Vayar Elohim Ki Tov. And God saw that it was Good. Veheyi erev vayehi boker. And it was evening. And it was morning.
That is how each day of the creation narrative concludes: And God say it was good; there was evening and there was morning; the first day. And God saw that it was good; there was evening and there was morning; the second day.
But there is something different about the last two days. For each day of creation, it says Yom Echad, the first day. Yom Sheni, the second Day. Yom Shelishi, the third Day, etc. But, once we get to the sixth day, the day that humanity was created, the Hebrew specifies, Yom HaShishi, adding in the prefix of the letter Hey, which means ‘the.’ But doing so also personalizes the noun. This definite article here, and again with Shabbat, referred to as Yom Hashvi’i, the seventh day, signifies that there is something special, something different, about these days.
These days signify the uniqueness of the creation of humanity, but also an understanding of our responsibility, as humanity, to be God’s partners and take responsibility for this world — to finish completing this broken and incomplete world that God set out to create. And Shabbat celebrates our relationship with God, and our promise to be God’s partners. At first there was only darkness in the world. But God creates light and then separates out the light from the darkness. The definite Hey reminds us to be the light in the darkness, to be the light unto the world.
The Babylonian Talmud, in Shabbat 88a, suggests the same idea but in different words. It clarifies that the Torah says Yom HaShishi because it is referring to a specific sixth day. The Talmud suggests that it refers to the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, when tradition teaches revelation happened at Sinai, when the Torah, scripture, was revealed. Rabbinic tradition concludes that after humanity was created, the Torah needed to be given in order from humanity to have purpose, to do what is good and what is right, to strive to make the world a better place.
We need ethics and values to guide us. We are lost without a guide to tell us what is right. But we are also lost without leaders who strive to do what is right. The world is broken when corrupt and crude leaders and their cronies ignore the same values given to all of humanity, which tells us to love the stranger, to love our neighbor, and to care for the most vulnerable. And we are lost when we stop standing up for what is right and stop realizing our responsibility in not only living our lives based on those values, but being God’s messengers — not just God’s partners — and sharing those values with the world.
Upon completing each day’s work, God said it was good. But on the sixth day:
v’et kol asher asah v’hineh tov me’od. And God did all of this and it was tov me’od, very good.
That is our ability. That is our responsibility. That is our obligation. And that is our burden. We have the ability to create a world that is much better than the one that currently exists. We have the ability to create a more just society upholding Torah and its values. But only if we are guided by ethics and values that inspire us to stand up for what is right.
Mishnah Avot explains that there is a whole list of things that God created at the conclusion of the sixth day, right at dusk, as the sun set, before Shabbat began – listing the miraculous unexplainable parts of Torah. This also serves as a rabbinic reminder that creation wasn’t complete once humanity was created. Rather, once humanity was created, we were then given the responsibility to complete this world, to finish building it. The question then that we must ask ourselves is what will we build? Will we sit on our hands, and let a society be built around us that seems antithetical to the same Torah given on the sixth day of Sivan during revelation? Or will we build a world that mirrors the Utopian idealism of the Garden of Eden – one based on peace and equality? It is our task to finish creating the world. Now let’s get to work!
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky