Shabbat and Creation

In this block we will consider the connections between Shabbat and the Creation of the world.

Resource Ages: 15-18


Shemot 20:8–11

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. 

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

But the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. 

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ.

שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ.

וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַה’ אֱ-להֶֹיךָ לאֹ תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ.

כּיִ שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה ה’ אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ אֶת הַיָּם וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּם וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל כֵּן

בֵּרַךְ ה’ אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ.

Shemot 31:12–17

And the LORD said to Moses:

Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the LORD have consecrated you.

You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin.

Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.

The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time:

it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

וְאַתָּ֞ה דַּבֵּ֨ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אַ֥ךְ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ כִּי֩ א֨וֹת הִ֜וא בֵּינִ֤י וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם לָדַ֕עַת כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם׃

וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֔ת כִּ֛י קֹ֥דֶשׁ הִ֖וא לָכֶ֑ם מְחַֽלְלֶ֙יהָ֙ מ֣וֹת יוּמָ֔ת כִּ֗י כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה בָהּ֙ מְלָאכָ֔ה וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מִקֶּ֥רֶב עַמֶּֽיהָ׃

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ יֵעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֧ת שַׁבָּת֛וֹן קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַיהֹוָ֑ה כׇּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֧ה מְלָאכָ֛ה בְּי֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת׃

וְשָׁמְר֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֑ת לַעֲשׂ֧וֹת אֶת־הַשַּׁבָּ֛ת לְדֹרֹתָ֖ם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם׃

בֵּינִ֗י וּבֵין֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל א֥וֹת הִ֖וא לְעֹלָ֑ם כִּי־שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֗ים עָשָׂ֤ה ה’ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבַיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י שָׁבַ֖ת וַיִּנָּפַֽשׁ׃

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Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How can my actions make time sacred?
  • How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behavior?
  • What are the factors that move individuals / communities / nations to great sacrifice and what are the consequences?
  • How do Jewish cycles shape our lives?
  • What makes time holy?
  • Why are holidays, rituals, and customs important to me, my family, and my community?
  • How do values and tradition impact my Jewish practice?
  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
  • How can I experience moments of connection to God?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What does it mean that God rested? Does God need to rest? 
  • In what manner are we called upon to imitate God?
  • What does it mean that Shabbat is a “sign”? What does the sign say/express?
  • What values are contained in Shabbat observance?
  • What message is inherent in Shabbat observance? Who is this message for?
  • What personal benefits can there be to Shabbat observance?
  • What relevant and contemporary ideas are contained in the ancient practice of Shabbat observance?

Background for Teacher

Shemot 20:8–11 Shabbat in the creation story in Bereishit: IThe creation narrative that appears in Bereshit chapter 1 concludes with the first three verses of Bereshit chapter 2. In the three opening verses of chapter 2 the focus is  on the seventh day, the...

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Shemot 20:8–11

Shabbat in the creation story in Bereishit: IThe creation narrative that appears in Bereshit chapter 1 concludes with the first three verses of Bereshit chapter 2. In the three opening verses of chapter 2 the focus is  on the seventh day, the Shabbat. On the seventh day, God finished the work of Creation, blessed the day, and declared it קדָושֹׁ (kadosh), a word translated as “holy,” and in this context seems to mean “set apart”. Shabbat is set apart by God. Although the human was told in Bereshit 1 that they were the pinnacle of Creation and it is for them to fill the earth and subdue it, the Torah limits their freedom to act in multiple ways. With Shabbat, God tells the Jewish people, that while they were given six consecutive days in which to engage with the world, there is one day, the seventh day, in which their ability to engage with the world in some sense has been restricted even more.

Keeping Shabbat to recognize and emulate God: But Shabbat in Shemot is not just about the restrictions of the Shabbat. Yes, there is a sense that Shabbat is not a day for labor and for “all your work,” terms that need to be defined. However, Shabbat is not about remaining passive either, for as God set the day apart as a special day, Shemot instructs to “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” If the Jewish people are to be partners in Creation with God, then by setting Shabbat apart to make it a special day, not only are they emulating God, they are also partnering with God.

