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Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar/Bechukosai: The seventh day, the seventh year and seven times seven
"And in the seventh year there shall be a complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for G'd." "And the seventh day shall be a Shabbat for HASHEM your G'd." The song Kol Mekadesh describes two levels of observance of Shabbat. The mere fact that someone observes the Shabbat is a testimony to his belief in G'd as the Creator of the world. If we analyze our lives with an objective mind, we would clearly see that we need G'd's protection and Divine assistance. When the Jewish people observe the Shemitah every seven years, culminating with the Yovel after forty nine years, we put our trust in G'd. Just as we find a weekly cycle of seven days and a Shemitah cycle of seven years, we also find that this world as we know it will exist for a cycle of seven thousand years. The fiftieth year after the seven Shemitah cycles, referred to as the Yovel year is a hint of the great Yovel, a time that even Moses was not privy to understand. We fulfill the Torah commandment to remember Shabbat every day of the week. The Beis Din would count the years and the Shemitah cycles towards the year of the Yovel. Just as the Yovel year represents our ultimate purpose in the World to Come, so does the yearly Festival of Shavuous, the day we received G'd's Torah, represent our ultimate purpose as we can achieve it in this world.
In the beginning of the first of this week's two Parshios, G'd tells Moses to speak to the Jewish people about the laws of the Shemitah year and instructs him to say to them (Vayikra 25:2-4): "When you come into the land that I am giving you, and the land shall rest a Shabbat for G'd. For six years you shall sow your field … and gather its crops. And in the seventh year there shall be a complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for G'd."
Rashi quotes from the Toras Kohanim (1:2) that the expression "a Shabbat for G'd" is similar to the expression we find concerning the weekly day of rest, where it says (Shemos 20:10): "And the seventh day shall be a Shabbat for HASHEM your G'd." On our weekly day of rest some people might just relax with the intent to be refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to start the new week and their daily work schedule. Although such a person does not desecrate the Shabbat, and for sure would be rewarded, nevertheless he is missing the spiritual dimension of Shabbat that elevates it to a "Shabbat for G'd."
Two levels of observance
We find reference to this in the song Kol Mekadesh that many households sing at the Friday night meal. In the very beginning of this song it says "Whoever sanctifies the seventh day as befits it, whoever observes the Shabbat according to the law, refraining from desecrating it, his reward is very great according to what he did". Says the Chofetz Chaim, this describes two levels of observance of Shabbat, for there is a big difference between the one who just keeps himself back from desecrating the Shabbat versus the one who utilizes the day of rest as a spiritual experience.
However, the mere fact that someone observes the Shabbat is a testimony to his belief in G'd as the Creator of the world. As it says (Shemos 31:16-17): "And the children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat … it is a sign forever that in six days G'd created heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested." The Shabbat observer further shows his complete trust in G'd, and that he is aware that he totally depends on G'd to make a living. This is how he is able to stay away from his business and employment for a whole day even when times are difficult. Such a person exemplifies the famous saying: "The One Who provides life provides sustenance."
G'd's protection and assistance
If we analyze our lives with an objective mind, we would clearly see the truth of this saying. Who is it that enables us to breath? And Who is it that takes care of our health, enables us to eat and make use of all of our senses? Who is in charge of our bodily functions extracting the nutrients from the foods and getting rid of the excess waste? For all of these we need G'd's protection and Divine assistance. This is why we thank G'd and make a blessing before and after we eat. We also show our appreciation to G'd and make a special blessing when we have been to the washroom. If for all of this we are totally dependent on G'd, is it not obvious that in our making a living we should also put our trust in G'd, rather than our own involvement? And if so, it goes without saying that we cannot see real success if we desecrate the day G'd instructed us to rest. The fact that we see Shabbat desecrators succeed in their businesses and otherwise is deceiving, for the truth is that these people are receiving a payoff in this world at the expense of the real reward in the World to Come.
