Behar Bechukosai: True Freedom

Why is the seventh year described as a Sabbath unto G-d, rather than simply as a year of rest?

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Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, | updated: 17:41

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Freedom is one of humanity’s fundamental goals. Ever since Moses trumpeted the call, “let my people go,” people the world over valued and treasured freedom. Yet we sometimes apply freedom too narrowly. When we see a person indentured into servitude we chafe at the unfairness of it. When we see young children snatched off the street and sold halfway across the world into slavery, we rail at the abhorrent and horrible crime. But what of our own freedom? Are we free?

In the Torah we read that the Jewish people in Israel were enjoined to proclaim the Jubilee, a year of freedom for all the land’s inhabitants. A wise rabbi asked an obvious question. On the jubilee year, the Jewish slaves were set free. But not all the inhabitants of the land were enslaved. Why does the Torah enjoin us to proclaim freedom for all the land’s inhabitants?

The obvious answer is that even people that are free on the outside, might not be free on the inside. We might be free of external masters, but are we free of ourselves, our internal merciless master?

In G-ds Hands
For six years we worked the land, and the seventh was a Sabbath unto G-d. The Sabbatical year is like Shabbat. Just like we work for six days and rest on the seventh, so do we work for six years and rest on the seventh. Sabbaticals were kept in cycles of seven. After seven Sabbaticals, the Jubilee was ushered in.

This brings up three questions:

Why is it necessary for the Torah to tell us to work for six days or six years, isn’t the important message that we should rest on the seventh?

Furthermore, the Torah tells us not only to work for six years, but also to count the six years until we reach the Sabbath unto G-d. Why is it necessary to count?

Why is the seventh year described as a Sabbath unto G-d, rather than simply as a year of rest?

All three questions can be answered with one simple concept. When we rest on Shabbat or during the Sabbatical year, we make a statement: I don’t need to work more to earn more. I don’t earn by working or by resting. I only earn from what G-d gives me. For six days, G-d wants me to earn through working, and on the seventh day G-d wants me to earn through resting. Either way, I do what G-d wants, and G-d takes care of me.

It is critical to think this way during the six years because otherwise we can fall into the trap of thinking that we earn from our own handiwork and the more we work, the more we earn. When we count down to the Sabbatical as we work, we are reminded that we are constantly in G-d’s hands. Whether through work or through rest; when G-d wants us to work, we work, and when G-d wants us to rest, we rest.

This is also why the Torah specifies that we work for six days and rest on the seventh. Whether we work or rest is immaterial. Whether we work when G-d wants us to work and rest when G-d wants us to rest, is material. This also explains why the Torah emphasises that the Sabbatical is a Sabbath unto G-d. Its purpose is to remind us, during the six years and during the seventh, that we are always and wholly dependant on G-d.

This does not absolve us from taking responsibility for ourselves. When G-d wants us to work, we must work. But it does absolve us of worry, and that is where the freedom comes in.

Freedom
We mentioned earlier that it is possible to be free from external masters and still be enslaved to ourselves. By that we mean enslavement to worries, stresses and fears about the future. Our financial wellbeing takes up a lot of our headspace, and we often worry about tomorrow. We don’t confide in others about these fears because we think it will lessen their respect for us, but deep in our hearts, we nurse a terrible fear. What will be tomorrow?

When I can’t work, who will support my family? If I don’t get the contract, how will I make the mortgage payments? We act like we are free, but we are not. We are enslaved to our very selves. And we can be our own worst taskmasters. The stress robs us of sleep and health. And the dirty little secret is that while we keep these fears from everyone, everyone around us secretly harbors similar fears.

How do we gain freedom from those fears? The answer is to trust in G-d. When we successfully inculcate a deep-seated belief in the simple and true fact that we are in G-d’s hands, we will stop worrying. If we don’t get the client that we wanted we will still be okay because G-d is looking after us. That is true freedom. Freedom from the greatest tyrant of all, our own fear and insecurity.

Shabbat
There is only one way to inculcate this faith and that is through observing Shabbat. And I mean truly and fully observing Shabbat. Don’t set this day aside for shopping and errands. Don’t go for family trips and vacations. Set this time aside as a day of rest and a day for G-d. When will you run your errands? During the week. What if that cuts into your work hours and business time? That is the entire point. We don’t earn through work. We earn because G-d looks after us. During the week through working, and on Shabbat through resting.

We cannot inculcate this faith without actually observing Shabbat. We cannot think our way to G-d, we can only do our way to G-d. This faith and absolute trust in G-d, which grants us freedom from worry and fear, can only come through action. Through actually observing Shabbat.

Jubilee
We can now understand why the Torah tells us to proclaim freedom for all the land’s inhabitants on the jubilee year. If we inculcate faith and trust in G-d through keeping Shabbat for one day a week, imagine the kind of faith and trust that we can inculcate by resting for an entire sabbatical year.

Imagine how trusting the inhabitants of Israel were by the time they observed seven complete cycles of the Sabbatical. Imagine further that after observing the seventh Sabbatical for a complete year, they were called upon to take yet another year off and rest again.

You would think that by now their finances were low and they would begin to feel that this resting business is becoming a burden. Comes the Torah and says, NO! This is not a year of burden. This is a year of freedom for everyone. Their faith and trust had been so well honed, that they came to feel completely free from worries and fear. They felt completely at peace in G-d’s hands. If He wants them to work, they will work. Conversely, if He wants them to rest, they will rest as long as He likes, with nary a worry or fear. Because they are in G-d’s hands. And that my fear friends, is true freedom.






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