Shemittah, Yovel and… Mount Sinai?
Shemittah, Yovel And… Mount Sinai?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
This week’s double parsha, Behar-Bechokotai, focuses on the agricultural cycles of Shemittah and Yovel. Strangely enough, the language here carries echoes of some of the themes of last week’s parsha, and even seems to take us all the way back to Mount Sinai. Are these ideas somehow connected? What could the revelation at Sinai have to do with agricultural laws in the land of Israel? Join Rivky Stern and first time co-host Ami Silver as they explore these fascinating connections and the implications for what it means to live together with God in this world.
Rivky: Hello. And welcome to Parsha Lab. I am not Rabbi David Fohrman.
Ami: And I am not Imu Shalev.
Rivky: This is actually Rivky Stern, the producer of Parshah Lab.
Ami: And I'm Ami Silver, one of the Aleph Beta team.
Rivky: Ami. I think this is actually your first time being on the Parsha Lab podcast if I'm not mistaken.
Ami: It sure is, Rivky!
Rivky: Wow! I'm very excited to have you. How do you feel?
Ami: I'm excited, you know, because it's cool to produce material. It's cool to write scripts and post things out here. But, here we really get into the act of learning together; and us sharing that with our listeners. So I'm excited for the opportunity.
Rivky: Well, I'm mostly excited about that. Also, I'm especially excited because, Ami, you prepared something that I haven't even gotten a chance to look at yet. So I'm pretty excited for us to explore this together.
Ami: Okay. Sure, Rivky.
This week we're going to be reading Parshiot Behar-Bechukotai. It's one of those double parshiot (portions) that come up a few times a year. If you take a real cursory glance at these sections, it seems like there are a couple of really main, central themes that keep popping up. Themes dealing with the Land of Israel and special laws that have to do with the seven-year cycle, called "Sh'mitah" (Sabbatical year). The 50-year cycle, called "Yovel" (Jubilee year), which we'll get into.
Connections to the Seventh and Fiftieth Years in the BibleAmi: When I was looking through the parshah I just, kind of, noticed a few things that jumped out at me. A few ideas that seemed to relate to other themes in other parts of the Torah. Even something that has to do specifically with this time of year. This season that we're in. That's what I want to look at with you today.
We're going to start at the very beginning of Parshat Behar. It's in Leviticus, Chapter 25. We could just start reading from the beginning. Would you mind taking a look at it, Rivky?
Rivky: Sure. Absolutely. "Vay'dabeir Hashem el Moshe beHar Sinai leimor". And God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying. "Dabeir el B'nei Yisrael v'amarta aleihem," speak to the Children of Israel and tell them; " ki tavo'u el ha'aretz," when you come to the land; "asher ani notein lachem," the land that I'm going to give you; "v'shavtah ha'aretz Shabbat laHashem"; then the land will keep some sort of Sabbath, some sort of Shabbat; and it will be a Sabbath for me, God.
Ami: Okay. Great. So what you just read, in broad strokes, this is something that God told Moses at Mount Sinai. And, it says, go tell the people that, when they arrive in the Land of Israel, they're going to keep a Sabbath for God; but not the Sabbath that we're used to. What's different about this Sabbath, Rivky?
Rivky: Well I think the next verses tell us. Right? "Sheish shanim tizra sadecha," for six years you will work in the field, you will sow the field; " v'sheish shanim tizmor karmecha," and for those six years, you're also going to be pruning your vineyards; "v'asafta et t'vu'ata"; and you also will gather in the produce. "Uvashanah hash'vi'it", and in the seventh year; "Shabbat Shabbaton yih'yeh la'aretz", there will be this "Sabbath of Sabbaths" for the land; "Shabbat laHashem", this Sabbath for God; "sad'cha lo tizra", you're not going to work your field; "v'charm'cha lo tizmor", and you will not prune your vineyard. So, unlike the Sabbath that we have, which is the seventh day, this Sabbath for the land will be the seventh year.
