Do Your Things Own You?
So many people look at Genesis, Chapter 1 in Parashat Bereisheet, as a simple, fairy-tale kind of story. It’s the kind of narrative we teach in Early Childhood classrooms and have small children create lovely artwork around. For many people, it’s certainly not as compelling or “true” as the Big Bang Theory or the Theory of Evolution.
If that’s what you think, then take a look at this chart below.
As this chart demonstrates, what seems like a very simple Bible story is actually a very finely balanced narrative in which each day matches and corresponds to a later day of creation, building on the earlier creation and filling it in with more detail (from set to subset, from general to specific, etc.) Note that each creation in the first 3 days furnishes the resource to be utilized by the corresponding creature(s) in the second 3 days.
From this well-constructed pattern, we learn a key idea-- the creation of the world was not done at random; G!d created the world with purpose, forethought, and care.
In addition, we need to note another idea embedded in this narrative-- The world is designed for sustainable life (note Day 3: seeds, oxygen, light, etc.)
Why is this important?
Let’s take an example from our own life. When people do things for us with care and forethought, we feel nurtured and loved. We recognized that someone took the time to think about us and find just what we need—be it a present, a party, a favor, a find.
Thus, if we recognize that creation happened in a purposeful way (as the chart indicates), then we too can infer that God cares/ loves us, setting up this world to sustain life.
But this patterning also reveals another question for consideration:
If every day is paired, then what is the pair or match for Day 7?
Note that at the end of the story of creation, there's a 7th day of non-creation called Shabbat. It seems to stand alone, unpaired with other days, and at the apex of the entire story. What does that teach us?
The rabbis state that Knesset Yisrael/ the Community of Israel as the pair for the 7th Day? We Jews are the mate of the Sabbath- honoring it, loving it, celebrating it.
And it seems that Shabbat, in its singularity and uniqueness among the days, is also referring to another uniqueness- namely, G!D. Shabbat-- the singular, sui generis day-- points to the singular, sui generis Deity.
‘Rabbi, that’s nice,’ you might be thinking. ‘But so what? It’s just another day.’
What is so special about Shabbat, which literally means “Ceasing” or “Stopping” (from Creation), that it is singled out as the culmination of the entire process of creation?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said it best in his masterpiece entitled The Sabbath. Here are some quotes to consider:
“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord...”
Imagine how it would feel to focus on just “being” for a few hours rather than to constantly think about what I “need” to buy/possess? Imagine how it would feel to not be free of the eternal, every replenishing “to do” list, even for a few hours?
“Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things...”
“The Frankensteins of things”— what a great phrase!!! Doesn’t it sometimes feel like your things own you, rather than the other way around? That’s why we were given this day.
The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals... The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.
It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
As spatial beings, we have such a difficult time perceiving the spiritual side of ourselves and the world. Shabbat is effectively our time to slow down, pause, refresh and retune our souls.
If you don’t have a Shabbat practice, then simply decide to give yourself a set amount of time to begin to experience a Technology Shabbat. Don’t look at your phone. Don’t use your computer. Don’t spend money. JUST BE. Be with yourself. Be with your friends and family unmediated by distracting devices.
If you find that you are unable to wean yourself from them for even a few hours, then for your sake, ask yourself—Do you own your things? Or do your things own you? If it’s the latter, then you are in desperate need of some type of Shabbat.
So as we begin our New Year of 5780, please be kind to yourself and take advantage of the gift of Shabbat—whether it’s for an entire night and day, for just a night or a day, or just for a few hours. In today’s world, it’s not just only a mitzvah-- our souls and our bodies demand it!