Statutes of Liberty
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Six years you may sow your fields, and for six years you can prune
your vine-yard and gather in the harvest. However, the seventh year
will be a sabbath of strict rest for the land, a sabbath to G-d. You
will neither sow ... (Vayikra 25:3-4)
This week's double parshah begins with the mitzvah of Sh'mittah,
while we are right now half-way through a Sh'mittah year in Eretz
Yisroel. It has already been a particularly unusual year,
It was a dry winter again, and the water crisis is deepening.
However, last week, extremely uncharacteristically, we had two major
rain storms -- lightning, thunder, and all -- that even caused
flooding (at least in our back laundry room). Entire roads were
washed over with mud and rubble, all within a few hours. By the
afternoon, the sun had returned.
That was after an eerie day of dust that left the sky murky and
orange for an entire day. Twenty minutes before sundown, it was
already pitch black -- the sun just wasn't strong enough at that
point to force its way through the thick dust cloud that enveloped a
large section of Eretz Yisroel. As a I write this very moment, a
whole new one is beginning as the light of the sun, at 2:45 pm, is
slowly being blocked out. It's gettin' dark in here.
We know that the keeping of Sh'mittah is central test of faith in
G-d's Divine Providence, to provide for us and take care of us, not
just when we have a hand in our own affairs, but, ESPECIALLY when we
don't. This is why it is also a mitzvah that is so intertwined with
exile and redemption.
According to our tradition, the seventy years in exile from the
destruction of the First Temple until the over-turning of Haman's
plot was measure-for-measure for the seventy Sh'mittah cycles the
Jewish people did not keep until their exile into Babylonia. This is
alluded to in the next parshah, 'Bechukosai':
Then the land will enjoy her sabbaths [which you violated] while it
lies desolate, and you are in your enemies' land -- the land will
rest and enjoy her sabbaths. (Vayikra 26:34)
And, according to the Talmud, the Final Redemption is defined in
terms of a Sh'mittah cycle:
The rabbis taught: The seven-year cycle during which Moshiach will
come, in the first year, the verse, "I caused it to rain on one city,
but, on another city, I did not cause it to rain" (Amos 4:7). In the
second year, slight famine (Rashi: a slight famine so that no place
will be completely satisfied). In the third year, the famine will be
great, and men, women, children, pious people, and men of good deeds
will die; Torah will be forgotten by those who learned it. In the
fourth year, some will be satiated while others are not, but, in the
fifth year there will be plenty and people will eat, drink, and be
joyous, and Torah will return to those who learned it. In the sixth
year, there will be voices. In the seventh year, there will be war.
Motzei Sh'viis, Ben Dovid will come. (Sanhedrin 97a)
Why a Sh'mittah cycle? Jewish history, unlike Western history, moves
forward and in circles, or rather, cycles. Since creation exists for
a specific purpose, and that purpose is to allow man to use his
capacity of free will to build a relationship with G-d, it makes
sense that time should be measured by cycles of time that promote
that relationship -- the Sh'mittah Cycle.
The Sh'mittah Cycle represents one of the holiest concepts, and, is
extremely Kabbalistic in nature, obviously an expansion of the
Seven-Day Week, which culminates in the holy day of Shabbos. Just
like each day of the week is another step up towards the completion
of 'Day of Rest,' so, too, is each year of the Sh'mittah Cycle
supposed to be a step up to the holiness of the 'Year of Rest,' when,
free of a yetzer hara and physical limitations, we can enjoy being
one with G-d.
As well, each year of the Sh'mittah Cycle corresponds to one of the
six millennia of world history -- and corresponding Sefiros of Chesed
through Yesod -- which are leading to the seventh millennium, the
'day' that is called 'kulo Shabbos,' 'completely Shabbos,' and the
sefirah of Malchus. Thus history -- all of it -- is defined in terms
of Sh'mittah cycles.
