I like to think that God is an artist. The Ultimate Artist. After all, in the beginning, God creates.
For six days, God makes. On the seventh day, God rests. Six days a week, we go about our lives, taking care of the various tasks and duties at hand. On the seventh day, we are gifted a chance to be like God—to rest, as well.
Often, when I’m speaking with someone about being Shabbat observant, I get a response like, “Rabbi, I couldn’t do all that traditional stuff. It seems so restrictive.” Restrictive or freeing?, I always want to reply. We are busy being creative all week long, and Shabbat is an opportunity to stop to appreciate the art we’ve made.
When we look at the traditional prohibitions on Shabbat, we can see a single theme: The restrictions keep us from creating. In Mishnah Shabbat 7:2, our Sages outline 39 categories of activities that are prohibited on Shabbat. They include sifting flour, kneading dough, and dying wool, spinning thread, weaving fabric, and tying up the loose ends. Each of the 39 actions is a creative act. Come sundown on Friday our rest is all about stopping creation for just a bit. We don’t make fire, we don’t write, and we don’t build.
When we stop creating on Shabbat, we do it for ourselves, those within our household, and even for our land. Our tradition takes Shabbat seriously, and places that obligation to break from the workweek even on the land, itself. Our tradition treats the land as a creative being. Out of the soil comes fruit and life that sustains and nurtures us. Gardeners know that overworking the soil will exhaust it. The soil demands a break. The grower is creative, and after hard work, needs rest. And the rest of us, creators in a variety of ways, are no different.
Within Shabbat lies the message of why we create—for the sake of appreciation. When else would we stop to marvel at Creation?
The Ultimate Artist rests on Shabbat to look at the masterpiece that emerges out of a 6-day creative binge. On the seventh day, God takes a step back from the canvas to see what the entire painting looks like. We artists—to be at our best—need to do the same.