Trust in G'd
This is what the Toras Kohanim means when it compares the seventh year of Shemitah to the seventh day of Shabbat. For when the farmer leaves his land barren for a whole year, he also exhibits a strong trust in G'd and shows his belief that G'd created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. The Shemitah observer further shows that he understands that G'd is the real Master of the land, as it says (Tehillim 24:1): "The earth and its fullness is G'd's." He has given it to man, as it further says (ibid 115:15): "The Heavens is a heaven for G'd, and the earth He gave to the human beings" and permits us to utilize and benefit from everything on earth according to His instructions. As always, G'd pays measure for measure. When the Jewish people observe the Shemitah every seven years, culminating with the Yovel after forty nine years, and thus put their trust in G'd, G'd promises (Vayikra 25:18): "And you shall dwell in the land in security."
Cycles of seven
The Ramban in his commentary on this week's Parsha explains that just as we find a weekly cycle of seven days and a Shemitah cycle of seven years, we also find that this world as we know it will go through a cycle of seven thousand years. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 31a) explains that the world will exist for six thousand years after which there will be a thousand years in a different format. The Talmud further explains that this is the deeper meaning of what it says in the chapter of Tehillim (92) that we say every Shabbat, "a song for the day of Shabbat", which was already recited by the Levi'im in the Temple. However, the rest of the chapter does not seem to refer to Shabbat. The Talmud explains that this chapter is a reference to the seventh millennia, the World to Come, which is called the "Day that will be entirely Shabbat and rest for eternal life" (see end of Mussaf service on Shabbat, after Ein Kelokeinu). Says the Ramban, when the Shemitah observer sanctifies the seventh year he not only confirms his belief in the creation of the world, but also in the World to Come.
The great Yovel
Similarly, says the Ramban, the fiftieth year after the seven Shemitah cycles, referred to as the Yovel year (see Vayikra 25:10-13) is a hint of the great Yovel, a time that even Moses was not privy to understand. As the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 21b) says, 'Fifty gates of understanding were created in this world. All of them but one was given over to Moses." The fiftieth gate, corresponding to the Yovel year, provides the understanding of the ultimate purpose of all of Creation and no man is able to fathom this in this world. This may be the deeper meaning of what it says (Shemos 33:20): "And He [G'd] said, 'You will not be able to see My face. For no human can see My face and live.'"
The days of the week do not have their own name in Hebrew but are called the first, second, third day, etc. This is a short reference to what we say every morning at the end of our prayers: "Today is the first day towards Shabbat, the second day towards Shabbat, etc." The Ramban explains that by using these names for the days we fulfill the Torah commandment to remember Shabbat every day of the week. This also introduces a spiritual dimension into the weekdays, as it indicates that the daily involvement in our mundane matters are not a purpose in itself but rather a preparation to the Shabbat, and the spiritual values represented by Shabbat.
Count forty nine
Later in this week's parasha it says (Vayikra 25:8), "And you shall count for yourself seven years of Shabbat, seven years seven times ... forty nine years." In the time of the Temple, when the majority of the Jewish people lived in the land of Israel, the Beis Din would count the years and the Shemitah cycles towards the year of the Yovel. This was a constant reminder for all inhabitants of the land of Israel that G'd is the real Master of the land. As it says (ibid 23): "For the land is mine, for you are sojourners and residents with me." In the year of Yovel all real estate that had been purchased would return to the original owners and all Jewish slaves would go free (see ibid 13-15). This is the ultimate reminder of Who is the Master that controls and provides for every individual. The Ramban explains that this is also an insight to the ultimate freedom and return to our original purpose that will take place in the Yovel of the World to Come.
Similar to the forty nine years of counting towards the Yovel year, every year we go through a period of forty nine days when we count from Pesach to Shavuous. And just as the Yovel year represents our ultimate purpose in the World to Come, so does the yearly Festival of Shavuous, the day we received G'd's Torah, represent our ultimate purpose as we can achieve it in this world. The counting of the forty nine years toward the Yovel would remind the Jewish people of their special relationship with the land of Israel and the G'd of Israel. Similarly, the counting of these forty nine days remind us of our special connection with G'd and His Torah that elevates us to live as G'd's chosen people.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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