Ami: Exactly. And there's another parallel here, which is, our Shabbat, the standard Sabbath that we know is, six days you work, seventh day, you don't work. Here, six years you work the land; the seventh year you don't touch the land. You don't prune. You don't plant. It actually says here, the land is going to rest. The Sabbath is going to be "la'aretz". "Shabbat Shabbaton la'aretz". A Sabbath for the earth, a Sabbath for God.
Rivky: It's interesting. We think of the Sabbath as something for us. It's our desisting from work and it's our resting. But this land, even though it's us not working the land, the language of the Torah gives us for the Sabbath, is that it is a Sabbath for the land. The land is the active player here and we are the passive objects on the side. It's interesting language.
Ami: Exactly. It's a Sabbath that belongs to the land itself. Now, I want you to jump ahead now to Verse 8. There's actually another step. Other than this six years to seventh-year cycle, which in our common parlance is known as the Sabbatical year. That seventh year is called the Sabbatical year; withholding yourself from the land.
There's another cycle that we hear about here. Something beyond the Sabbath that we're about to read about. Jump into Verse 8 with me, if you don't mind.
Rivky: "V'safarta lecha sheva shabtot shanim," we're going to count seven of these Sabbatical-year cycles; "sheva shanim sheva p'amim," seven – almost like seven times seven; "v'hayu lecha y'mei sheva shabtot hashanim", it's a lot of repetitive language, it seems. There will be these days of seven Sabbaths of years. "Teisha v'arba'im shanah", every 49 years.
Again. It feels like, okay, I know my multiplication tables. Okay. Then what happens? "V'ha'avarta shofar t'ru'ah", and you will make a proclamation of some sort, with the blast of the shofar, the t'ru'ah of the shofar; "bachodesh hash'vi'i," in the seventh month; "be'asor lachodesh," on the tenth day; "b'Yom haKippurim ta'a'viru shofar b'chol artz'chem." Then, suddenly, it's telling us that there's going to be Yom Kippur.
We went through – it's interesting – we went through the laws of the Sabbatical year. Then we also mentioned the Jubilee year. Then, the next verse tells us immediately, oh and you're going to make this proclamation and there's going to be a Yom Kippur.
Ami: You threw in a word there that we haven't gotten to yet: Yovel (Jubilee year).
Rivky: Spoiler. Because it's continuing.
Ami: Spoiler alert. As you'll see in a few verses, that's the name of this year after you count all these cycles. But, before we even get there, I want to just focus in on Verse 8 for a minute.
"V'safarta lecha sheva shabtot shanim," count for yourself seven Sabbaths of years. Then that phrase repeats itself: "sheva shabtot hashanim." The Torah could have very easily have said, count for yourself seven years, seven times. But it called it, seven Sabbaths of years, seven times. There's the thing of counting seven times seven. Like you said, Rivky. It's really weird. Why are you telling me seven, and another seven, is seven times? Then do that seven times. It's 49. We all know our multiplication tables.
There's another question I want to ask you, though. Where else in the Torah do you hear a very similar language, of counting seven, seven times? What does that remind you of?
Rivky: I think, the initial thing that jumps off the page for me, is this time that we're in right now, actually, between Pesach and Shavuos. Where we count "Us'fartem lachem mimmacharat haShabbat", we're meant to, for seven total weeks, we're supposed to count the Omer every single day.
Ami: Right. Exactly. And it's not just, well; you have to happen to know about that in order to see that parallel. If you were to read just two chapters before here, we hear that exact language. So I want to take a look at that text with you, Rivky. Because, it seems to me that there is a lot of dialogue between that text to two chapters earlier, in Leviticus 23 and what we're reading about right here in Leviticus 25. And I think maybe it's trying to tell us something.
Rivky: All right. Let's see.
Counting Seven ShabbatotAmi: Open up to Leviticus 23 if you don't mind. Just flip back a few pages. Let's begin just, right at the heart of it, Verse 15.
