What is so vital about Sabbath observance, that a violator is punished with death? Why must Sabbath be a weekly observance, while all other holidays occur just once yearly? What exactly are we to learn from God's act of "rest", as the Creator does not tire?
Creation is remarkable. We live after the fact, rarely "recalling", as we are dominated by our emotions pushing us to conquer, amass wealth, travel, have families and entertain ourselves...all acts that direct our attention forward, not back towards Creation. Where we are "going", what we are "becoming": these attitudes and values inhibit our reflection on "what God did" so long ago.
And did God truly "will" the universe into existence, or is it as Aristotle opines, that the universe is to God, as a shadow is to man...an accidental, unwilled result? Maimonides teaches the following (Guide, book ii, chap. xxv):
"Owing to the absence of all proof, we reject the theory of the Eternity of the Universe: and it is for this very reason that the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research. For if the Creation had been demonstrated by proof, even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis, all arguments of the philosophers against us would be of no avail. If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory, the whole teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we should be forced to other opinions. I have thus shown that all depends on this question. Note it."
Maimonides – one of the most brilliant and honest thinkers of all time – explains that no rational proof exists for Creation or for the opposing view, the eternity of the universe. Thus, those seeking to arrive at some conclusion based on reason alone will "spend their days in research" never arriving at a conclusion. But we possess another means through which Creation is proved: Revelation.
Revelation at Sinai proved to the nation of 2.5 million people that the audible source of Moses' laws and the sound of the shofar blast upon Mt. Sinai were not of this Earth. For nothing intelligent and created can exist in fire – which is from where the intelligent voice on Sinai emanated...nothing but the Creator who governs all laws and is unaffected by His creations, by fire.
It is impossible that Moses, or anyone, could have fabricated a story like Revelation and successfully convinced any people to abandon their history and replace it with a fabrication. The fact the world possesses a singular account of the Jewish nation at that time is proof that Revelation took place. This is how we prove all historical claims: intelligible events witnessed by masses.
However, much of the Torah was not yet written at Sinai, since those events had not yet occurred. Additionally, many events like Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac were not witnessed by others, so how may we prove these to be truths?
Moses' face shined with light – a miracle – subsequent to his descent from Sinai with the Torah (Exod. 34:29). God would not have endorsed Moses via such a miracle, had Moses corrupted the Torah's text with his own ideas. This miracle of light was also witnessed by the nation, and not fabricated. Through this miracle, we learn that all that Moses transmitted and wrote in God's name, was true. The first matter Moses wrote of was Creation. It is through prophecy that we literally "know" that Creation is true, as God taught this to Moses (prophecy) as He taught all of the Torah.
Reason alone cannot conclude an explanation for the existence of the universe. But we do see more and more evidence for Creation, like the expansion of the universe, indicating an earlier point in time where all matter was centrally located and a gargantuan force caused the current speed of expansion.
Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible." He meant that for an existence – man – to possess the faculty of understanding the universe, is astonishing and incomprehensible. For nothing demands that any creature be able to reflect back on Creation and realize a Divine Mind at work. But, man does have this capacity. This is God's will. This is God's gift. Man did not have to exist. God – in His kindness – allowed a creature to exist that can reflect with intelligence and perceive truths, starting with the existence of the Creator. God desired that a creature exist that would enjoy studying wisdom. God made the universe in a manner that does not hide His handiwork, but overwhelmingly testifies to His existence.
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals Himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." Einstein describes himself as humbled when pondering God with his frail mind. He expresses appreciation or "admiration" for this ability.
God desired a creature to enjoy the greatest existence, and that translates into human discovery. Nothing fills our hearts with joy more than that youthful act of understanding.
And as the greatest life is only realized through engaging our minds as God deemed so, the Sabbath becomes the most primary of all commandments. Sabbath is the religious enforcement of a lifestyle that man will enjoy the most. Some few men like Abraham, King David, Aristotle, Newton and Einstein, on their own, recognized the pursuit of wisdom as the greatest enjoyment. But Torah is necessary to guide all mankind. A religious path must be set and enforced so the world benefits...not merely the few. And something vital is worth repeating. Sabbath cannot be celebrated once a year.
God's very act of "resting" teaches us that this inactive state is of great importance. It is this idleness that is the objective of Creation. The universe does not exist for itself, but for the onlooker to observe and realize God's fantastic abilities. The universe is a museum of God's greatness. God's rest is to be mimicked by man as He commanded. God desired that His creations be observed and studied and that man continues to unravel new truths at every turn. This will imbue man with great pleasure. Restricting physical activity once a week, we are thereby enabled to partake in wisdom and study. We are able to take another step towards understanding God. We are encouraged to attain greater happiness and fulfillment.
Our freedom to make choices – ironically God's gift to us – fools us into thinking we know better than God. The reason Sabbath violation is met with death, is because one has no purpose living, if he does not live as the Creator determined. Our objective as created, intelligent beings, is to engage that intelligence. If we do not use our intelligence, and instead select a life that is not in pursuit of discovery, we forfeit our right to life. Therefore, Torah punishes the Sabbath violator with death.
Sabbath is a weekly call to all mankind to reengage the pursuit of wisdom by studying Creation. God included this lesson with His concluding "act" of rest in Creation, as this is the objective of Creation. This explains why God not only "concluded" (va-yachulu) but the Torah then says God "rested" (va-yishbose). If God already concluded His work, His second act of "rest" is redundant...unless we understand rest to mean a positive state: not merely the absence of creativity, but a positive involvement.
This rest, is God's lesson to us that we too are to rest from creativity, and engage in the appreciation of the creation, and the Creator.