“Who Knows Ten?”
The Torah portion of Bereishis speaks about the creation of the world. All of creation came about, as the Mishnah states in Avos, as the result of ten Divine utterances. Indeed, continues the Mishnah , creation could have resulted from a single utterance, were it not for G‑d’s desire to offer mankind more opportunities for reward and punishment.
So significant is the number ten — “the complete number” — that the Mishnah enumerates other times the number occurs, such as the ten tests of Avraham and the ten miracles performed for our forefathers in Egypt.
But why does the Mishnah fail to mention that the Torah itself was given in Ten Commandments? Our Sages note, after all, that the ten Divine utterances of creation correspond to these Commandments!
The significance of the number ten lies in the fact that G‑d, having brought about Creation through ten utterances, thereby imbued the world with a nature such that ten units signify a complete state, corresponding to the ten supernal Sefiros from whence the material universe emanates. The number ten is thus considered a “complete number” because it signifies a complete state.
However, this in no way implies that G‑d found the number ten to be an indispensable characteristic of completion; it is merely that G‑d chose the number ten to indicate completion. G‑d could have employed a different number of supernal Sefiros , and thus a different figure — corresponding to that number of Sefiros — would signify completion.
The relevance of the number ten to the Torah’s Ten Commandments can be understood accordingly:
The Midrash states that the Torah served as G‑d’s blueprint for creation. Understandably, this blueprint contained all of creation’s parameters, including the fact that its state of completion finds expression in the number ten.
Thus, the fact that the Torah was given in Ten Commandments is not a function of this number per se. Rather, the opposite is the case: ten is “the complete number” only because the Torah was given in the form of Ten Commandments. This in turn led to a universe that finds fulfillment through the number ten.
Hence, the Mishnah could not possibly list the Ten Commandments as one of the things reflecting the consummate state of ten, for the fact that the Torah was given through Ten Commandments does not serve to indicate the complete state of Torah. Rather, because the Torah contains the aspect of ten — the Ten Commandments — the importance of the other things enumerated in the Mishnah is established.
But even though G‑d decided that the number ten would constitute a completed state within creation, He is in no way limited by this. For inasmuch as G‑d defies any and all limitations, He is not limited even by His own actions, and can create things whose states of completion do not find expression in the aspect of ten at all.
This is similar to those miracles that change the ordered nature of existence; although the world obeys the “laws of nature,” it does so only because, and only for as long as, G‑d desires it to do so. He can just as easily suspend these laws in order to perform miracles. Thereby G‑d amply demonstrates that even after He has established the rules by which nature operates, He is by no means limited by them.
This concept is indicated in the Mishnah when it states that the world need not have been created with ten Divine utterances; it could have been created with only one. The Mishna speaks not only of G‑d’s ability to create the universe with one utterance, but informs us that even after He created the world using ten utterances, He is still entirely capable of changing the rules.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Bereishis 5747
Creation — A Lesson in Time Management
In telling the story of Creation, the Torah relates that “G‑d finished on the seventh day His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”
In commenting on the words “G‑d finished on the seventh day,” Rashi notes: “Rabbi Shimon says, ‘A human being can never be sure of the exact time, thus he must supplement the holy [day of Shabbos] by adding to it from the mundane [weekday]. G‑d, however, who knows His exact moments and seconds, can enter into it [Shabbos] by a hairbreadth.’ It thus seemed as if the work was concluded on that day.”
Rashi goes on to give another explanation: “What was the world lacking? Tranquillity. When Shabbos arrived, tranquillity came as well. The work was then concluded and complete.”
To indicate a tiny amount of space, the term “hairbreadth” is appropriate. However, a phrase like “the blink of an eye” seems more applicable when one is speaking about a minuscule unit of time. Why does Rashi use the former expression rather than the latter in explaining that G‑d labored on the seventh day for only “a hairbreadth”?
“A hairbreadth” describes something so inconsequential that it is not perceived in and of itself. A single strand of hair is so fine that it is almost invisible; it is only when many hairs are close together that they can readily be seen.
Rashi therefore uses the expression “a hairbreadth” to explain that G‑d’s “labor” on the seventh day cannot be construed as prohibited work. For when “everything was [already] done on the sixth day,” the labor done on the seventh was but “a hairbreadth,” i.e., were it not for the absolute completeness of the work done on the sixth day, the seventh day’s “labor” would not have been discerned at all. This is indeed “labor” that is permitted on Shabbos.
The following question, however, begs to be asked: Granted that labor of a mere “hairbreadth” is permitted on Shabbos, why was it necessary for G‑d to labor so long and hard that He entered even “a hairbreadth” into Shabbos; why not complete it all on the sixth day?
This was done in order to teach man a priceless lesson concerning the value of time: As long as an individual has the opportunity to fulfill the purpose for which he finds himself in this world, he is to do so to the best of his ability and until the last possible moment.
For “G‑d created nothing without a purpose.” Each and every thing which G‑d created — including every iota of time and space — has a purpose. If G‑d grants an individual a measure of time for the fulfillment of Torah study and the performance of mitzvos , and the person does not make full use of it, this unused time — be it only a twinkling — is considered wasted.
The preciousness of every moment is emphasized to an even greater degree by Rashi ’s additional question: “What was the world lacking ? Tranquillity. When Shabbos arrived, tranquillity came as well. The work was then concluded and complete.” Until the actual arrival of Shabbos and the concurrent “hairbreadth” of labor, all that had been achieved was considered “incomplete” and “lacking.”
This teaches us that using every moment wisely and well is so crucial that if an individual has occasion to do but another “hairbreadth” and wastes the opportunity, he is lacking completion in all those aspects of the work and service which he has fulfilled until then.
When all our moments, like G‑d’s, are so precious that none of them are wasted, when all are filled with positive accomplishments, then, like Him, we are able to enjoy the tranquillity that comes from knowing we did our best.
Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. V, pp. 24-34.