Rivky: "Us'fartem lachem mimmacharat haShabbat", and you should count for yourselves from the day after Shabbat, which we – as descendants, or spiritual descendants of the Pharisees – interpret as, after the first day of Passover; "miyom havi'achem et-Omer hat'nufah," from the day that you brought the Omer offering – this special korban (sacrifice, offering) that we bring; "sheva Shabbatot t'mimot tiyh'yenah," seven weeks after until the entire thing is, sort of, complete.
Ami: Okay. I love that you just said, seven weeks after. Because, it didn't exactly say seven weeks, did it?
Rivky: Yeah. I was filling in the blanks.
Ami: What did it say?
Rivky: But you're right.
Ami: You're making it a normal translation. Everybody, anyone, who reads this would make that same translation. But, there's a very specific word that's used there. What does it say? Seven what?
Rivky: "Sheva Shabbatot".
Ami: We're counting seven Shabbatot, seven Sabbaths. What do we see over there in Vayikra Chaf-Hei...
Ami: ...in Chapter 25?
Rivky: "Sheva Shabbatot shanim".
Ami: So, yeah. "Shabbatot". For all intents and purposes, it means "weeks", because, for the Torah, a Shabbat is a week. That's the seven-day cycle. But, when you jump into Chapter 25, and it's called "Shabbatot" of years, all of a sudden Shabbatot can't really mean "weeks", can it?
Rivky: Right. There must be something bigger within the theme of Shabbat that implies that it isn't just weeks, but it's some sort of Shabbat identity.
Ami: Some kind of Sabbatical cycle, I think. And we're seeing back there a Sabbatical cycle of years. And we're seeing back here a Sabbatical cycle of counts of seven.
Rivky: Mm-hm. Interesting.
Ami: Now, obviously, if you're counting seven times seven years over there, how many years are you counting up?
Rivky: You end up with 49 years.
Ami: Forty-nine years. Thank you. And, obviously here, if you're counting seven weeks and seven Shabbatot, seven times, how many days are you going to count up to?
Rivky: The same. You get 49 days.
Ami: Okay. You get 49 days. Now...
Rivky: I'm so good at this!
Ami: Now...you're third-grade, math teacher would be very proud, Rivky.
Ami: Now, you know, let's jump back to Chapter 25 for a minute. And let's see what happens after you count those 49 years. I want us to pick up at Verse 10.
Jubilee Laws Every Fiftieth YearRivky: Sure. "V'kidashtem et shnat hachamishim shanah," and you should make kadosh, make holy the fiftieth year, "u'keratam dror ba'aretzl'chol yoshveha," and you should create some sort of like liberty, I guess, like the Statue of Liberty we think of. That you should proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all of its inhabitants, "yovel hi tihiyeh lachem," and it will be a Jubilee year for all of you, "v'shavtem ish el achuzato," and you will all return to your achuzah, to your ancestral land possession, "v'ish el mishpachto tashuvu," and you will all return, each man will return to his family.
Ami: So just to say that in regular English and explain what that means that we're all going to return to our achuzah, this landholding and return to our families. Simply stated on this fiftieth year, after the shofar is blown on Yom Kippur and we proclaim it – we proclaim liberty throughout the land. What does liberty mean? It means that each person will return to their achuzah, literally, their holding.
What that means is that the ancestral land that was initially inherited by the tribes who entered Israel at the times of Joshua, right? The land was split up according to the 12 tribes and each tribe got their tribal holding. Each family within that tribe got their piece of property. So over time you start building a society, you build up your business and at different times people trade property. What's happening in this fiftieth year, every person's going back to the place that their family initially owned in the Land of Israel when they arrived.
"V'ish el mishpachto tashuvu," what that means is that each individual is going to return to their own family. Any person who's been sold into servitude over these last 50 years is going to be freed and go back to their own family. They're no longer going to be a subordinate member of somebody else's household and family. So we see here that there's a return of land to its rightful owners and people to their own rightful place within their families.
