Binding contract

Binding contract

Bereshit | Genesis 1:1-6:8

Each Friday evening, we begin Kiddush with the concluding verses of the Creation story:

“The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.”

The Torah tells us what was created on each of the first six days, and Pirkei Avot adds that several more things were created bein ha’shemashot, during twilight at the end of the sixth day: “They are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach], the mouth of the well [that accompanied Israel in the wilderness], the mouth of the ass [that spoke to Balaam], the rainbow, the manna, the rod [of Moses], the shamir [a magical creature that cut the stones used to build the Temple], the characters [on the Tablets], the writing, and the Tablets. And some say, also the demons.” (Pirkei Avot 5:8)

These demons, mazikim, aren’t horror movie monsters, but Jewish demons who operate according to “union rules” governing the circumstances under which they are permitted to harm human beings. Moreover, they can often justify their behavior. There is a story in the Talmud (Hullin 105b) about porters who rested a barrel of wine they were transporting under a drainpipe. The barrel exploded. The porters complained to Mar son of Rav Ashi, who brought the responsible demon to court and asked him to explain himself. The demon replied, “What else could I do? They put it down on my ear.” 

In any case, the midrash B’reishit Rabbah tells us that bein ha’shemashot God made the demons’ souls, but before He could make their bodies, Shabbat began, and they were left as disembodied spirits. And so we learn that the demons try to hurt human beings because they are jealous that we were given bodies, and they were not.

It’s an amusing midrash, but it is also an incredibly powerful theological statement. Why didn’t God continue working and say, “I’m God, I can do whatever I want; the rules don’t apply to Me”? Or why not delay the sunset a few moments until He had finished the task?

But the sun set and God stopped working, even though He left the mazikim unfinished.

Why? Because God knew that in the future He would enter into a brit, a covenant, with the Jewish people. God said, as it were: We will enter into a covenant, you and I. You will be My people, and I will be your God. You will obey My commandments, and I will protect you and give you the Land of Israel. And just as you promise to abide by the rules you accepted at Sinai, I will also abide by the rules I have accepted.

There can be no covenant, no contract, if one party ignores or changes the rules whenever he wants. So God stopped working the moment Shabbat began because God wanted human beings to be His partners. God made the world unfinished, imperfect, to leave room for human beings. And each Shabbat we are reminded that each of us has a role in the ongoing work of creation.

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