BeHar

Torah Fax
Friday, May 16, 2003 - 14 Iyar, 5763

Torah Reading: BeHar (Leviticus 25:1 - 26:2)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:49 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:56 PM
Shabbat is 30 days of the Omer

The Ultimate Paradox

In this week's Parshah of BeHar, the Torah discusses the obligation to desist from agricultural work during the seventh year. The Torah compares the idea of avoiding agricultural work during the seventh year to the idea of Shabbat, in which we refrain from many types of work on the seventh day of the week.

By resting on Shabbat, we recognize G‑d's sovereignty over the world and we realize that it is He, not us, who creates all. During the six days of the week, we are enjoined to work, thus acting as G‑d's "partners" in the creative process. But on Shabbat we declare that though we may have accomplished much during the work week, it was not our independent power, but rather the energy G‑d infused us with, that helps us attain those accomplishments. This same concept is the underlying theme of refraining from plowing and planting during the seventh year, a year that in its entirety is known as "Shabbat," or the Sabbatical Year.

But if we are reminded of G‑d's providence and involvement in creation every week by refraining from the 39 categories of forbidden work - which include all the agricultural works - why do need another reminder every seventh year? What unique message does the Sabbatical Year convey that is not learned from the weekly Sabbath?

Upon deeper reflection, one can see two messages that the Sabbatical Year teaches us.

First, despite the fact that one does not work on Shabbat, one still has all of his food and needs provided for. Since one is permitted - and even obligated - to work the rest of the week, the fact that one has food in the cupboard on Shabbat is not surprising, and certainly would not be considered miraculous. Indeed, our sages require us to prepare for Shabbat by readying all necessary food items, including baked goods and cooked dishes. They therefore declare, "whoever toils on the Eve of Shabbat, will eat on Shabbat."

By contrast, with regard to the seventh year when we are prohibited from working the land for the entire year, the Torah itself expresses incredulity about how people will be able to eat during the end of the Sabbatical year as well as the following year. The Torah answers that it will only be through supernatural means that the inhabitants of the Land of Israel will have enough food to eat until they plant and harvest crops in the eight year. In the words of the Torah, "I will command My blessing" during the sixth year, and you will have enough produce to last until the middle of the eighth year. Thus, the Sabbatical year exposes the Jewish people to a much more profound sense of G‑d's involvement in their lives than the Sabbath.

Another distinction between the Sabbath and the Sabbatical Year stems from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Sabbath requires refraining from 39 categories of work - much more than the limited number of agricultural activities that are forbidden during the seventh year. Thus, the Sabbath requires a total cessation of involvement in the physical world. During the Sabbatical year, however, one could do all sorts of creative activities - and be very much involved in the world around him. And it was specifically when the Jews were in a state of involvement with creation - during the Sabbatical Year - that they experienced the greatest miracles of G‑d's Divine Providence.

This, then, is the powerful message conveyed by the Sabbatical Year. To be holy on Shabbat is relatively easy. On the Shabbat we must, for the most part, detach ourselves form our normal environment and the world around us. The spiritual oasis of Shabbat is conducive to concentrating on the sublime and dedicating our time to G‑d. On the Sabbatical Year, however, when we one was  - with the exception of the agricultural activities - still involved in the world around him, the challenge to attain a close relationship with G‑d required much more effort. Yet, as we demonstrated above, the closeness G‑d showed to the Jews during that year was even more powerful than that of the weekly Shabbat.

Thus, the Sabbatical Year teaches us of a fundamental challenge of Judaism: to live and be involved in a material world and yet nurture and develop a strong connection with the holy and the transcendent.

The synthesis of this paradox illustrated by the seventh year will be most acutely expressed when Moshiach comes. At that time, we will feel exponentially closer to G‑d. Yet, we will still be physical beings living in a physical world.

Moshiach Matters

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