Rivky: Right. It seems like the verse is sort of telling us two extensions of the same idea. You know, sometimes in sort of the natural course of commerce or capitalism you can end up making a trade that maybe isn't so great for you and you can end up losing your home and it's a really sad, sort of, idea to think about that ancestral home that was passed down to you from your parents or your grandparents you can no longer afford it. You need money for other things. You need money to feed your family, you need money to maybe take out a small loan for a business to try your luck at something and you can end up selling your land.
However, what can happen is even, sort of, sadder than that is that let's say that doesn't work out. Let's say you sell your land and in the end, even after that, you still can't afford to feed your family. You still can't afford to do the things you need to do. That's when you might sadly sell yourself into slavery. You might put yourself in a position where you could do anything to feed your family including separate yourself from your family.
What happens in the Jubilee year is not only do you get your land back, but you get a fresh start in every way. You get to, sort of, turn back the clock and say okay, it didn't work out. I was separated from my family, I was separated from my land, but now I get to try again and hopefully be more successful this time.
Ami: Exactly, Rivky. So that's what's happening in this fiftieth year and in the very next verse, in Verse 11, we come back to that word Yovel, "Yovel hi shnat hachamishim shanah tihiyeh lachem," this time of liberation, this time of freedom of return to where you rightfully or initially belong that's called the Jubilee year.
Now, I want to ask you something. We saw just now a parallel, kind of, almost the same exact words and phrases between counting those seven Sabbatical year cycles to get to the fiftieth year of the Jubilee year and counting those seven weekly cycles of the Omer offering. Now, at the end of the Sabbatical cycle you get to the Jubilee year. What do you get to at the end of the Omer offering?
Rivky: You get to Shavuot (Pentecost). You get to the holiday of Shavuos.
Ami: Exactly, Rivky. So at the end of this 49 years you get to the fiftieth year, you have this year of liberation and it's called the Jubilee year. Now, we all hear this word and if I would have just stopped someone on the street, somebody who's read the Torah, who's read the Tanach, and asked them what is the Jubilee year, what would they tell me, Rivky?
Rivky: The fiftieth year.
Ami: The fiftieth year. The Jubilee year is the fiftieth year, but strangely enough this actually isn't the first time the word jubilee appears in the Torah. The word jubilee actually appears way earlier at a really important even that seems to have nothing to do with counting seven cycles of seven years and getting to a fiftieth year of liberation.
Rivky: Jubilee. I'm wracking my brain.
Ami: I'll give you one other hint, Rivky, because over here in the jubilee count of 50 what is that ushers in the Jubilee year?
Biblical Connections to the Fifty-Year JubileeRivky: Ooh, I got it. Oh, Ami thank you for that hint. Basically what ushers in – just to answer your question – what ushers in the Jubilee year is the blow of the shofar. Right? Is this teru'ah (blowing) of the ram's horn and the previous time that we heard this language of jubilee was at Mount Sinai. It was right before the giving of the Torah when, I could be wrong about this, I'm just, kind of, jogging my memory, but it's when God is telling Moses how to prepare for the giving of the Torah that's about to happen in three days. He tells Moses that the people shouldn't touch the mountain. The people should purify themselves. What will happen to, sort of, indicate to the people where they should come up close is that there's going to be this jubilee sound of the shofar.
Rivky: Exactly, Rivky. You got it. Because if we go back to the Book of Exodus, Chapter 19 and we look at those verses leading up to the giving of the Ten Commandments there's this whole back and forth. God is saying the mountain is really dangerous; tell the people to stay away. Moses goes back a couple of times, basically, carrying this message between God and the people. Time after time after time God keeps warning the people don't come near the mountain and then we get, in Verse 13, a very strange phrase.
It says, "Lo tig'a bo yad," make sure nobody touches the mountain, "ki sakol yisakel oh yorah yiyareh," they're going to be punished. They'll be stoned, they'll be shot with something. Whether it's a person or whether it's even an animal, "lo yichyeh," no living creature will live if they touch Mount Sinai, "b'm'shoch hayovel heimah ya'alu vahar," at the drying out of the Jubilee they shall ascend the mountain.
