אז תרצה הארץ את שבתותי' כל ימי השמה ואתם בארץ אויביכם אז תשבות הארץ והרצות את שבתותי'.
“Then the land will be compensated for the sabbaticals during all the days of its desolation, and you will be in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and will be compensated for its sabbaticals.” (Vayikra 26:34)
The verse is telling us that the Jewish people will be exiled due to transgressing the mitzvah of Shemitta, which is the obligation to allow the land to rest every seventh year. While the Jewish people will be in the land of their enemies, the land of Israel will rest for many years, compensating for the sabbatical years during which the land was not allowed to rest.
We know that all of the curses mentioned in the Torah are blessings in disguise. What blessing is hidden in this particular curse?
Every person is comprised of a physical body and a spiritual soul. These two parts of the person are opposing forces, each pulling him in a different direction. The physical body desires food, rest and pleasure, while the soul desires closeness with Hashem. Hashem put these two “enemies” together, creating within the person a state of constant internal struggle.
On Shabbos, we each receive a special gift: the neshama yeseira, the “additional soul.” We could have assumed that if another soul joins the feud, the person will be further torn apart between his opposing desires, and Shabbos would become a day of internal strife and spiritual unrest. In truth, the exact opposite is true. “And you shall call Shabbos a pleasure!” (Yeshaya 58:13). Shabbos is a day of internal peace and joy. We are required to honor Shabbos with festive meals full of delicious food. These physical pleasures are elevated because they are done for the honor of Shabbos. The additional neshama we receive on Shabbos doesn’t suppress the body, but rather elevates it. On Shabbos, our bodies are sanctified and come to respect the soul’s needs, which creates a situation in which body and soul join together to serve Hashem as one unit. Not only is Shabbos a treat for the neshama, but it is also a treat for the body; both parts of the person look forward to this special day all week.
We can see this message in the verse. “Az – then.” The word az has two letters, the first letter is alef – one, and the second letter is zayin – seven, which symbolizes Shabbos. From the first day of the week onward, the body waits for the seventh day – Shabbos. “Then the land will be compensated for the sabbaticals .” The word aretz – land, stands for physicality and earthiness. Even the physical part of us will be looking forward to the sabbatical day of rest. “During all the days of desolation,” during the forlorn days of the week, when our souls are bound “in the land of your enemies” – contained in the body which pulls us in the opposite direction, away from Hashem. On Shabbos, all this changes and the land, the physical body, will finally rest along with the soul, serving Hashem together.
There is another important message in this verse. The Torah says (Vayikra 23:15), “And you shall count from the morning after Shabbos.” This is the mitzvah of counting the Omer between Pesach and Shavuos. The morning after Shabbos really means the morning after Pesach (Menachos 65b). Why does the Torah use the word Shabbos, which can cause people to mistakenly think that we must begin counting the Omer on a Sunday? In fact, the Sadducee sect (Tzedokim), who believed in the Written Torah but denied the Oral Tradition, started counting the Omer from Sunday, in keeping with the literal meaning of the verse. Why indeed does the Torah use the word Shabbos when it really means Pesach?
To understand why the word Shabbos is used instead of Pesach, we must first understand the difference between Shabbos and Yom Tov. In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, the Yomim Tovim were designated by the sages. There were no fixed timings for the holidays, because it all depended on the sighting of the new moon and the decision of the sages to start a new month. If the sages were to decide to push off Rosh Chodesh for another day, they had the power to do that, and in result the Yom Tov that comes that month would also be pushed off for a day. So we see that the sanctity of Yom Tov depends on the decision of the sages and the sanctification of the Jewish people.
By contrast, Shabbos is fixed to arrive every seventh day. It does not depend on human sanctification. Whether we are prepared for Shabbos or not, Shabbos arrives on the seventh day, a precious spiritual gift straight from Heaven.
The Yom Tov of Pesach shares this similarity with Shabbos. The Jewish people in Egypt were not prepared to be sanctified. They were unworthy and lacked basic merits, yet Hashem redeemed them without waiting for them to first sanctify themselves. The Redemption arrived as a precious gift straight from Heaven. This is why the verse says, “from the morning after Shabbos” – meaning, from the morning after the Yom Tov that is likened to Shabbos, because the spiritual greatness achieved on that Yom Tov did not depend on human sanctification.
The Omer is counted for seven weeks, “until the morning after the seventh week.” Once again, the Torah uses the word “Shabbos” in reference to these weeks. Why does the Torah call it Shabbos?
Pesach was our first step towards greatness. Hashem picked us up out of the dust and grime and gave us tremendous spiritual greatness. After that, Hashem took away some of that undeserved greatness so that we should work towards achieving it through our own merits. During the seven weeks between Pesach and Shevuous, the Jewish people worked on themselves to be worthy of the great spiritual gifts they were given during the Exodus. When they finally received the Torah on Shevuos it was after tremendous personal effort and sanctification.
Even after the person has worked on himself very hard and has finally accomplished spiritual greatness, he must still remember that it is only with Hashem’s help that he was able to achieve all that. It is not his own strength and abilities that enabled him to become great.
This is why the Torah once again uses the word “Shabbos,” referring to the seven weeks of counting and working on attaining spiritual greatness. Upon arriving at the winning point, at the Yom Tov of Shevuos when we have already worked so hard on ourselves, we must still remember that any greatness we achieved is a precious gift straight from Heaven, just like Shabbos. It is not our own abilities that enabled us to be sanctified, but instead, just like Shabbos is sanctified only by Hashem and not through human intervention, our spiritual accomplishments are gifts from Hashem.
This message is hidden in the verse: “Az – then” – from the first week (alef) of counting which begins the morning after Pesach, until the seventh week (zayin) of counting which concludes on Shevuous, “the land will be compensated for the sabbaticals.” Sabbaticals is mentioned in plural form, symbolizing the two times that the Torah uses the word Shabbos. Both the first Shabbos, which is really Pesach, and the Second Shabbos, which is really the weeks leading up to Shevuos, are gifts from Hashem. The “land” – our physical inclinations, will rest on these sabbaticals, not through our own merits and accomplishments, but only through the help of Hashem, who gives us the precious gift of spiritual achievements.