slavery there rises up from its hidden cosmic place one day that will not be toil and agony: one day of rest, of Eden. To begin with, only one day--and only for one people. But it is because shabbat echoes the fullness of Eden that it also beckons us toward the messianic days when all days will be fully Shabbat for all peoples.

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Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow

Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow directs the Shalom Center and is the author of numerous books, including Godwrestling, Godwrestling--Round 2, Seasons of Our Joy, The Bush is Burning, and These Holy Sparks.