By: William J. Jackson
Reading this weeks Torah Portion, Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25:1–27:34), it seems HaShem puts a strong emphases on resting every seventh year. Leviticus 25 says every seventh year is a Shmita rest (Leviticus 25:4), and every seven Shmita years (49/50 years) is a Jubilee rest (Leviticus 25:8). In these years we are also suppose to give the land a rest. This means we are not to grow or harvest. When we look at the weekly Sabbath it replicates the Shmita and Jubilee, but on a smaller scale. For instance, Exodus 24:21 states “Six days you will work, but on the seventh day you are to rest — even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest…”
So what does it mean for the land to rest? Well as much as a field not worked may appear dormant, it really isn’t. What’s really happening during it’s rest (1);
- Weeds are bringing up topsoil minerals which revitalize the soil.
- Vines and trees are given free growth thus renewing their vitality.
- Fruit which falls and rots gives the soil high doses of nutrients.
Note: This biblical practice also greatly reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides.
In Exodus 31:15, 35:2, Leviticus 16:31 we, as people, are commanded to take a complete day of rest in Hashem. What does that look like, does it mean to be dormant? A good story that highlights this point is the Story of “The Wood-Cutter”.
The Wood-Cutter: A young wood-cutter completed his first 8 hour day of work. “Wow!”, he cut down 18 trees, an excellent haul (especially since wood-cutters got paid per the tree). Eager to beat his record, he showed up that much earlier the next day. He was so excited that he worked through lunch. After clocking out late, he was surprised to find that he cut down fewer than 18 trees. Frustrated, he sat on a stump pondering what had gone wrong. The Old Timer that ran the lumber mill walked up on him and asked “why are you so puzzled, lad?”. The youth went over each hour of his twelve hour day not understanding where he went wrong. The Old Timer blinked and scratching his chin, he than asked “when did you sharpen your ax?”. “Sharpen my ax?” the wood-cutter replied. “I did you sharpened my ax. I have been too busy trying to cut down trees.”(2).
Notice that the “Old Timer” doesn’t asked when he rested last. The “Wood-Cutter Story” illustrates to us the importance of sharpening ourselves before going back into the world. In Deuteronomy 31:10-11 Moses tells the people to read Torah during Sukkot on the Shmita years (that would include the Jubilee years). Also, we see historically after Israel suffers disaster as of a result of ignoring Torah, she begins to embrace it again. Usually, these Torah readings are done in public;
a. Joshua after being defeated by a smaller army; Joshua 7-8
b. Josiah’s Religious Reforms; 2 Kings 23:1-3
c. Ezra (3) reintroduced the Torah after the Babylonian exile; Nehemiah 8:1-9:3
Why wait for the disaster, embrace Torah on a routine bases. Do it during the Sabbath.
As we know, YHVH made a perfect clock for the world, a lunar moon that marks the months and season that mark the years. However, the seven day week is not marked by planets or seasons, it is established through what the Creator of the Universe did (Genesis 2:2-3). This seven day week concept is not unique to only those that know Torah. Without knowing it, the whole world somehow adopted concept of the 7 day week. The Hindus, Babylonians, Chinese, Romans and Egyptians, and later Christians and Islam all historically acknowledge it (4). It is like HaShem has us on His on time schedule. So that being said, honoring Him ever seventh days, the seventh month (Leviticus 23:39-43) and the seventh year by digging into His word is not just a nice thing to do it’s a requirement. Just remember, the only worthy relationships are ones that are two way. Praying to HaShem is us talking to Him, and studying His word is Him talking to us. Make your relationship with the Creator a “two-way” one during Sabbath.