May 5, 2014
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #925, B'Har, B'Har-B'Chukosai, Moshiach & Geula, Parsha Thought

This parsha opens with the laws concerning the Sabbatical year known as Shmita.


Every seven years, the Torah requires that the land in Israel remain fallow. One may not sow or reap the produce of the seventh year.

There are several anomalies about the manner in which the Torah introduces and characterizes the Sabbatical year.

First, in the introductory verse the Torah states: “When you come to the Land that I am giving you, the Land shall rest a Sabbath to G-d.”

This seems to suggest that the Land must rest for the first year after the Jews arrive there. The question has been raised, how could the Torah state that when they come to the Land, the land must rest? The year of resting does not commence until the seventh year as the Torah explicitly states in the very next verse. The Torah should have stated instead that “when you come to the Land you shall count six years and the seventh year the Land shall rest a Sabbath to G-d.”

Second, in a subsequent verse the Torah states: “But in the seventh year, the Land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to G-d…” The term for “complete rest” in Hebrew is the repetitive expression “Shabbos Shabbason-Sabbath of Sabbaths.”

The use of this dual expression—Shabbos Shabbason—is, however, problematic. Why not just the single term Shabbos?

Moreover, the introductory verse cited above, in fact, uses the singular expression of Shabbos. Why does the Torah then use the double expression in the very next verse?


When we analyze the usage of the singular and dual expression of Shabbos in other parts of the Torah it appears that the double expression does not fit in with the laws of the Sabbatical year.

To explain:

The term Shabbos is used in multiple contexts. We have the weekly Shabbos, as well as all the major Jewish Holidays, which are also called Shabbos. There is one difference, however, between the weekly Shabbos and all but one of the Holidays: The weekly Shabbos is sometimes referred to as Shabbos Shabbason-the Sabbath of Sabbaths, as is Yom Kippur.

The difference between the single use of the term Shabbos and the dual expression of Shabbos Shabbason is that a Jewish Holiday is only a partial day of rest. The Torah allows certain forms of work involved in food preparation such as cooking (from an existing flame) etc. On Shabbos and Yom Kippur, however, one must desist from all forms of work, including food preparation. Hence these Holy Days are given the dual appellation: Shabbos Shabbason—the Sabbath of Sabbaths. While Holidays are called Shabbos, these other days are Shabbos Shabbason—the Sabbath of Sabbaths.

In light of this introduction, the usage of Shabbos Shabbason with regard to the Sabbatical year is problematic. The restrictions of the Sabbatical year are far fewer than those of Shabbos. Indeed, even the Holidays (except Yom Kippur) are more restrictive and demand greater rest than the Sabbatical year. Why then is it characterized as Shabbos Shabbason?

The following is an answer to these questions, based on the 20th Century work Ateres Tzvi (published in 1953 with a letter of blessing by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe). Ateres Tzvi sheds light on the uniqueness of Eretz Yisroel, which explains the use of Shabbos Shabbason.


According to the Zohar, Eretz Yisroel is fundamentally different from all other countries; it is “Eretz HaKodesh-the Holy Land.” How can a land be holy? When something is totally removed from the norm, the mundane, the weekday or the conventional, it is said to be holy. We can easily appreciate how a certain physical structure can be holy because it has been consecrated for the service of G-d, exclusively. The Beis HaMikdash fits that description well because it had a sanctified singular purpose.

We can even understand how a city like Jerusalem could be given the designation of “holy.” It is a confined area in close proximity to the Holiest spot on Earth. Moreover, because of its proximity to the Beis HaMikdash, it demanded certain modes of behavior appropriate for such a location. In Jerusalem, one could breathe the holy atmosphere that pervaded the entire city.

But, how could we designate an entire country as a Holy Land?

The answer is provided by the Torah (Deuteronomy 11:12) which 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.” The question can be raised, doesn’t G-d watch over all countries of the world? 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. Hence, the Land of Israel cannot possibly be controlled by any other nation. Indeed, no other nation can even successfully colonize our Land, as history has demonstrated. Upon the exile of the Jewish nation, the Land of Israel was transformed from a Land of Milk and Honey to a veritable wasteland of uninhabitable desert and swamps. That is how the Land remained until the Jewish people repopulated it in recent times.

Prior to the conquest of the Land by Yehoshua, the seven Canaanite tribes occupied it. That was an anomalous and aberrant situation. The Land’s rightful inhabitants and proprietors had not arrived yet; the Land itself could well be said to have been in exile too. The Canaanite occupation was a foreign subjugation. It was akin to someone appropriating and then trying to wear clothing tailor-made for someone else. No matter how hard one tries to make it fit the contours of his or her body, it stubbornly remains ill fitting.

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 did not take it away from anyone; it was never really theirs to begin with. The Land of Israel cannot be conquered and thus transformed into another nation’s territory. Unlike any other land on Earth, the Land of Israel has an intrinsic, immutable connection to a specific people, the people of Israel.


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.” We earlier asked how the Torah could state that when you come to the land it shall rest? Doesn’t the cycle of resting only begin in the seventh year? However, in light of the above we see that the word Shabbos-rest can also be rendered “return.” And this is what the Torah is saying: When you will come to the Land, it will have returned to its rightful owners. With their arrival the Land of Israel becomes liberated Land. 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 Shabbason, 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. By observing these restrictions, the Jewish people demonstrated that they understood their intrinsic relationship with the Land. They continue to understand and demonstrate that it is not their land by virtue of conquest, possession or international law. It is theirs because, like Am Yisroel-the Jewish people themselves, Eretz Yisroel is uniquely and exclusively governed and supervised by G-d, as opposed to all other lands which are governed through intermediary angels.


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, by cementing and reinforcing our absolute and permanent connection to it. Even in this first stage of return, Israel’s connection to the Jewish people will never be challenged again. 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 parsha. That stage will represent the second phase of return—the “Shabbos Shabbason”—when Israel’s integrity will be fully restored and it will become manifestly clear to all that our connection to the Land is validated by our commitment to following all of the commandments associated with it.



Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
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