Man, in order to unify with G-d, must undergo different periods of
preparation. 'Olam HaZeh,' or, 'This World,' is referred to as a
'corridor' to 'Olam HaBah'-'World-to-Come' (Pirkei Avos 4:16).
However, in truth, it is a corridor to another corridor (Days of
Moshiach), which is followed by another corridor (Soul-World), that
finally leads to the World-to-Come.
No matter which direction history seems to follow, in the end, it is
always going in one direction: fulfillment of the master plan for
creation. However, some things facilitate that fulfillment faster
than others, such as Moshiach, which means 'Anointed One.' And thus,
even a Sh'mittah Cycle is a process that must end in re-birth,
renewal, and the arrival of the Final Redeemer.
(For an explanation of what the Talmud means regarding each of the
years, visit www.thirtysix.org, and see the section on 'Sanhedrin,
If you still will not listen to Me, then I will continue to chastise
you seven times more for your mistakes. (Vayikra 26:18)
This posuk comes well within the section that outlines the rewards
for obedience to Torah and the punishments for disobedience.
You may have noticed the reference to the number 'seven' again. Based
upon what we spoke about in the previous section on Sh'mittah, it is
understandable that, if there is going to be Divine retribution, it
is going to be based upon the number seven. For, in seven days G-d
made creation, and, though there are a few ways to define the concept
of 'sin,' the most straight-forward way is: any act that man performs
which results in abuse of creation which was made in seven days.
At this point, one may envision some 'evil' company dumping
phosphates into some crucial life-supporting river, poisoning it for
good, all for the sake of profit. However, although that is certainly
an abuse of G-d's creation, one should also envision eating food for
the sake of physical pleasure only, or any physical indulgence that
is not for the sake of Heaven.
For, 'abuse' is any use of something other than for the intended
purpose. For example, when Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil for the sake of the knowledge only, and
not to come close to G-d, for which it was intended, they abused
creation. The severity of their/our punishment is enough to help us
to understand how G-d looks at such abuse.
Each day of creation was considered to be an additional 'veil' over
the sublime light of G-d. On the first day, the light was allowed to
stand separate from the darkness, and even given physical
representation in This World. This made the light more physically
visible but more spiritually invisible. Then, when G-d divided the
waters and made land and sea, creation became even more physical and
less spiritual, and this is the way it went for six days until man
If mankind had been around on the first day of creation, he could
never have lived to doubt the existence of G-d. However, he wasn't
created until Day Six, long after all the Heavenly veils had been put
in place. And, as spiritual as the Garden of Eden was -- and, it was
VERY spiritual -- still, it was a vision of physicality with many
'distractions,' of what the Light looked like with all its veils over
I remember once going into one of these 'monster' hardware stores --
I LOVE hardware stores -- that had everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.
I don't remember what it was that I had in gone to buy at the time,
but I know that it had not been anything that major.
Anyhow, I remember winding my way through the many and long aisles of
this store in pursuit of my trivial item, and being amazed by what
was available in this store, things I had never even known existed.
It did not take long before my paced slowed, and I began to pay more
attention to the items I saw along the way, and even examine many by
hand. It also did not take long before I forgot why I had come into
the store in the first place, so distracted I became by all the
'whatchamacallits' and 'dudads.'
A little time later, my inner clock had told me that valuable time
was slipping away, and, after spending a few moments searching my
short-term memory (which gets shorter by the day) for my original
item of need, I sadly pushed onward and checked out with what
represented about one-trillionth of the store's inventory. Leaving
the store for the outside world was like waking up from a pleasant
dream with a thud.
Of course, as I drove away and 'slipped' back into everyday life, I
realized that the 'real world' was the one I was now a part of, not
the one I left behind in the giant store. However, while in that
place of tremendous potential, one is easily duped and can even be
cajoled into spending money he neither wants to or has to spend.
