One ancient and ongoing philosophical question is: If God is perfect, and God created the world, can anything that God created be inherently bad? We all know that there is evil in the world, that there are things that appear to be bad. But when one takes the world as a whole, we realize that while the bad is usually unpleasant, difficult to understand and, in truth, terrifying, it is also necessary as a contrast to the incredible good we are given.

The commandment of Shabbat is linked to the phrase “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day.” On Shabbat, one effect of refraining from m’la’chot, (the 39 acts of creative labor that are prohibited on Shabbat because they were used to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness) is that one is constantly reminded that God continually creates the world and that the world He creates is whole and perfect.

The actions restricted by the m’la’chot are all actions that create change. It is interesting to note the similarity of three of these m’la’chot: winnowing (zoreh), sorting (bo’rayr) and sifting (m’raked). Winnowing is the act of throwing grains in the air to separate the wheat from the chaff. Sorting refers to removing something one does not want from among things one does want (picking bones from a piece of salmon). Sifting is running food through a vessel in order to hold back the unwanted particles.

While each of these m’la’chot is, in fact, unique when examined in detail, it is fascinating to note the obvious emphasis the Torah places on refraining from sorting out the bad from the good on Shabbat. Perhaps this is because classifying an item as “bad” might imply a flaw in God’s handiwork, and on Shabbat we take extra measures to celebrate the fact that God completed His creation of the world.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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