Ami: Yeah, Ami, this is really interesting. I, actually, I could be misremembering, but I think a few years ago Rabbi Fohrman actually made a bunch of these connections and was linking together this idea of Omer and the Jubilee year and Shavuos and Mattan Torah to all sort of be connected to each other in some sort of linked way.
Ami: Yes, he did, Rivky. That's right. He drew some really amazing conclusions from there. For all of you listening Shavout is coming up, you might want to check out that course, in the coming weeks, as you prepare for the holiday. But I want to just focus in on this for a second because it's really strange when the Jubilee is drawn out they will rise up on the mountain.
Now, the common explanation of what "b'm'shoch hayovel" means that it's somehow a horn blast. Have you heard that before, Rivky?
Ami: So you have a horn blast. We know that at Har Sinai, that on Mount Sinai, there was also a "kol shofar holeich v'gadeil," there was also this loud shofar blast. Over here in our parashah, in Behar, we also have the jubilee and we have the shofar blast. But what does jubilee mean in our parashah? Does it mean a shofar blast?
Rivky: No, it means the fiftieth year. It's totally unrelated, seemingly.
Ami: It means the fiftieth year. Which we said two qualities of the fiftieth year; you return to the place that you've been estranged from, the place you couldn't go to until now for whatever reason and the other element of the fiftieth year is that any slave goes free. Correct?
Rivky: Yeah. I'm, kind of, maybe I'm wrong, but I'm, kind of, getting the inkling of the direction you're going in, Ami, and stop me if I'm being a little too presumptuous, but it seems like you're trying to link those two ideas also to Mattan Torah, to the meeting that the People of Israel have with God at Mattan Torah. This idea of both coming back to the land that is really your holding, which is really, sort of, your family's birthright and also coming back to your family itself. Reclaiming your connection to your family.
Ami: So it's interesting, Rivky, because you did pick up on a direction I was leading in here which is it seems like if there's shofar here and shofar there so if there's jubilee here and jubilee there maybe those elements of jubilee have something to do with the giving of the Torah. But what's really strange here is what kind of land return are we talking about here? There is no land, the Torah's given in the wilderness and what would it mean to go back to your family? The people just left the Land of Egypt, right?
Rivky: So, I mean, Ami, if I can venture a guess. Maybe that land, if it is connected here, isn't necessarily meant to be literal. I would imagine that the land here, even though they're about to go to the land – let's imagine that Mattan Torah went as expected and there was no, sort of, major sinning on the part of the Nation of Israel – they would be off to Israel. They would be off to their land. But imagine if we're talking about the land also outside of land the Torah itself, this relationship with God that is then claimed by the People of Israel through this connection at Mount Sinai, the Torah is our land that we're returning to, I think, at this point.
The connection to God is our land that we're returning to and then, I think, the next part of what it means to, sort of, come back to your family the People of Israel really became a nation through the Exodus and through Mattan Torah. Right? It was a bunch of, sort of, disconnected tribes maybe. A bunch of people who did have, sort of, common ancestors, but I don't know – I think, in a lot of ways, didn't really think of themselves as a nation in that way. And it's not until, sort of, the connection to God as a nation and this idea of a shared mission and a shared purpose and a shared Torah which really creates them as one family. There seems to be, I'm not exactly sure if I'm articulating it well, but I think there seems to be something there that feels like it has the elements of the land and of family there.
What do you think, Ami?
Ami: So I really like what you're saying. It's not something that I'd really considered, but, you know, if we even think back to the very beginning of the Exodus story God appears to Moses at the burning bush and the main message is tell these people I'm the God of their ancestors, forefather; return to family. God also says and tell them I'm going to take them out of the Land of Egypt and bring them back to the Land of, "eretz zavas chalav u'devash," the land dripping with milk and honey that I promised to their ancestors. It seems like the Exodus was actually aimed towards some kind of jubilee like experience of going back to the ancestral homeland.
