God Rested

Moshe Ben-Chaim & H. Salamon

“And the children of Israel shall guard the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath for all generations, an eternal treaty. Between Me and between the Children of Israel, it is a an eternal sign, that [in] six days God created the heavens and Earth, and on the seventh day He ceased and rested (Exod. 31:16,17).”

On verse 17, Ibn Ezra comments:

“The explanation of a “sign” (os) is that in six days God created. And behold, one who performs labor on the Sabbath, he contradicts Creation. And the Torah speaks in man’s language so listeners will understand, and so, [Torah] says God “rested.” For God does not tire or become weary. For behold His creations, that are the heavy bodies, the stars and planets of heaven, eternally revolve day and night. And certainly as the heavy bodies, the stars and planets do not tire, moreso, the Creator of everything, Who dwells eternally, and existed eternally. And His acts are not through [His] motion. Rather, all He performs is through His word [His will].”

Let us appreciate the problems and understand this fundamental. Ibn Ezra teaches that one who labors on the Sabbath, contradicts Creation. But as Creation was completed billions[1] of years ago, how can anyone today “contradict” Creation? What this means requires an understanding of what a “sign” is.

A sign, is that, which through proximity in space or time, identifies a thing’s significance, like a landmark, a highway sign, a badge, or a date. How is Sabbath a sign “between God and Israel”? 

The Jew’s role is to spread God’s fame in the world for all peoples to benefit from His knowledge, just as the Jew benefits. And the most primary concept a Jew can share, is that the universe has a Creator. For this concept is what we mean by “God.” Proclaiming the existence of God, means to proclaim a single Cause of the universe. That God is also kind and merciful, are not as crucial as knowing that all things owe’s their existence to a single Being. For a thing’s existence is its most primary feature. 

This is the significance of God’s Sabbath. By not laboring while all others do, the Jew stands out from the other nations. As Maimonides states, when we are asked why we cease our labors, we explain that we are mimicking the Creator, who too rested on the seventh day. With our deviant behavior, we act as catalysts to bring awareness of God to all others. We act as a “sign” to Creation, and thereby, a sign to God’s existence. If however we violate the Sabbath, we prevent other peoples from learning the Torah truth of Creation. This is what Ibn Ezra means that we contradict Creation when not observing the Sabbath.

Ibn Ezra continues to clarify that God cannot “rest”. From the stars and planets that never cease, he proves God’s inability to tire or grow weary. How is this a proof? He means that as the spheres do not propel themselves, but require God to move them, and as the spheres do not cease, we infer that God who propels all stars and planets, does not tire. Ibn Ezra then explains that we must not think God propels the spheres through any motion of His own. It is all through His will, or His word. And we know God does not have to act on a physical entity to manage it, from Creation itself, where He created everything without acting on any other existence. For nothing else existed prior to Creation.

So what DOES the word “rest” (vayinafash) mean, if not that God required rest? And what more can God do by resting, after the verse states that He already “ceased” (shavas)? 

Rest means that although God ceased from Creation, He added another dimension to that cessation. Ceasing is a negative…God “stopped” something He was doing. Resting, however, means God gave this inactivity a positive designation. Meaning, through His rest – not His inactivity – on the seventh day, God expressed that “rest” from Creation was a goal, not merely the lack of creation. Rest, means that cessation from physical creation is a preferred state. Thereby, God highlights physical inactivity as a good. How is it good? It is in this state when one’s mind can engage in studying God’s creations. When active, one’s mind in preoccupied. But when at rest, one is free to ponder the universe, as God indicates is His plan. By stating not only that He ceased labor, but also “rested”, God calls our attention to this inactivity as a true value. God’s intent in creating a universe with astonishing systems and creatures, is in order that mankind have that which he can reflect on to discover a Creator. And the marvels scientists find astound them. 

God made a treaty with the Jewish nation to observe the Sabbath. This is one sign. The Jew also bears his circumcision as a sign of God’s selected nation: Bris Milah too is called a sign. And a third sign is Tefillin. Tefillin are a sign of the Torah, as Tefillin contains Torah portions and are ordered in the same order as found in Torah. So Torah’s three signs concern the following: 1) the most primary concept of a God of Creation via Sabbath; 2) the teachers of this concept (the Jews via Bris), and 3) the relationship is via Torah (Tefillin). Interesting is that we do not wear Tefillin on Sabbath. Perhaps this is to indicate that although Torah is the method of adhering to God and proclaiming His fame today, this was not always the case. There was a preferred state prior to Torah, when Adam, Noah and Abraham discovered God from the universe alone, displaying the innate capacity of our intellect. Therefore, on that day that commemorates Creation, we do not wear Tefillin. For Creation is superior to Torah in our discovery of God…the Creator[2]. The world contains all that is necessary to arrive at truths regarding God, and compared to Torah, it offers this knowledge in a more direct form of reflecting a Creator, through creation.


[1] The age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years old. This age is based on evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the radiometric ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples (Wikipedia). The Jewish calendar date of 5775 is from Adam’s formation and forward. Therefore, there is no contradiction with Torah, nor does Torah command man to believe what is false, nor to believe in the date of 5775 as the age of the universe or of the Earth.

The 6 “days” of Creation were not 24-hour periods. Rav Chaim Ozer Chait explained: “The facts that you see light from a star 10 million light years away, reveals that the universe must have existed at least that long, in order that this starlight reached your eyes. In other words, it takes 10 million years for that star’s light to travel to Earth, where you are standing. Thus, the universe is at least 10 million years old based on this relatively small distance. 

[2] Rambam, Yesodei HaTorah 2.2