Torah Fax

Friday May 16, 2008 - 11 Iyar, 5768

Torah Reading: BeHar (Leviticus 25:1 - 26:2)
Candle Lighting: 7:49 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:57 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 3

Friday is 26 days of the Omer

Out of this World

This week's Torah portion, entitled Behar, introduces the laws of the Sabbatical year in a rather unique way. 

"And G‑d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai…"
It is unusual that the Torah mentions that the commandment to observe the laws of the Sabbatical year was given on Mount Sinai. After all, weren't all the commandments given at Sinai? Why does the Torah specify that this particular commandment was given at Sinai, and it does not do the same for all the others?
Rashi addresses this question and, citing a Midrashic source, explains that there is yet another anomaly in the manner the Torah discusses the Sabbatical year. With respect to most commandments the Torah gives us a general overview of the commandment, without giving all of the specifics. The Oral Torah usually fills in those details. In the case of the Sabbatical year, however, the Torah discusses the Mitzvah it in vivid detail. This, Rashi states, is to teach us that just as the commandment concerning the Sabbatical year was given at Sinai with all of its intricacies, so too, all of the other 612 commandments were transmitted to Moses at Sinai with all of their particulars.
But the question still persists. Why did the Torah select this Mitzvah in particular to serve as a model for all the others? It would seem to suggest that this mitzvah is regarded by the Torah as a fundamental one, whose theme underlies all the others. This, of course, begs the question, what is so pivotal about a law that applies only in Israel, and only once in seven years? And why is this law deemed to be the model for all others?
To understand the centrality of the Sabbatical year laws that restrict agricultural work every seven years, we should quote the way the Torah prefaces this commandment:
Instead of stating succinctly, "And the earth shall rest on the seventh year," it begins with "and the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G‑d.” This is then followed with the phrase "six years you shall sow your fields… and the seventh year shall be a Sabbath unto G‑d; you shall not sow your fields, etc."
It is rather strange that the Torah begins with the need to rest, without indicating when the earth shall rest.
It is also difficult to understand why it then states "six years you shall sow your fields," since there is no obligation to actually sow a field for six years – one is merely permitted to do so if one wishes.
And to top it off, why does the Torah then conclude by repeating the commandment to rest on the seventh year.
Upon deeper refection it will become apparent that the Torah introduces us here to the very rhythm of Judaism. And that, in turn, will explain why the Sabbatical year is such a central mitzvah.
In order for one to be able to accomplish what he or she is expected to accomplish in the six years of work – namely, the process of contributing to the betterment of the world, materially and spiritually; i.e., to take the material and transform it into something spiritual – one must first rise above the material world in which he or she operates.
A person has to accept as a basic introduction to life that there is a G‑d that transcends nature; and it is to that G‑d that he or she is connected. Endowed with this lofty perspective, one is then equipped to enter into a spiritually resistant world head on. Not only will this individual not be adversely affected by it, but, on the contrary, he or she will refine it and uplift it.
The Torah therefore begins first by saying "And the earth shall rest a Sabbath unto G‑d." Before it even discusses the six years of work it instructs: First you must rise above nature; your first approach to life is that you are special; you transcend the natural order.
In contemporary terms this means that before you can get involved with efforts to fix the world or make the word a better place, you have to essentially recognize that there is an aspect of life that is higher than nature; that there is something greater than planet earth. And before we can be good earthlings, we must first be extra-terrestrials in the spiritual sense of the word.
Conversely, the Torah teaches us that in order for us to ascend to higher spiritual planes, we must work six years down here on earth. We must realize that our mission and ultimate goal is not to become spiritual astronauts divorced from this natural world, but it is rather to transform the word below into something more sublime.
This rhythm of the Sabbatical year followed by six years, followed by another Sabbatical year is the rhythm and essence of all of Judaism. All of Jewish life pulsates with the rhythm of ascending to the heavens and then descending back to earth. With every Mitzvah we bring a Divine perspective to life, which then superimposes itself on the world and changes it for good. And with every Mitzvah we break out of the constraints of finite nature and connect to the infinite G‑d.
And this rhythm was introduced at Sinai that possessed the paradoxical feature of being both the lowest mountain in the region, and yet still a mountain and not a valley. This is to underscore that while G‑d wants us to ascend the "mountain of G‑d,"  He also wants us to see the world from that vantage point so we can come back down from the mountain – as did Moses – and revolutionize the world.
The six years of work and the seventh year of rest is also a model for the six millennia that the world existed since the creation of Adam and Eve, and a prelude to the seventh millennium that will bring about a state of Sabbath - the Messianic Age.
But it is important for us to realize that the world began with a Sabbatical existence that preceded the six millennia. "Before" creation there was only a G‑dly existence that transcended nature from which nature emerged. And because of the fact that the origin of nature is supernatural, it follows that the supernatural is the true reality of existence. And only when we appreciate our true origin, can we follow it with thousands of years of meaningful and productive involvement with the natural universe, which in turn will lead us to the day when we will experience the synthesis of the supernatural and the natural.


Moshiach Matters 

Suddenly he will come
Rabbi Menachem Zev Greenglass of Montreal related that in the early '50s, he and a few other chasidim were standing outside the Rebbe's room discussing the coming of Moshiach and how it would happen.

In the midst of their discussion the Rebbe's door opened suddenly — without their being prepared — and the Rebbe stepped out, explaining: "This is how he will come."  

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit


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