B’reishit for Tots: Understanding the Day of Rest

B'reishit, Genesis 1:1−6:8

D'Var Torah By: Ellen and Peter Allard

Parashat B'reishit, Genesis 1:1-6:8

On the seventh day God finished the work which God had been doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work which God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation which God had done.

-Genesis 2:2-3

When a brand new baby comes into the life of a family, chaos tends to reign. While parents learn to adjust to the daily rhythms and fluctuations of their newborns' schedule, the hope is that their babies will quickly learn to adapt to the rhythm and structure that life serves up, with naps and feedings hopefully occurring on a somewhat regular basis. The waking up every few hours to nurse or take a bottle during the night will give way to sleeping through the night (one can hope!). This predictability is important for all parties involved!

Eventually, as babies grow, they learn to live within the patterns of a 24 hour 7 day week. If they attend school, they will ride on a bus or in a car at specific times in order to be in classrooms at specific times. They will eat breakfast and lunch and dinner at certain times. They will go to sleep at a certain time every night. They will be off from school at certain times of the year. And for sure, they won't wear white patent leather shoes past Labor Day!

This day-to-day living offers predictable patterns and provides a structure and framework for the precious time we have on earth. It helps us feel safe. As humans, we crave it–like moth to a light. However, while we thrive on predictability and patterns, something else is afoot.

In the 21st century, 24/7 living has gained momentum. It seems like we live an out-of-breath lifestyle. Go, go, go. Buy, buy, buy. Seek, seek, seek. Through the online marketplace, we have access to goods and commerce at every moment of the day or night. The boundaries that used to help keep our schedules in check are fuzzier than they once were. This couldn't possibly be entirely healthy, could it? Is it what we were meant to do? Is that what living life to the fullest means?

Let's take a look at this issue of 24/7 living from the perspective of Jewish time. What do Jewish people do with this daily marching of time? How can we distinguish one day from another? How can we turn off the "internet" of our busy lives?

The answer can be found by considering the concept of Shabbat which we first learn about in Parashat B'reishit. After creating day and night, heaven and earth, plants and trees, sun and moon and stars, fish and birds, beasts and people, " God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation which God had done." Genesis 2:3. So, you see, God actually STOPS the work, CEASES the labor involved in creation and sets down to rest for 24 hours. This is the essence of Shabbat: Stopping, resting and recognizing sacred time. Even though life in the 21st century has served us up a plateful of 24/7, we have the choice to get off the merry-go-round and take advantage of the incredible gift of Shabbat for us and our families.

The significance of this day of rest is not only the day itself but the recurring pattern it creates as it occurs every seven days. As we noted earlier, we begin life recognizing daily, then weekly rhythms and patterns. It is in our human nature to live by a rhythmic schedule and pace. It is also in our Jewish heritage to live by a rhythmic schedule with Shabbat being at the core of this pattern.

For young children, the introduction of the recurring nature of Shabbat is in sync with their natural inclination to recognize and find comfort in the patterns of their lives. A strong foundation of routine and pattern can free a child and allow him to explore, knowing that the familiar and predictable will always bring him back to the safe and sound.

With Parashat B'reishit, we find ourselves again at the beginning of the Torah reading cycle, another very significant pattern in Jewish life. Let us take the opportunity to rest, reflect and recognize yet one more way in which we can slow down and bring the beauty of Shabbat into our lives.

Questions and Ideas for Parents:

  1. How do you create routine and structure in your life? Do you find it helpful?
  2. How does the pattern of your child's routine (or non-routine!) affect you?
  3. Do you see Shabbat as a regular, weekly event that is helpful in establishing a predictable pattern? If so, how does it help?
  4. If you would like to establish a more predictable Shabbat routine, how might you start?

Questions for Children:

  1. What days do you go to school? Is this the same every week?
  2. What do you like to do when you celebrate Shabbat? Do you like to do the same things each time, or to try different things?
  3. How do you feel when things are different than you thought they would be? Like… when you usually have school on a Monday but then you have a day off?
Reference Materials

Pages 18-53 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.

Originally published: