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The Sabbaath of Sabbaths
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

We are currently in the midst of a shemittah year, the final year of a seven-year cycle in which the Torah decrees that the land in Israel remain fallow. One may not sow or reap the produce of the seventh year.

In this week’s Torah portion, the mitzvah of shemittah is introduced. “When you come to the Land that I am giving you, the Land shall rest a Sabbath to G-d.” In a subsequent verse the Torah states: “But in the seventh year, the Land shall have a complete rest, Shabbat Shabbaton--a Sabbath to G-d…” Why the use of the double expression in this verse?

According to the Zohar, the Land of Israel is fundamentally different from all other countries; it is “Eretz HaKodesh-the Holy Land.”

The Torah (Deuteronomy 11:12) describes the Land of Israel thus: “A land which G-d your G-d, cares about. The eyes of G-d A-mighty are continuously upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” According to the Zohar, there is a fundamental difference between the way G-d supervises other places and the way He looks upon Eretz Yisroel: G-d supervises all the other lands through His “ministers” and angels, whereas G-d Himself watches over the Land of Israel.

Likewise the Jewish nation is a holy nation, a nation apart, and is not in any way influenced by any intermediary forces such as angels. Our link with G-d is direct. When the Jews entered the Land, it was not really a conquest; it was actually the return of the Land to its rightful owners.

We can now understand why the Torah begins the discussion of the Sabbatical year with the words “When you come to the Land that I am giving you, the Land shall rest a Sabbath to G-d.” The word Shabbos-rest can also be rendered “return.” When you will come to the Land, it will have returned to its rightful owners. All of its potential is now ready to be actualized.

The Torah then continues: If during the seventh year you will rest, then there will be a Shabbos Shabbaton, i.e., a double return of the land. The first return was the mere presence of the Jewish people in their G-d given Land, which revealed the Land’s integrity. The second return was the recognition of the Land’s unique status by desisting from work upon it during the seventh year.

The concept of the duality of the return of the Land—first through entering into it and then observing the Sabbatical Year requirements—can also be applied to our return to the Land of Israel with the imminent arrival of Moshiach and the ensuing Redemption.

As long as we are in the period of exile, the connection we have to the Land of Israel remains tenuous. Every day we hear our right to the Land challenged and denied. Israel’s physical security is still a troubling major issue.

The first step in the process of the “return” of the Land to us is what Maimonides describes as Moshiach “fighting the wars of G-d.” These wars are intended to liberate Israel from all the external threats that undermine its security and the connection of the Jewish people to the Land. This process represents the first “Shabbos” or return of the Land. The entire world will appreciate and accept the reality that Israel the People and Israel the Land are inseparable.

The next step for Moshiach will be to build the Third Temple and then gather all of Israel the People and bring them home to Israel the Land. At that time all of the laws that could not be observed during the past Exile will become operable again, especially the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, discussed in this week’s parshah. That stage will represent the second phase of return—the “Shabbos Shabbaton”—when Israel’s integrity will be fully restored.


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