(Isaiah 40:27- 41:16)
November 8, 2003
What can people know about God? Obviously, our understanding is limited. Even when the Torah gives us an indication of God’s nature, an intimation of how He works, we are not quite sure what to make of it. This is true even with passages in the Torah which are basic to our relationship with God. For instance, when the Torah tells us, in the Ten commandments: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 20:11), in what sense are we to understand the idea that “God rests’?
Eighteen hundred years ago, our sages pondered this same query, challenging this idea with verses from our haftarah: “ ‘And God rested’ But does God get tired. Doesn’t it say in Isaiah: ‘God, who created the ends of the world, does He become either faint or weary?’ (Isaiah 40:28) It also says: ‘God gives strength to the weary.’ (verse 29) Elsewhere it also says: ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made’ (Psalms 33:6) [Since He created the world by fiat there would seem to be no need for Him to become weary.] How then can the Torah say: ‘And God rested on the seventh day?’ Rather, as it were (kivyahol) [The Sages often use this term, when they know that they are on theologically speculative ground.], God allowed it to be written about Him that He created the world in six days and rested, as it were, on the seventh day. Therefore, if God, who never becomes weary, allowed it to be written that He created His world in six days and rested on the seventh, how much more so should people, about whom it is written: ‘But man is born unto trouble’ (Job 5:7), rest on the seventh day. (adapted from Mechilta d’Rabbi Ishmael Bahodesh 7)
This midrash asserts that God allows Himself to be described in such a way that His behavior will be a paradigm for human behavior. The description of His actions is true in an educational sense. It provides human being with an operative pattern showing how to behave in order to serve God and also how to have a better life. It also seems to say that if we really want to know God in a real sense, we must follow in the ways that He has set forth for us.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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