There's one other really cool thing that jumps out at me about this connection because what actually happened at the Exodus? Before I give you the answer I want you to go back into the Ten Commandments and read the very first of the Ten Commandments. What does it say?
Rivky: "Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeiticha mei'Eretz Mitzrayim mibeit avadim," they had been slaves and God took them away from that bondage, took them away from the slavery and made them free again. That's what we do, right, at Jubilee year. What we do at the Jubilee year is we say listen, you had a tough time. Maybe you were enslaved. Maybe you didn't have control over your own, sort of, day-to-day life or your destiny, but now that's over. Now it's the Jubilee year. Now, you go back and you get to start again. You are no longer enslaved.
Ami: Exactly. That's what the Exodus is. The Exodus is slaves being set free and remember the essence of the Jubilee year, "dror yihiyeh ba'aretz," we're going to call out a liberation in the land. All the slaves are going to go free and all the people who'd been estranged from their land are going to go back to their land.
Now, I actually want to add one more thing here because now that we're looking at this text, from Exodus, there's actually another phrase here, in Exodus, besides for the word jubilee that links directly to our chapter, the opening chapter of Parashat Behar. Over here, in these introductory chapters, before God starts talking about stay away from the mountain and I'm going to talk to them and all that.
Beginning in Chapter 19, Verse 4, in Exodus. God's telling Moses to tell the nation you all saw what I did to the Egyptians. I've lifted you on "kanfei nesharim," on the wings of eagles, "va'avi etchem eilay," I've brought you to Me. Right? God's basically saying I took you out of there and established this intimate bond with you. "V'atah," and now, "im shamo'a tishmi'u b'koli," if you will listen and hear my voice, listen to what I say, "u'shemartem et briti," you're going to guard my covenant, "v'hayitem li segulah mikol ha'amim," be My special people, "ki li kol ha'aretz," for the entire earth is Mine.
Interestingly enough those same exact words show up over here in Parashat Behar, Leviticus, Chapter 25. It's later on, a little further down in the section we were reading before. You get to Verse 23, God is basically explaining to the people how are you going to survive leaving the land fallow every seven years. Just imagine getting the mind of a farmer. My whole life, my existence, my family's sustenance relies on me working the land and harvesting it and you're telling me for a whole year every cycle of seven years I have to not touch the land? How am I going to live? How am I going to eat that year? How am I going to eat the next year? How am I going to restart the land for the year after that?
God says don't worry. I'm going to give you a guarantee that the land will give you the produce that you need, if you follow My command. "Ha'aretz lo timaker letzmitut," the land won't be sold away for all eternity, "ki li ha'aretz," because who does the land really belong to? It belongs to God. So even you; you're going to take a year off, don't sweat it. Don't think it's all about you. Don't think oh, if I don't plant for a year there's no way that the trees are going to blossom and the crops are going to grow out of the earth.
Who does the land belong to? The land belongs to God, why? "Ki geirim v'toashavim atem imadi," you are geirim and toshavim, you're strangers, you're wanders, you're tenants. You're My tenants. You happen to be here.
So there's this really interesting tension here in the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year between who does the land belong to? Remember what the Jubilee year is? The Jubilee year is go back to the land that's yours. What's God saying now? The land's not yours, it's Mine.
Rivky: Right. It's like he's saying to the people, like, yeah, it's an estate, right. An estate is something real. It's not just a deed, it's something deeper than that. There's something spiritual, there's something meaningful about it, but don't forget at the end of the day there's a deeper ownership even still that the land and that deeper ownership is Me. I am the land and you are so scared of working the land and owning the land, of this and that, don't forget that deepest level.
It's interesting, I mean, it feels like there's a lot of overlap also to the conversation that Rabbi Fohrman and I had last week, in the podcast where we were, kind of, talking about these common themes all seeking to sort of remind us this idea of the Mannah and the Omer. I think, fundamentally, one of the gentle nudges that God is making with us in the language there is saying hey, even when you go into the Land of Israel don't forget Me. Don't forget that yes, you're working the land, you should be proud of everything you've done, but everything that happens is in partnership with me. Don't lose Me. Don't forget about Me.
