Wait. What? Bereshit? Genesis? The first book of the Torah? We’re “in” Shemot now, aka Exodus. You know…leaving Egypt, THE Exodus?
Yes, it’s true, the parasha we read this week is B’Shallach, in the book of Exodus. In this section, we read the famous “Song of the Sea”, Shirat Ha Yam, when the Israelites crossed over the Sea of Reeds, traveling through safely on dry land, ahead of the the pursuing Egyptians who drowned in the water. Safely on the other shore, the people burst into song, led by Miriam the prophetess (and Moses’and Aaron’s sister.)
But scattered throughout this section are “Genesis” language and images. For example
“vayolech Adonai et ha-yam” And God split the waters (Ex 14:21) just like the waters were divided in Genesis, on Day 1. In fact, lots of things were divided in the first few days of Creation: light and darkness, evening and morning, heavenly water and earthly water, land and water, separating day from night with stars, moon and sun.
“erev…boker…erev….boker” Evening, morning, evening morning ( Ex. 16:6, 8, 11, 13). Each evening/morning couplet in Genesis means a new day. In Exodus, the text says, “By evening you shall know it was God who brought you out…and in the morning, you shall behold the Presence”; [God] will give you meat in the evening and bread in the morning”; “in the evening quail appeared…in the morning, there was dew”. Evening, morning, evening, morning.
Long before the Ten Commandments were given, and Shabbat was established, we read that the manna that covered the ground each day for the Israelites to eat would come in daily doses –just enough for that day. But on the sixth day, there would be a double portion, and on the seventh day, they were not to gather manna; it is called “a day of rest”
So, why all the Creation language? There is another creation going on here, again made possible by God, but this time it’s the creation of a people, not a universe. Something new is being born here, something is starting over. From an intimate God-experience, coming down through the three generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through to Joseph, it is now an entire people, descended from common roots, but divided into tribal branches. The family has become a nation. Herein is the eternal toggle between the universal Creator God and the particular Israelite God.
The Friday night prayers that welcome Shabbat reflect this balance between the two, also. There we read that God , “…cherishes us with the gift of Shabbat, a reminder of Creation. It [Shabbat] is first among holy days, a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt” Why the link between these two pillars of Jewish thought and tradition?
Rabbi Elliot Dorff suggests this: Shabbat makes us recall the days of Creation, the work that had been done, and that God rested from that work on the 7th day. As newly liberated slaves from Egypt, whose work was imposed, and continued non-stop, we are reminded to rest, that we are not slaves anymore.
Indeed, Shabbat gives us that moment, that parenthesis in the week, to take a look at what we are enslaved to during the week, and free ourselves from that, if even for a little while. How we do that takes many forms, from a traditional observance of Shabbat from sundown to sundown, to grabbing..no, allowing for…. some quiet time, or family time. The uniqueness of Judaism is that we are given a pause button, one that balances us on a point between the grandeur of Creation, and the creation of a people for whom liberation is brought to a level of grandeur each week. This balance, between these two seminal moments of life, Creation and liberation, give us the stability around which to build our lives.