Pride in Observance

When you come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a shabbat unto Hashem.

imageThe year we entered the land, we neither plowed nor tilled. This was a year of rest for the Land. Every seventh year thereafter was supposed to be a rest as well, but we know how well we obeyed that edict, and it didn’t go well for us. I asked myself the question why. Why did the land require a Shabbat rest? The land does not miraculously cease providing nourishment for plants, so it seems it’s not getting a rest anyway. G-d commanded that any produce that the land spontaneously produced was for the consumption of all Israel ahnd the gerim in their midst.

I think the answer is found when we consider for whom the land produces. In six years, the land produces for the family caring for the land. Whether Shabbat, weekday, or Holiday, the land continues to produce for the well being and profit of those to whom the land fell by lot. Consider this: there are 52 Shabbats in a year. Therefore, in six-years’ time, we have 52 x 6 Shabbats, which comes out to 312 Shabbats; additionally, over the course of six years, we generally gain seven days (six days plus a leap year’s February 29th) and with it, one additional Shabbat, making a total of 313. How many Holidays are there that are also considered Shabbats? Let’s count them:

There is Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and last days of Sukkot, the first and last days of Pesach, and Shavuot. Seven times six makes 42 (an interesting thing to consider for those who like to dabble in Daniel and be wrong). 313 plus 42 is 365. This makes a year’s worth of Shabbats the land did not get to enjoy during the six years of growth and produce. Therefore, the land and its produce is pulled from the control of the caretaker family and given to Hashem to distribute to all of Israel. The land gets its Shabbat by not being a servant of mankind for a year.

Are you bothered that I used the solar calendar of 365 days in figuring out a reason behind the Shmittah or Sabbatical year?

Let me ask you this: Upon what is the Jewish or the Biblical calendar based upon: the moon or the sun?

Moon: for holidays and Rosh Chodesh
The sun for the determination of Pesach (and therefore the length of the year)

There was a Rabbi in Denver who would go home for the lighting the Shabbats candles, and the someone would pick him up and drive him to Shul. Finally someone questioned him and asked why he was breaking Shabbat. He said, “Those who are wise know the candle lighting does not determine Shabbat, but the setting of the sun determines Shabbat.”

So, the sun also is used to determine the observance of Shabbat. So the answer is that both the sun and the moon are used in our calendar.

The Torah makes it clear we are to keep the Shabbat, but it’s not so clear as to when it begins. Of course we are smarter and have better understanding than our ancestors, so we are fully convinced in our minds when Shabbat begin and ends. Our ancestors, on the other hand, tried to look at every possibility to help assure that at the end of the discussion, they would have the best understanding. Some rabbis suggested the Shabbat begins when the disc of the sun touches the horizon. Other suggest when the whole disc disappears below the horizon, while others suggested it was halfway between the two – a compromise of sorts. Whichever the belief, candle lighting was determines to be some minutes, be it 18 minutes, 22 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, before the most stringent observance, which in this case, is the disc of the sun touching the horizon. In like manner, Shabbat ends when like conditions exist. Shabbat does not begin when we traditionally light the candles, nor does it end when we light the havdalah candle. Rabbeinu Tam taught that Shabbat began and ended much later than you would have ever considered. The Hungarian Jews who followed Rabbeinu Tam light Shabbas candles when it was pitch black – a time when most other Jews believed such activities desecrated the Shabbat. To this day, we follow Rabbeinu Tam to end in Shabbat, but these Hungarian followed him from the beginning to the end of Shabbat, which in some ways is more correct because of their consistency.

The point in all this is to say that there is two parts to every command in Torah. There is the actual mitzvah (which we pull from the Torah) and there is the minhag (the tradition we use to facilitate or obey the mitzvah), and regardless of your belief system or your love or hate of Jewish tradition, this holds true in every instance of our collective observance.

Recently, I was asked why we lit six candles in our morning service in remembrance of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. I said that some traditions say the prohibition against kindling a fire is related to work fires because of the juxtaposition of the command to cease from work in Exodus 35:2 and the command against kindling a fire in the very next verse.

Adam Clarke’s Commentary on Exodus 35:3 says, “The Jews understand this precept as forbidding the kindling of fire only for the purpose of doing work or dressing victuals; but to give them light and heat, they judge it lawful to light a fire on the Sabbath day,”

Additionally, the menorah was kindled and the wicks trimmed on each Shabbat, wood was laid on the altar to keep it burning.

My explanation was not accepted because this person believes a more stringent minhag should be followed by all concerned. Both views honor Shabbat; the only difference is one is more strict than the other. Sadly, the person decided to leave the congregation.

Instead of taking pride in your more-frum observance, try taking pride in your neighbor’s honor of Torah and the mitzvot – even if the minhag is different than yours.


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