by Rebbetzin Malkah
Infinity. Philosophers, mathematicians, physicists and theologians have tried for centuries to wrap their minds around this idea. Symbolically represented as ∞, the definition of infinity is "unboundedness", or something without end. In Hebrew, it is called Ain Sof and has been the topic of many rabbinical discourses - all in reference to the Holy One. What is it about infinity, or ain sof, that captivates us? And how is it that mathematicians are able to pull this symbol into equations of relevance? How is it they and countless others harness this concept, dance with it, and return with something tangible? Whether we realize it or not, the Torah addresses this exact dance through Bris Milah, the Yoveil (Jubilee year), Shemini Atzeret, Chanukah, and the counting of the Omer into Shavuot. Through these special times, we experience what humans have been driving towards since the dawn of time: a taste of the Divine as we slip into the intangible, sublime realm of infinity and back.
Learning to Count
From a very early age, we learned our multiplication and division facts diligently as the foundation for all future mathematics. As I child, one lesson in particular seized my interest more than all the rest: the day I learned that division by zero was impossible. I always looked back to that day in the third grade when I was informed there was something that was strangely unattainable in computation. Why? The teachers who taught me how to count were now declaring that there was a problem that was unsolvable. Why couldn't I divide something by zero, even though the concept itself seems meaningless and absurd? Despite the fact that the equation will generate infinity and an unreachable conclusion, is there still a reason to search out the answer? I was determined from that day forth to be allegorically dividing by zero for the rest of my life: for no other purpose than to reach for the Divine.
How does one play this out in life and how is this relevant to the Torah? As Hashem gave us the moon to rule by night, He also gave us Rosh Chodesh to know how to count our months and our days. Our days would be divided into months, and the year into a cycle of holidays based on those months. Our weeks were also to be numbered in patterns of seven, where the seventh day would be a day of holy rest. Every seven years there would be a Shmittah year, a year of rest for the land.
But in several places in our time, an eighth day or an eighth year would appear. By counting diligently, we would be able to reveal this eighth day and eighth year and ascend to a higher place spiritually. But it is only in learning to count that we would be able to properly receive this gift. This is why the important commandment of the Shmittah appears in direct link to Mount Sinai at the beginning of the parasha:
Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for Hashem. For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard; and gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for Hashem. (Vayikra 25 : 1-4)
By linking the Shmittah to Mount Sinai, the land itself would hold the link the Ain Sof. While every seventh year would give the land its rest, it would also afford the people a chance to focus on spiritual sustenance, just as the Shabbat does for us weekly basis except on a higher level. These Shabbats in time stop us in our tracks and cause us to remember: Hashem is the Master of All, we are not the master. But while the Shmittah affords us the chance to taste of the world to come, there is a number even greater than seven that transports us to an even higher place.
A Number Greater Than Seven
Just as those mathematicians dabble with equations using infinity to reach elegant solutions, so too does the Torah toy with infinity. There are portals within the mitzvot that sneak us off into a divine rendezvous and give us a taste of what lies beyond the veil of our existence here on earth. It is in the very physical connection of our feet upon the ground that we can somehow reach the infinite. As we count each consecutive Shmittah, we are commanded on the seventh Shmittah, the forty-ninth year, that we should rejoice and the land should rest. But it is not enough to have seven cycles of Shmittah - Hashem takes it even further.
As we reach the seventh counting of Shmittas and enter the fiftieth-year, something very special takes place. This is called the year of the Yoveil, or Jubilee. Something wonderful and fantastic happens as debts are cancelled, land is returned to ancestral claims, and the population continues to feed off of the forty-eighth year's harvest. This year holds something beyond what a Shmitta year holds: the number fifty, like the number eight, is beyond any multiple of seven. It is a step higher; it passes the threshold of the natural world into the divine, the infinite. It doesn't represent the counting of a new year in a sequence of counting another seven; instead it is separate and unique, holy and boundless. It stands alone and holds us in a temporary place, outside of the number seven.
Very pointedly Yeshua uses Jubilee language in Luke 4:14. Not only does he speak of freedom that will be poured out, but He shows us how to master the created world for good and brings us into the 8th - the dimension of his Father. Mashiach Yeshua is the very inbreaking of this tangible 8-ness into our lives. How so? His very existence can be defined as being the "Lord of the Sabbath." He holds the "ring" of the seven days of creation and brings us through and beyond them into a deeper bond with the Ain Sof.
