Eighth Day, First Day
Parashat Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1–15:33
Rabbi Russ Resnik
All of Creation is in need of redemption, as Scripture says: “. . . which God created to do.” (Sefat Emet)
Messiah’s resurrection on the first day of the week during Passover, which we recently commemorated, is the seed of redemption, the firstfruits of the resurrection to come (1 Cor. 15:20–23). The nineteenth century commentary called Sefat Emet, or “The Language of Truth,” sees the promise of this redemption established from Creation: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which God created to do” (Gen. 2:3, literal translation). The phrase “which God created to do,” according to this view, means that after God created all things, he began to do the work of redemption.
Sefat Emet goes on to note that human beings, created on the sixth and final day of Creation, have a share in this work of redemption. “The human was created last in deed, but first in the order of redemption. It is through humanity that Creation and redemption are joined together.”
On the sixth day, just before God entered the rest of the seventh day, he gave instructions to the newly formed human couple: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). After six days of Creation, the work was not entirely finished. Humankind still had the task of filling and subduing the earth. This process is part of the redemption to which Sefat Emet refers, not just redemption from sin (which hadn’t even happened yet), but fulfillment of all that God intends for his Creation.
In a similar vein, over three hundred years earlier, Sforno commented on Genesis 2:1. “‘Thus the heaven and the earth were finished’ . . . having reached the end purpose of existence in general.” That is, heaven and earth are not finished in the sense that there is nothing left to be done, but in that they express the purpose of Creation “in general.” And what is that purpose? Redemption, or Tikkun, “the restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).
In a conversation spanning centuries, Sforno and Sefat Emet agree on a point that has tremendous implications for us today. Creation holds within itself the seed of a new Creation. The completion of God’s original plan of Creation entails a new Creation, a spiritual rebirth for every human being. Thus, in Parashat Tazria, we read,
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.’” (Lev. 12:1–3)
The eighth day is the first day of new Creation. In Genesis, the seven days are the week of Creation, but here they are seven days of impurity, followed by an eighth day that designates a new beginning. This doesn’t mean that the “old Creation” is somehow corrupt and must be replaced by the new. Rather, the creation of the male child, which is in itself holy, reaches its fulfillment only on the eighth day, through circumcision. The holiness of Creation is elevated to a new level.
God gave the original instruction concerning circumcision, of course, to Abraham:
“You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days.” (Gen. 17:11–12a, NJPS)
Circumcision on the eighth day becomes the boundary that distinguishes the household of Abraham, which is joined to the Lord through covenant, from the rest of humankind. We might say that God creates humanity on the sixth day, as the culmination of his work of Creation, and then creates a new humanity on the eighth day through circumcision.
The eighth day is particularly significant because the newborn has completed a seven-day unit of time corresponding to the process of Creation. In like manner, Exodus 22:29 stipulates that the first-born of an animal is dedicated only on the eighth day after birth, and Leviticus 22:27 lays down that an animal is not fit for sacrifice before that day. (Nahum Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, Exodus)
The eighth day, then, is a day of new Creation that carries forward the purpose of the original Creation. Now we understand why the gospels emphasize the first day of the week in recounting the resurrection of Messiah.
After Shabbat, as the next day was dawning, Miryam of Magdala and the other Miryam went to see the grave. (Matt. 28:1, CJB)
In the evening that same day, the first day of the week, when the talmidim were gathered together behind locked doors out of fear of the Judeans, Yeshua came, stood in the middle and said, ‘Shalom aleikhem [Peace to you]!’” (Yochanan [John] 20:19, CJB).
The first day is the eighth day, the first day of redemption.
God himself accomplishes and guarantees this work of redemption, but he does so in partnership with humankind, ultimately embodied in Messiah himself. The eighth day reminds us that God created us not just to await redemption and certainly not just to await our “heavenly reward” in some other realm. Rather, we are to be active participants in the cosmic drama planned from Creation, a drama that reaches its turning point in the resurrection of Messiah.
Sefat Emet says, “It is through humanity that Creation and redemption are joined together.” We see this reality as the Son of Man, Yeshua the Messiah, brings through his resurrection on the eighth day. But do we see this reality in our own lives? How do we participate as human partners in Tikkun, restoration of Creation, even today?
Adapted from Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life’s Journey from the Five Books of Moses (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2006).