Predicting the Sabbath (Behar)

Predicting the Sabbath (Behar)

Envisioning the end is enough to put the means in motion. -Dorothea Brande

In the Torah portion of Behar, God instructs Moses to relay the commands of the Sabbatical year, among a slew of other related and unrelated commandments. The Sabbatical year was the divine decree that in Israel, in the Promised Land, the fields needed to lay fallow every seventh year. Every seventh year the farmers were given a divinely mandated break from plowing, sowing and working their fields. The farmers who followed God’s directive were blessed with abundant crops.

The Berdichever mentions a related verse:

“And you (Moses), speak to the Children of Israel: My Sabbaths they should guard.”

The verse is unusual in two regards. It singles out Moses with the pronoun “you” – usually God just says to Moses “speak.” The second curiosity is God referring to the Sabbath as His – “My Sabbaths.”

The Berdichever resolves these peculiarities by citing a Midrash. The Midrash tells how while the Jews were still enslaved in Egypt, besides pleading to be freed, Moses also requested that the Jewish slaves be granted a day of rest every seven days. Moses intuited that the Jewish people and man in general needed a weekly period of rest. Hence, when God speaks with Moses about this particular commandment, about the Jews taking a day of rest, God addresses him as “you” – acknowledging this idea of Moses which anticipated the command God would eventually give the Jewish people.

However, God also wanted to underline that the Sabbath is not merely a day of rest for the weary, that it is not just a good idea which Moses thought of, recognizing our need. God is saying that we need to observe a weekly Sabbath even if we are not “weary” from our labors. We need to observe the Sabbath first and foremost because God commanded it. Hence, God refers to the divinely ordained day of rest as “My Sabbaths.” It’s not a human invention. It’s not just because it’s a good idea. There is something deeper and divine in abstaining from labor on God’s Sabbath.

Moses had the uncanny ability to predict God’s establishment of the Sabbath. He understood the fundamental aspect of this particular commandment.

May we embrace the Sabbath, take a break from our labors, imbibe the rejuvenating powers of this special day and get physically, spiritually and emotionally recharged on a weekly basis.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Jerry Posner’s father on his 100th birthday! Mazal Tov!

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