What is more, by discovering how to emulate God through six days of engagement with the surrounding world, on the seventh day, one should discover how to emulate God by limiting that engagement with the surrounding world, just as God did on that day. And the more one succeeds in keeping that seventh day apart and different from the other six days, the more one adds קדְ ושּׁהָ (kedushah, holiness) to that day.

God models the value inherent in shabbat for us: The idea that these verses are speaking about emulating God, a key concept in Judaism known as imitatio dei, the human attempt to model God’s behavior (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah 14a). Applying the concept of imitatio dei to Shabbat, God “rests” on Shabbat not because God needs to take a break due to exhaustion or weariness, God takes a break in order to model what God wants Jews to do – or not do – on Shabbat. In that sense, scholars explore the meaning of Shabbat to gain a better sense of God’s intent behind the observance of Shabbat.


Shemot 31:12–17

Shabbat and the Jews have been set apart: This text introduces the idea that as Shabbat is kadosh, a day set apart, so too are the Jews a people set apart – “I the LORD have consecrated you.” By observing the day that was set apart from all the other days of the week, the people are offered a reminder that they are a people set apart from all the others. What is crucial in these verses is not that the Shabbat and that the Jews are set apart, but who it is that sets them apart. God has set this day and this people apart, and by observing the Shabbat and the other rules of the Torah, the Jews emulate God by maintaining this distinction.

Shabbat as a sign of faith: This text refers to Shabbat as a sign twice, in verses 13 and 17. What does Shabbat serve as a sign for? One can read these verses as indicating that Shabbat serves as a sign for two purposes – one, that the Israelites are set apart by God, and two, that they are to be reminded that God is also the Creator of the universe. By keeping Shabbat the Jews are signalling (using shabbat as a sign) that this is their belief. Reminding the people of God as Creator is important because if God put them on earth to “fill the earth and master it” (Bereshit 1:28), they may forget themselves and take the idea of their being masters too seriously, forgetting God in turn. Therefore, the Torah limits their ability to engage with the world through varied means to remind them that God is Creator and true master of the universe.


Rabbi Noah Weinberg, Shabbat – Heaven on Earth

Shabbat reminds us that the universe belongs to God: Rabbi Weinberg expands on the theological statement reflected by Shemot – that by not manipulating the world once a week as they do the rest of the week, Jews both remind themselves and all of humanity that God is the only one who owns Creation. Humanity might be the pinnacle of Creation, God may have given human beings the mission of mastering the universe, and even allowed them to use it for their benefit, however, the universe still belongs to the Creator.

Making space in our week for spirituality: Weinberg understands that the work one engages with during the course of the week is absorbing enough, or tiring enough, that it has the potential to keep a person away from exploring matters of the spirit. “While it is true that we can get in touch with God and spirituality during the week, . . . [we] have to fight off the influences of the mundane workday in order to break through to the spiritual.” By demanding from the Jew that on Shabbat no labor, no work be done, it frees the individual to allow themselves to tend to the spiritual, otherwise it frees the individual to allow themselves to tend to  intellectual and spiritual growth and not be bogged down by material pursuits.  Even more, by demanding that no work be done on Shabbat, Shabbat is in a position to almost force the individual to tend to the spiritual.


