Shabbos and Other Creatures

"Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it." (Exodus 20:8)

On Friday evening, just before the meal, we chant the Shabbos "Kiddush" - blessing of sanctification. The Shabbos Kiddush opens with the following verse: "The heaven and the earth and all their host were brought to their destined completion" (Genesis 2:1). One of the classical commentators, the Ramban, explains that the "host" of creation includes all creatures and plant life on earth. The Hebrew word for "host" is tzava - a group assembled and united for a common purpose. The Midrash on our verse therefore explains that this verse is conveying to us the following message: All forms of life serve the Divine purpose, even those creatures that a human being may feel are not needed, such as "flies, fleas, and mosquitoes" (Genesis Rabbah).

Dear Friends,

On Shabbos - the sacred Seventh Day - we are called upon to demonstrate that we are not the owners and sovereigns of all the creatures which serve the Divine purpose. The following mitzvah - Divine mandate - can serve as an example:

"Six days shall you do your tasks, and on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey 'yanuach' - will have restful contentment" (Exodus 23:12).

The Hebrew word "yanuach" is related to the word "menuchah" - rest and contentment. According to a midrashic commentary known as the "Mechilta," the word "yanuach" is teaching us that in addition to resting from physical work on Shabbos, our animals are also free to go into the fields and graze undisturbed. For as one sage explains, "On Shabbos, our animals are to have contentment of the heart" (Be'ar Yitzchak, a commentator on Rashi, cited by Sha'arei Aharon).

Hashem the Compassionate One - has given us a mandate to allow our animals to experience rest and contentment on Shabbos, and in his commentary on this mandate, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:

"On the Seventh Day, the human being refrains from exercising his own rule over any of Hashem's creatures and humbly subordinates himself and his world to the Creator. While he observes the Shabbos, the Shabbos teaches him to respect every other creature alongside himself, as all are equal before Hashem, and all are His children. This dismantling of the human being's rule over all creatures is one of the objectives of the Shabbos - the day on which the human being shows homage to Hashem - so that the animals who work and bear burdens should have rest from working for the human being."

On the Festival of Shavuos, which begins this coming Sunday evening, we celebrate the giving of the Torah, and we read on Shavuos the passage where the Compassionate One proclaimed at Mount Sinai, "All the earth is Mine" (Exodus 19:5). We also read the Ten Commandments which were proclaimed at Mount Sinai, and they include the following Divine mandate:

"Remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it. Six days shall you serve and do all your creative work; and the Seventh Day is a Shabbos to the Compassionate One, your God. On it you shall not perform any kind of creative work - not you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, or your animal; nor the stranger within your gates." (Exodus 20:8-10).

On Shabbos, we do not exercise our dominion over the animals; for on this sacred day, we proclaim the following message: "To the Compassionate One belongs the earth and its creatures, the inhabited land and those who dwell in it" (Psalm 24:1 Targum).

I live in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, and this past Shabbos, I was reminded that all of our people have the potential to proclaim the message of Shabbos. At the joyous service welcoming the arrival of Shabbos, there were a group of students from "secular" kibbutzim in Israel who had come to experience the holistic harmony of a traditional Shabbos. And with great enthusiasm, they joined us in singing the Hebrew words of the following passage:

"The heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice; the sea and its fullness will roar. The field and all creatures within it will exult; then all the trees of the forest will sing with joy - before the Compassionate One, for He will have arrived, He will have arrived to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and peoples with His truth." (Psalm 96:11-13).

Have a Good Shabbos, and a Joyous Festival.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision