Volume 30 Issue 12 07 May 2021 25 Iyyar 5781

From the Head of Jewish Life

Rabbi Daniel Siegel – Head of Jewish Life

Satisfying seven

BeHar Sinai, this week’s parashah, is the seventh Torah reading from the book of VaYikra, and focuses on the number seven- sheva/שבע.

First, we are told the land is to be granted a Sabbath:

ובשנה השביעית שבת שבתון יהיה לארץ שבת לה’

In the seventh year, the land shall have a Sabbath of Sabbaths, a Sabbath to the Lord.

We are to observe a Sabbatical-the seventh year is one of complete rest for the land.

As the seventh day (יום השביעי) is Shabbat, a day of rest for humanity, so the seventh year (שנה השביעית) is a Sabbath of Sabbaths in which the land, as well, is to experience respite and recovery.

Beyond the seventh day and seventh year is the observance of the Jubilee, following upon seven cycles of seven years.

וספרת לך שבע שבתות שנים שבע שנים שבע פעמים והיו לך ימי שבע שבתות השנים תשע וארבעים שנה והעברת שופר תרועה בחודש השביעי… ביום הכיפורים… וקראתם דרור בארץ לכל יושביה יובל היא

 And you shall count seven sabbaths of years, (that is) seven years, seven times, so that the days of the seven sabbaths of years will be 49 years. Upon the seventh month, on the day of Yom Kippur, you shall sound the shofar…proclaiming liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants, this is the Jubilee.

Upon completion of seven cycles of seven years, being seven sabbatical years, a great restoration of wholeness occurs, slaves and prisoners are released, property seized by creditors reverts to its original owners and families and the land experiences a fullness of rest.

The biblical mandate of the counting of seven times seven, bringing us to the Jubilee year, is reminiscent of the command to count the Omer which we find in the previous parashah (Emor):

וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת… שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה עד ממחרת השבת השביעית

And you shall count, from the day following the sabbath, seven complete sabbaths, until the day following the seventh sabbath

After counting forty-nine days of the Omer, Shavu’ot (שבועות) being a culmination of and deriving its name from these seven (שבע) weeks, is observed by bringing an offering of new grain to the Temple.

Shabbat, Shemittah (the Sabbatical Year), Yovel (The Jubilee) and Shavu’ot all center upon the number seven, as do the festivals of Sukkot and Pesach, which we observe for seven days (in Israel).

The importance of seven (sheva/שבע), which is the most significant number within our Jewish tradition, is reflected in another word of the same letters that is also found in our parashah.

ונתתה הארץ פריה ואכלתם לשבע
And the land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill (sova/שבע)

Seven (sheva/שבע) constitutes a sense of fullness (sova/שבע). Thus, Shabbat, the seventh day is holy when its observance makes for rest and a restoration of wholeness-it celebrates a fullness of being. The Sabbatical year extends this fullness of being in application and manifestation. And, as squaring a number renders its ultimate expression, so seven (sheva/שבע) times seven brings us to the fullest realisation of sova/שבע. This Jubilee year reinstates a primordial wholeness of being and spirit.

Lest we be consumed by our consumption, the Jewish observance of rest and restoration, every seven days, weeks and years, seeks fulfilment in the spirit of purposeful being and becoming rather than in preoccupation with procurement and production.

Below are some examples of the significance of seven in Jewish practice, rituals and belief.

The first verse of the Torah, beginning the description of Creation (which ends with Shabbat, on the seventh day), consists of seven words.

Jericho’s walls fall on the seventh day after seven priests with seven trumpets march around the city seven times.

We make seven circuitous processions (hakafot) with the Torah on Simchat Torah.

The bride (traditionally, revised in contemporary practices) encircles the groom seven times.

A bride and groom are feted with seven days of festive meals after their wedding, in which the Sheva Berakhot (Seven Blessings), pronounced at the wedding ceremony, are joyously repeated.

When a close relative dies, we sit Shiv’ah, 7 days of mourning.

On Sukkot, celebrated for seven days, we take-up/shake 7 plant products – 1 Lulav, 1 Etrog, 2 willows, and 3 myrtles.

On the seventh day of Sukkot, there is a procession of seven circuits, with these seven plant products, around the synagogue sanctuary.

The smallest allowable dimension of a Sukkah is 7 cubits by 7 cubits.

The number of Ushpizin/Ushpizot, guests, invited into the Sukkah during the holiday are seven males (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David) and seven females (Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther).

Shavu’ot, celebrated after the counting of seven weeks times seven, includes the bringing of bikkurim (first produce) from the seven species of fruit for which the land of Israel is known. (Wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates).

We conclude our Yom Kippur prayers by proclaiming seven times, “The Lord is God!”