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Shabbat is a day of ecological consciousness

An experiential tutorial in environmental ethics: Using language familiar to us living in an age where we are all too aware of the pressing ecological issues facing humanity, Rabbi Sacks frames shabbat observance as a weekly experiential tutorial in the values that encourage us to live environmentally sustainable lives. He writes in another place, referring to both shabbat and other biblical laws such as the sabbatical and jubilee years “Though we must exercise caution when reading twenty-first century concerns into ancient texts, there seems little doubt that much biblical legislation is concerned with what we would call nowadays ‘sustainability’”

Shabbat is a day that sets limits to human manipulation of nature and restrains the pursuit of economic activity. This leads to a heightened sense of being creations rather than creators. While we are permitted (and in fact according to the creation story in the first chapter of Bereishit, encouraged) to have dominion over the earth for six days every week. But on the seventh day we hand dominion back to the real owner of the universe. Shabbat is a weekly reminder of the integrity of nature and the boundaries of human striving.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities

The tranquility of planet earth vs. the bustle of humanity:

    • Using Google Earth, either projected onto the smartboard/screen, or individual students on their own devices (or in small groups), ask your students to zoom in to their current location, using the icon in the bottom right hand corner. 
    • Then ask them to slowly zoom out. They should continue to do this until they can see the entire planet Earth on their screens. Allow them to spin it slowly to see the continents they can recognize. Ask the students to notice how tranquil and peaceful it looks.
    • Then ask them to type into the search bar a big city they would like to visit. When they press enter Google Earth will take them there. Then ask them to zoom in as much as it allows them to and explore the city to try and get a sense of the buzz and excitement of a busy metropolis. 
    • Come together as a class and reflect on the contrast between the tranquility of the earth and the business of the great cities they visited. Explain that in this block they will be exploring how one of the themes of Shabbat is to take a day a week out of the business of the human race (emphasis on race!) to take a step back and become a part of the environment, with a responsibility  to protect it, and in what manner can we restore tranquility and in what way does Judaism guide us to balance these two realities?

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

The first two sources present shabbat from the book of Shemot, in the context of the Ten Commandments, and the building of the Tabernacle. Both these sources focus on the connection between shabbat and the creation of the world. The first gives us the concept of imitatio Dei (emulating God) and the second describes shabbat as a ‘sign’. The following questions may help to explore these themes with your students during a classroom discussion:

  • What is the connection between shabbat observance and the creation of the world?
  • According to the first source, what specific reason is provided to observe shabbat?
  • Did God “need” to rest? If not, then why do you think God rested after creating the world? 
  • Why are we told to do something because God it too?
  • In the second source shabbat is described as a ‘sign’? What does that mean? A sign for what?
  • If shabbat was a sign that had words on it, what would it say?

The two main messages of shabbat according to Rabbi Weinberg are that shabbat reminds us we are not the owners of the world with a free hand to manipulate it to our will, and secondly shabbat gives us space in our week for spirituality in a way that we would struggle to find during the work week. These questions could be used in a class discussion to explore these main points:

  • According to Rabbi Weinberg, what does shabbat remind us each week?
  • How does shabbat do this?
  • Why do we need this weekly reminder?
  • If this is the case, do you think we are permitted according to the Torah to show any ownership over creation, and to use the world’s resources for our own benefit?
  • Why is shabbat more conducive to spirituality than the rest of the week?
  • Can you think of any traditional shabbat activities that lend themselves to this?

In the final source in this block, Rabbi Sacks drives home the ancient ecological message inherent in shabbat observance that resonates with us in our contemporary times more than ever. The following questions could be used for the basis of a class discussion on this source:

  • What are the implications of being created rather than creators?
  • Can humans consider themselves both? How can we strike a balance between the two?
  • Why should we be “guardians of the universe”?
  • How does shabbat make us aware of “the limits of human striving”?


  • The message of these texts lead to a practical need to become ecologically aware and proactive in protecting the environment. As a project based assignment to conclude this block, you could ask your students to create a project in your school community to protect the environment that is in some way linked to the themes of shabbat. 
  • Ask your students to increase their environmental awareness on the upcoming shabbat. Whatever their shabbat observance is, instruct them to take on one extra element of environmental practice to help protect the environment (e.g. if they normally use transport on shabbat, ask them to refrain for the following shabbat. Or if they are halachikally observant of shabbat, but sometimes use disposable plastics, ask them to refrain.) They should journal about their initiative, including reflecting on the importance, impact and how they felt after taking on thai extra level of environmental activism.