It seems like there's something there also here with the working the land through the six years or through, you know, the seven times six years with all the working that we do, still remembering that when we're working and when we're not working God is a partner in all of that and we can't do it without Him.
Ami: I really like the way you're putting this together, Rivky, and I think that you mentioned, you know, God saying, giving us all of these different commandments, instructions so that we don't forget God. We don't forget God. But I think that's the negative way of saying it. Live your life, do the things you have to do, but don't forget. I think there's actually a deeper message that we get from this connection between the Jubilee year and the Sabbatical year at Mount Sinai which is not only don't forget, but there's a higher ideal that you can reach for which has to do with living in the land and remaining faithful to God at the same time.
Before we take a look at that, I want to just summarize what we've seen right now. Parashat Behar, it opens with this description of these six years and the seven years, the Sabbatical year cycles, that are called a Sabbath of the land. Then we get from the seven year cycle to seven seven year cycles leading up to 50 years of the Jubilee year. That's where everybody goes free and everybody goes back to the land that's initially theirs.
Seven Days, Fifty Days... and Sinai?Ami: We then looked at what seems to really parallel that same structure, just a few chapters earlier in Leviticus, Chapter 23. Where God says to count, again after the Sabbath, which is as you said a funny word for Passover, but we have the Sabbath theme from up there, counting out of the Sabbath seven times seven Sabbaths to 49 and we get to the fiftieth. As we said earlier, Rivky, that fiftieth day, although it's not mentioned here in Parashat Emor, that fiftieth day is Shavuot which we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The events of the Mount Sinai.
Well, interestingly enough we have those parallels again back at Mount Sinai with the jubilee, with the shofar, with people – slaves – going free and with some strange, maybe some kind of connection of returning to an ancestral holding or land.
We also saw that connection with that phrase, "li kol ha'aretz." That central message seemingly of God saying both at Mount Sinai and both when it comes to the Jubilee year and the Sabbatical year the land, the earth is Mine.
I want to ask you something because there's kind of a curiosity that just pops up for me about all this. Back at Mount Sinai when it talks about the Jubilee, it says "B'm'shoch hayovel heimah ya'alu vahar," that's when they're going to go up onto the mountain. So we had these nice ideas that the Exodus is somehow leading us back towards the Land of Israel, the land of our forefathers and maybe there's something to that.
However, I think if we just zoom in locally to the Mount Sinai narrative, let me ask you, Rivky, remember God's saying don't come near the mountain, stay away from the mountain; when it's the Jubilee year time where are the people all of a sudden going to arrive?
Rivky: Yeah, the land, at this point, the land is Mount Sinai itself. This place where they're about to meet God.
Ami: "B'm'shoch hayovel heimah ya'alu vahar."
Rivky: Yeah. Exactly.
Ami: It's so weird. What do you mean? Was there ever a time, you'd read this and you'd think that at the end of the whole Sinai narrative someone's going to blow a shofar and everybody runs up the mountain now, like, you know, Mount Sinai theme park. Do you remember that scene, Rivky, because I don't remember that scene?
Rivky: No, if anything it was, everyone was suddenly allowed to walk up, come as close as possible, but you were still not allowed to ascend the mountain.
Ami: Exactly. And why weren't we allowed to go on the mountain at Mount Sinai?
Rivky: Oh, very cool because at that point, at Mount Sinai, you remember come close to God, be at a relationship with Him, embrace it, but still remember that the mountain is the place of God. Remember God and think of God and those limitations are also part of that relationship with God.
Ami: In the words of the verse before, "li kol ha'aretz." Mount Sinai, we were standing face to face with the reality that the earth belongs to God. The mountain was on fire because God descended upon it. The next verses there tell us the whole mountain was smoking and flaming "m'p'nei asher yarad alav Hashem ba'eish." You couldn't touch the mountain because it was holy, but you couldn't touch the mountain because you would burn. You would be consumed by God's fire.