The same holds for the counting of the omer as we approach Shavuot. We can view the forty-nine days of counting as increments of seven, week by week. But when we approach the fiftieth day, or Shavout, something remarkable happens: we stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and at the footstool of the Divine. We revel not just in the giving of the Torah, but the very presence of the Holy One, blessed be He. For this day, we step into a realm of the Ain Sof and experience that which is beyond the essence of seven or seven countings with Shabbats: we experience eight. We experience a separate place in time that is beyond this world.
In Hebrews 1, we see the direct correlation to our Mashiach Yeshua as the radiance of that infinite nature, the Shechinah. The energy that emanates from the Ain Sof is from a realm of existence far beyond our comprehension; however, it is through the experience and appearance of Yeshua himself that this sense of the infinite and our finite selves are able to share sacred space.
The Shape of Time
It is no coincidence when we view the symbol for infinity, ∞, that it resembles a number eight laying on its side. As a student of higher math, I yearned for the opportunity to write the infinity symbol, always imagining it as a number eight and creating the circles perfectly and evenly. It seems so clear why the number eight lies on it side to represent infinity - there is no coincidence. Within the bounds of the Bris Milah, we are reminded of the eternal covenant that exists between Hashem and His people when they are circumcised on the eighth day. We also understand the miracle of Chanukah in a deeper sense as well. The oil burning for eight days was a sign to our people, a beckoning to worship the divine and infinite Creator. The eight days of oil call out to us to acknowledge Hashem as superseding any pagan or self-created image on this earth and rise up. It is as if Hashem lifts our chin through these remembrances and shows us that an incredible realm exists beyond this world.
When we cause ourselves to count the days of the week, we find Shabbat. When we are able to count seven, we can count eight: we find the day for a Bris Milah. When we observe the holidays, we remember Pesach. Through Pesach, we count multiples of seven until we find Shavout on the fiftieth day - a day akin to the eighth day. When we remember to count sevens, we find the eighth. While the seventh day or the seventh year allows us to gaze upwards and remember the source of our blessing, the number eight holds two spaces together in unity - ours and the Divine. At this place, we are allowed to coexist in unity with the creator, to experience eternity and pass from one space to another. It is here that we can experience the fruit of covenant, of connection, of blessing. Look at the shape of infinity - it has room for the Creator and His Creation.
It is said that the reason our exile was seventy years is in Babylon was due to the fact that we were atoning for seven cycles of Shmitta that the Bnei Yisrael failed to observe. If this is so, then we understand more fully why the only documentation of our observance of Shmittah was during the Second Temple. If we seek to experience the Divine, then it is clear that it is contingent upon our observance of Hashem's Shabbats. Only when we achieve this do we make ourselves eligible to receive the reward of Divine entrance into the Yoveil. When we keep consecutive cycles of Shabbats unto the land, we earn the right to participate in the reward of the eternal; no partial credit is given, no allowances are made for haphazard observance.
Teach Us To Number Our Days
As we continue in our counting of the omer, hopefully it will resonate within each of us a desire to climb to a realm of holiness that is far beyond the cycle of seven weeks. As we prepare to enter into a day likened unto the eighth day, or the fiftieth day, may we find ourselves inside of it as a function of obedience, dutifulness and time.
Moshe Rabbeinu is credited with writing Psalm ninety. Radak alludes to the number seventy in this psalm as representing the exile, and eighty if we must be dealt with even more severely. The simple meaning, however, refers to our life in multiples of ten: seven and eight. Seventy years will be granted if we are righteous, eighty if we are given a blessing from the Divine.
"The days of our years are seventy, and if with strength, eighty years; yet their greatest [achievement] is toil and trouble, for it is quickly cut off and we fly away. Who knows the power of your anger? Even according to Your fear, so is Your fury. So teach us to number our days, that we may attain a heart of wisdom." (Tehillim 90: 10-12)
May we be worthy to number our days, our weeks and our years wisely so that future generations will have the blessing of receiving a true Yoveil: a redemption and a return of all souls unto Hashem through the revelation of Mashiach Yeshua. May this numbering be for you a blessing and bring you a heart of wisdom and a desire to reach out for that connection the Infinite.