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Shavuot: Why Isn't "Torah Day" Actually In the Torah?
Video 3 of 6
But what is that “something”? What does it mean to speak of Revelation, such that we see Yovel as a 50 year recurrence of this event? Yes, the textual similarities are there – but what explains these similarities?
So I want to suggest to you that we are not quite at a point where we can understand this yet. We don’t have enough data. We are not yet seeing all the pieces of the puzzle. Because… if it's true, as we’ve posited, that before there was ever the law of Yovel, there was a great nationwide Yovel experience, which is to say, Sinai – it turns out that this was not the only great, nationwide Yovel-like experience that the Children of Israel experienced on their way out of the desert, heading into the Land of Israel. There was actually another one, too.
I want to suggest to you that these two, great, historic Yovel events – the Sinai event, and the second event that I’ll tell you about in just a moment – these, together, form two halves of a whole. They, together, express in our collective history something that the Yovel laws will recreate a version of, every fifty years. So it's not enough to understand how Sinai prefigures Yovel; we have to see the second, historic, Yovel event, in order to complete the picture.
What was that second, historic, Yovel event?
It was the conquest of the city of Jericho.
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE HERE]
The city of Jericho was the first city conquered by the Children of Israel as they entered the Land of Israel. The tale of that conquest is told in the beginning of the Book of Joshua. The narrative has many dramatic elements, but perhaps the most dramatic of all is the way in which God engineers the city’s capture: The Almighty causes the walls surrounding Jericho to simply collapse under themselves.
Now, parenthetically, we might ask why it had to happen that way. I mean, it's dramatic and all; don’t get me wrong; the optics are terrific. But was there any meaning to God’s choice of this particular means of engineering the conquest of the city? You know, fire and brimstone raining down from heaven would have done the trick, too, albeit a little bit more messily. Was there any meaning in this particular choice of miracles – causing the walls of Jericho to collapse?
But let’s not lose our train of thought. The bigger point I want you to focus on right now is that the miracle of the walls’ collapse didn’t just “happen” out of the blue. God required an elaborate ceremony to be performed first, by the Children of Israel who are encamped outside the city. And when you look at that ceremony, it seems a little, shall we say, haphazard; it’s almost like God was asking us to say “abracadabra” before His great, Heavenly magic trick of causing the walls to fall down. Was it really just a random bunch of ceremonies we needed to undertake before the Great Magician in the Sky did His astonishing “wall-collapsing trick” – or was there some deep and abiding reason for it all?
Let’s look at the ceremony. Here’s what God asked Joshua to do:
First, all the Israelite warriors must walk around the city; they need to make a circuit around its walls – once a day for six consecutive days.
While they do that, 7 Kohanim holding seven Shofrot, should be walking in front of the Ark of the Covenant, and in advance of the warriors.
Then, on the Seventh Day, the people shou ld circle the city 7 times. And then the Kohanim should blow on the Shofrot. Then, the people should all cry out – and at that moment, the walls will fall.
Look at all the sevens here. 7 days. On the 7th day, 7 circuits around the city. 7 Kohanim with 7 shofars. Once again, everything is 7 times 7… and what tops it all off? The shofar blast.
The seven times seven days of Jericho, come with shofar blasts at the end.
The seven times seven years of the Yovel cycle come with a shofar blast at the end.
Jericho is starting to sound like Yovel. And if you keep looking, the correspondence just deepens. Look carefully, for example, at the Shofarot at Jericho. The Shofrot, the text says, were to be in motion, going around the city. In Hebrew, the words for this are: עָבְרוּ וְתָקְעוּ בַּשּׁוֹפָרוֹת, they shall pass by and blow on the Shofarot.
And now look at the Biblical description of the Yovel year. You’ll find, curiously, that the idea of “Shofar in motion” pops up there, too:
וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ שׁוֹפַר תְּרוּעָה, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִעִי, בֶּעָשׂוֹר, לַחֹדֶשׁ; בְּיוֹם, הַכִּפֻּרִים, תַּעֲבִירוּ שׁוֹפָר, בְּכָל-אַרְצְכֶם.
Literally: And you shall cause to pass a shofar blast on Yom Kippur; You shall cause to pass a shofar through all of your land…
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE HERE]
OK, so now, maybe you’re a bit of a skeptic, and you’re feeling especially dismissive right now, and you say something like...
“Look, Fohrman, I don’t really know. I don’t necessarily buy that the Torah means to create some kind of conceptual link between the Jericho event and the Yovel year. Yes, there are multiple cycles of sevens with both. Yes, there is a shofar that signifies the onset of both. Yes, the verbs are the same, thewhole shofar in motion thing, I get it. But those correspondences might just be coincidental. Can you give me more? I’m not convinced…”
Well, here’s the kicker:
As it turns out, the Torah gives a name to those Shofrot that were blown at Jericho. What name does it give them? Yes, you probably guessed it. The Shofrot of Jericho were called “Shofrot HaYovlim, just like the Shofar at Sinai was…”
וְשִׁבְעָה כֹהֲנִים יִשְׂאוּ שִׁבְעָה שׁוֹפְרוֹת הַיּוֹבְלִים, לִפְנֵי הָאָרוֹן,
The seven kohanim will carry seven Yovel shofars…
Not only that: Even the language of the text describing these two events; it's all so remarkably similar. Listen to it in Hebrew. First, at Sinai:
בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה יַעֲלוּ בָהָר
The text says when the Shofar would blow an elongated blast, that’s when it would be safe for the people to touch the mountain and ascend it. But look at those words in Hebrew: “bimeshoch hayovel”... “ya’alu behar”... Pay attention to those three words: Meshoch; Yovel; and Ya’alu, go up.
And now look at Jericho:
וְהָיָה בִּמְשֹׁךְ בְּקֶרֶן הַיּוֹבֵל,
Same three words; virtually identical. When the shofar of the Yovel would blow elongated blasts, “ve’alu ha’am”, the people would ascend, and would conquer Jericho. The walls, they would fall, but the people, they would ascend.
One more element, too, while we are at it: Encirclement. At Sinai, the mountain was encircled - as the text says: vehigbalta et Hahar saviv - and at Jericho the city was encircled, too: Vesabotem at ha’ir. The encirclement at Sinai somehow put the mountain off limits (anyone who would touch it would die); and the encirclement at Jericho somehow put the city off limits, too (Joshua says that anyone who goes back to Jericho and rebuilds it is cursed with death – death of his children [See Joshua 6:26]).
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE HERE]
So, it does seem like Sinai was not the only Yovel-like event in our collective history. There was another one, too: The conquest of Jericho.
Together, these two experiences that the Children of Israel lived through, as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land – they expressed two sides of the same coin. And the laws of Yovel are the secret to their connection.
To this point we’ve seen a lot of language connections. Shavuot seems related to Yovel. So does Sinai. So does Jericho. But connections are one thing; deciphering why things are connected is entirely another thing. That’s what we need to turn to now. If we can understand something of the meaning behind these language connections; if we can understand why Sinai and Jericho have anything to do with Yovel, then we might begin to understand what it is that the Jubilee Year is meant to replay; what it is that Shavuot is mean to reply.
To do that, to piece together the meaning behind all of this, we are going to look a bit more closely at the laws of Yovel. Let’s do that now.
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