Rivky: Right. The mountain – in Rabbi Fohrman's language – the mountain is God's Land.
Ami: It's God's Land. Exactly. And now strangely enough it seems like maybe just, just maybe "b'm'shoch hayovel heimah ya'alu vahar," might be referring to something not only about Mount Sinai itself. I'm just wondering out loud here.
Where does our parashah begin? Let's go back to Leviticus, Chapter 25. How do we start that whole parashah? "Vayidabeir Hashem el Moshe b'Har Sinai leimor," God is on Mount Sinai talking to Moses. We're at the end of Leviticus. We've learned about the Tabernacle, the Priests, all sorts of things. It's been a long time since the story of Mattan Torah, of the giving of the Torah, but where are we now? We're actually still at Mount Sinai, but we're not only at Mount Sinai. "Tidabeir el Bnei Yisrael v'amarta lahem ki tavo el ha'aretz asher Ani notein lachem." God is transporting us here from Sinai to the reality of what it's going to look like in the Land of Israel.
Just like at Sinai we are encountering a reality of "li kol ha'aretz" in the Land of Israel we're encountering a reality of "li kol ha'aretz." But there's a difference. In the Land of Israel we're actually able to live in that land. At Mount Sinai we can't live on Mount Sinai. We actually, maybe we're never even allowed to visit.
I just am wondering if this "b'm'shoch hayovel heimah ya'alu vahar," when the jubilee is drawn out then they'll ascend the mountain, perhaps what that means is that one day there will be something called the Jubilee year and the slaves are going to go free just like you slaves went free and people are going to return to the place they came from just like you are returning or on your way here to the place that you came from. But what's going to be demanded of us in the Land of Israel is different than what's demanded of us at Mount Sinai.
Defining the Meaning of Sabbatot Cycles: A Path to God?Ami: What's demanded of us at Mount Sinai is to hear God's word. What's demanded of us in the Land of Israel is to live a Godly life in our relationship with the Land. It's to plant the work, to plant our seeds, to plow, to cultivate, to harvest and to give the Sabbath to the land. And to make the Sabbath of the land a Sabbath to God, as well. It's a way of living in the earth with God at the same time.
On some level that's what we could not do at Mount Sinai. Like you said that was God's Land. What it looked like when God lived in the earth at Mount Sinai was a mountain on fire. Flames, smoke, you can't come near it. But the laws of the Sabbatical year and ultimately of the Jubilee year are teaching us how do you live in the earth in God's Land?
What do you think about this, Rivky? Is there something to it? Is it a far stretch?
Rivky: That's really cool, Ami. That's really, really cool. Right now what I'm thinking about is also wondering if the Jubilee year that we have every 50 years in the Land of Israel is meant to sort of be a callback to us to remember Mount Sinai. For us to remember what it was for us to be in that intense relationship with God and take a moment to in the sort of mundane living of living with our crops and living with our vineyards and things like that. If we're meant to remember what God did for us and remember the heightened intensity of that relationship and for that to also be a callback in some way.
I think, Ami these ideas are fantastic and really leave me with a lot of things that I need to explore more just in my head. But this was really cool, Ami. Thank you so much for bringing me on this tour.
Ami: It's awesome to learn with you, Rivky. It's awesome to be here on Parsha Lab. And yeah, I think if we read through the parashahs, and through Bechukotai too, these themes of how we live in the land, how we treat others who live in the land, how we identify as people who God took us out of Egypt they just come up again, and again and again. And like you said there's a lot more to look into here.
Rivky: Yeah. Well, thank you all so much for listening. As always we really welcome your feedback. Please send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you liked it please also share it with your friends, share it with your family. Rate us five stars on iTunes and looking forward to hearing all your thoughts and seeing you back next week. Shabbat Shalom everyone.
Ami: Bye everybody. Shalom, shalom.