The 'hoax' of history is creation. While in it, one is easily fooled
into believing that it is all there is. It is a double-edged sword:
on one side it is beautiful and enjoyable, but, on the other side it
is tempting and distracting. When used as a vehicle to come close to
G-d, it is a blessing and results in even more blessing, as the
parshah begins to tell us. When used as a vehicle to forget G-d and
get involved into fairy-tale fantasies, it ends up becoming a source
of curse, G-d forbid.
This is the meaning of the allusion to 'seven' in the above posuk, a
number that always alludes to physical creation. Says the Torah: If
you persist in using creation, which was made in SEVEN days, in a way
that is contrary for its reason for existing, then, it -- creation
itself -- will be your own source of punishment. It was a source to
distract you -- it will be your wake-up call too.
The remainder of you [after all this] will dwindle away as a result
of your mistakes and the mistakes of your ancestors [which occurred]
while living in your enemies' lands. (Vayikra 26:39)
All of a sudden, this posuk has added relevance. Recent statistics
show that, after many years of post-war growth, the overall
population of the Jewish people is, in fact, decreasing. Death rates,
combined with less births, not to mention rampant assimilation and
inter-marriage among the larger, more secular sector of the Jewish
people, are actually resulting in negative net growth.
We are, indeed, dwindling away as the posuk warned.
We have, and are making BIG mistakes, and it is costing us as a
people. While so many Jews are trying to fashion Judaism to 'fit in'
with the present, they are in fact sacrificing the future. In haste,
convenience, and ignorance, absolutes are being rejected and
abandoned with the goal being to build a more 'palatable' everyday
Jewish life. However, the result is that Judaism, for millions of
Jews, is going the route of most religions: oblivion.
We are, in the end, dwindling.
Of course, for some Jews, that is good news. There are many groups
who celebrate such findings, seeing little or no value in continuing
that which Avraham Avinu sacrificed so much to begin, and billions of
other Jews have sacrificed so much along the way to maintain.
However, for those 'some Jews,' that is precisely the reason to give
up the ship and put an end to the need for such sacrifices once and
Who, or what will teach them otherwise? So, the Torah continues:
They will admit their mistakes and those of their ancestors, evil
performed against Me, and that they walked contrary to Me, [and that
it was for this reason] that I worked against them and brought them
into the land of their ene-mies ... (Vayikra 26:40-41)
They will admit their mistakes.
HAH! It is easier to land cows on the moon than it is to get many of
us to admit our mistakes, with so much time, energy, money, manpower,
and thought invested in mistaken ways of life. We're talking decades
(if not more) of philosophies
"Oh ... that's what's holding you back from reaching truthful
conclusions? Too bad. I gave all of that to you to help you live
truthful lives, and here you went and used them for just the
opposite. Well, that forces me to take them away from you and work
against you while in the land of your enemies."
"Enemies?" you may say. "These people are friendly to me. They treat
me with respect," you add.
'Enemies,' the Torah warns. Today's friends will become tomorrow's
enemies if you don't watch yourself. The 'heat' will turn up, and you
will soften your positions, and, eventually, you will admit your
How hot? Hot enough to dwindle us down to nothing. Fortunately, the Torah adds:
In spite of all of this, even though they live in the land of their
enemies, I will not discard them, or detest them to the point of
annihilating them, or void My covenant with them, for I am G-d, your
G-d. For their sake, I will remember the covenant of their ancestors,
whom I brought out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the
nations, to be their G-d. I am G-d. (Vayikra 26:44-45)
But WHO will remain? That the Torah doesn't tell us, because THAT is
our own free-will decision.
To dwindle, or not to dwindle, that is the question. Only WE can
provide the answer.
This year's Sefiros HaOmer is winding down, or shall we say, up. This
Motzei Shabbos is the forty-secondth day of the Omer-Count, the last
day of the week of 'Yesod,' as we enter the phase of 'Malchus,' en
route to 'Malchus sh'b'Malchus' and the holiday of Shavuos.
