The Power of Purposeby Rabbi Jacob Rupp September 30, 2016
Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. By the seventh day G-d completed His work; so on the seventh day He rested. G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He abstained from all His work of creating that He had done.” Genesis 2:1-3
Shabbat is fundamental to Jewish life. It’s the great vaccination Jews have against getting lost in the shuffle, in favor of keeping proper perspective and mindfulness. More than Jews keeping Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews. Why?
From the Torah we see a strange paradox; It says G-d finished creating. But then it mentions that G-d abstained, which means He stopped working but there was more work to be done. Somehow this act of abstention wasn’t just a stop, but an action in and of itself. This was such an action that G-d blessed the day He did it above all other days.
The power of Shabbat is the lesson that life is meaningful because we have a mission – a mission that requires us to work daily to create. We create our families, we create ourselves through what we learn, how we eat, what we do with our bodies. We create jobs, and we create opportunity. The world is one of action. But the action has a point. And the point is to stop creating. The point is to recognize that we are both actors and bystanders. By stopping creative action one day a week, we can create an awareness that the world is outside of our hands and outside of our control. The world was here before us and will be there after us.
This awareness is the greatest gift one can internalize about life. In one breath, it means that our actions do matter. They really matter, because they are ours. The world isn’t the same without us. If I don’t perform today, create today, do what needs to be done today, I missed my moment in creation. But on the other hand, there is a world beyond me. G-d exists beyond me. It’s His world and I’m just an infinitesimal part of it. That means it’s all going to be ok. All the pain in the world, the missed opportunities, the events that seem so hard and pointless…they are all orchestrated. Part of something so much bigger than us.
We need to live our lives with this awareness. We are obligated to work and grow till our last breath. To build the world, make it better, and contribute our unique gift that is in us. We must express ourselves. But then we have to realize that we don’t need to do anything at all to be valuable and important. G-d expresses His love for us not for what we do but who we are inherently. Intrinsically He loves us. Even when we stop working, He keeps us around. Not only that, He praises us more! Imagine being loved for you, not for what you do. Think of the security, the freedom. It’s already ours. To get there, us accomplished people with our impressive resumes, need to say to G-d “It’s Your world, I trust You to handle the details on a macro and micro level and trust that You know what You are doing. I just work here.”
In a world of action, it is hard to see beyond yourself and what you personally impact. It’s easy, in a world without Shabbat, to see life as nothing but cause and effect. The world becomes a cold, calculated, dead place. Conversely, in a world of no action, you don’t matter. You exist but on no merit of your own. So G-d gave us Shabbat. He built a world, but then He rested, and by resting created the space for blessing. We can become partners with G-d if we see our actions as significant, but take the opportunity to stop working and to contemplate that there is a primary, bigger world beyond us.
Rabbi Jacob Rupp is director of NCSY San Diego. He can be reached at email@example.com.