Parsha Va'ethanan



In the Exodus version of the Ten Principles, Commandments, the reason given for keeping one day a week devoted to God, is because in the creative process of the world God rested on the Seventh Day. Active creativity requires a counterpoint. The physical needs the spiritual to complement it. It is not just a matter of a negative day off work. Rather it is a different day. One devoted to other and spiritual pursuits. Creation is more than just making a world, a universe, it is concerned with using one’s potential to the full. Not to have it squashed by physical labor. But it also a statement that God made the world not man. And therefore, we should bring that Divine element, into our lives and appreciate it.

In this version we read this week the reason for Shabbat that is given is not Creation but instead, that we were slaves in Egypt. There we had no say in how to live our lives, no days to of a spiritual nature. Our freedom is not just a release. It has to be positive. To make more of ourselves. Not just cessation of work.

Do these two explanations contradict each other? I think they complement each other. People think it is just a matter of not working. But the Torah also says “Do not burn fire on Shabbat.” Fire in ancient times was the source of energy. It was east to obtain, through the sun and glass, carried in metal containers with glowing coals that were as convenient as matches today. Fire was not forbidden because it was hard work. We were no longer cavemen then. It was forbidden because it symbolized society.

Society can be overpowering. It can enslave us. In the way we are dependent, enslaved by electricity and technical gadgets and cars that all depend on energy to function. Shabbat commands us not be enslaved. To liberate ourselves at least once a week. To create a different society. A different atmosphere.

That is what freedom from servitude in Egypt and Creation have in common. God created the universe and requires of us not to be entirely dependent on the physical. In Egypt we were dependent, not free to choose the way we wanted to live. Both remind us that freedom comes with the obligation to live a life not based entirely on society and on dependency.