This period represents a great oxymoron. It is, in fact, a time of
great celebration as we commemorate the great exodus from Egypt
through awesome miracles, on our way to receive G-d's Torah at Mt.
Sinai and experience inconceivable revelation.
Yet, we are mourners instead. Because Rebi Akiva lost 24,000 of his
students to plague -- basically ALL of them -- during this period of
time, celebration has turned to sadness and inhibition. Until 'Lag
B'Omer,' the thirty-third day of the Omer, we don't allow marriages,
and many don't even listen to music in any form that includes
instruments -- live or recorded.
Thus, in the minds of those who observe the 'Sefirah' as it should be
observed, what ought to have been a time of joy is viewed each year
as a time of sorrow and restriction.
It reminds me of Parashas Shemini, in which at the height of the
inauguration of the Mishkan, Nadav and Avihu caused a great
emotional 'crash' by bringing their 'unauthorized fire' and eliciting
Divine punishment. What should have been one of the brightest moments
in the history of mankind proved to be one of the darkest.
Even at weddings during times it is permissible to get married, we
are not allowed to forget Jerusalem and the Temple. At the height of
the celebration, when, after much hope and anticipation the union
between 'chasan' and 'kallah' (groom and bride) has become quite
official, we break the glass to remember Jerusalem, and some even
sing in sadness, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem ..." before returning
to the festivities of the day.
It is a disturbing pattern, at least at first glance. It can even
make one afraid to succeed and become happy, for fear of what will
follow in its wake. However, upon investigation, one can better come
to understand why this pattern exists, how to live with it, and, on
occasion, even beat it.
Next week, b"H, Parashas Bamidbar will fall once again, as it does
EVERY year, in advance of Shavuos -- the "Time of Our Torah." It is
not a coincidence, but rather, a well-planned occurrence arranged by
the rabbis in consonance with the Talmudic dictum: If you want to
receive Torah, make yourself like a desert ('midbar'; Eiruvin 54a).
For, the desert represents the simplicity of a humble person, one who
does much but expects little -- like Moshe Rabbeinu himself.
Elsewhere, the Talmud states, Torah flows from Above to below, again,
suggesting the need for simplicity and humility. Man, to receive
Torah and be close to G-d can have a 'towering spirit,' but, not
The name of the game during this build up to 'Mattan Torah' every
year is objectivity, so that we can receive the Torah the way it is
given by G-d, not distorted through our personal prisms of bias and
subjective desires. The basis of objectivity is humility, which, by
definition means to see oneself as one truly exists within the
framework of creation and its purpose to exist.
The death of a single individual is a tragedy and waste of life --
how much more so 24,000 up-and-coming Torah leaders. And, what about
the billions of lives lost before and after that sad period in Jewish
history? But, whatever sadness it creates and whatever 'tikun' it
brings to creation, it is, nonetheless, a humbling experience for the
Jewish people, and a path back to Torah.
The parshah concludes:
... If then they humble their hearts, if then they accept the
punishment for their wrongdoings, then will I remember My covenant
with Ya'akov, My covenant with Yitzchak, and My covenant with
Avraham. (Vayikra 26:41)
If we don't like the oxymoron, then, we can remove it and avoid it
all together. True Joy can, but doesn't always lead to humility,
objectivity, and Divine favor. But, true humility is the source of
all good 'middos' (traits), another name for the 'Sefiros.'
The fact that the students of Rebi Akiva, the great teacher who was
famous for saying, "A major principle of Torah is to love your
neighbor as yourself," did not treat each other with sufficient
respect also indicated insufficient humility, and therefore,
insufficient objectivity. As a result, they did not merit to live to
experience the upcoming Shavuos, and, they have gone down in history
as a vehicle for us to achieve new heights of that crucial trait of
We would do well to learn that lesson. We bring meaning to their
deaths when we do.
Have a great and contemplative Shabbos,