Monday, April 16, 2007

Lucky Seven

The tractate which deals primarily with the laws of Yom Kippur is called Yoma, "the day" because Yom Kippur is the single most uniquely sanctified day from all the days of the year[1]. The tractate begins[2] with the description of the High Priest's seclusion from society into the Holy Temple enclave for seven days before Yom Kippur, starting with the words, "Seven days before Yom Kippur, we separate the High Priest…" The Tosafists noted[3] a particularity in the wording of this opening Mishnah, for it says the number of time units before the actual time unit (i.e. the Mishnah says "seven" before it says "days"). Rabbi Yosef ben Raphael of Vilna explains[4] that since the Mishnah is discussing an event which occurred before Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur is the point-of-reference for the tractate of Yoma, the redactor of the Mishnah deemed it necessary to write the number of time units before Yom Kippur before defining the actual time unit used. Similarly, Tosafos[5] and Tosafos Yeshanim point out that in this Mishnah the date is mentioned before the occurring event (i.e. it says "seven days before Yom Kippur" before it says "we separate the High Priest…"). Rabbi Elazar Moshe Horowitz explains[6] that since the act of secluding the High Priest occurs only once and is not repeated, then the act itself is only secondary to the time during when the seclusion is supposed to talk place. Therefore, the date is mentioned before the action. Alternatively, Rabbi Yehoshua Falk (1555-1614) explains[7] that the wording of the Mishnah is based on the wording of Leviticus 8:32 which refers to the seven-day seclusion of Aaron and his sons before the inauguration of the Tabernacle[8].

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631)[9] explains that the tractate discussing Yom Kippur specifically begins with the word "seven" because the number seven is a specially portent number. Even though the Sabbath is considered the highest elevated day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is considered on the same spiritual level as the Sabbath. In fact, Yom Kippur is referred to as the "Sabbath of Sabbaticals.[10]" There are six holidays which are called Yom Tov; they are, Rosh HaShannah, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, the first day of Passover, the last day of Passover, and Shavuos. They are not on the same plane of holiness as the Sabbath as is evident from the fact that work in preparation for food is permitted[11]. The Midrash compares[12] This World to Friday and the World to Come to the Sabbath, saying that one should work on Friday (in This World) to prepare for the Sabbath (The World to Come). Rabbi Eidels extends this comparison of the World to Come to the Sabbath to apply even to Yom Kippur because just as there is no physical pleasures such as eating or drinking in the World to Come, so too such pleasures are forbidden on Yom Kippur[13].

In the numerology of Judaism, seven plays a significant role—especially in regard to periods of time associated with seven. The week is a period of seven days culminating with Saturday, the Holy Sabbath[14]. The Sefiras HaOmer period is a counting of seven periods of seven days, seven weeks between Passover culminating with the fiftieth day, Pentecost[15]. Similarly Sabbatical cycle is a period of seven years climaxing at the seven year, the Sabbatical year[16]. After seven cycles of Sabbatical cycles is the Jubilee year, in the fiftieth year[17]. The world is destined to last for seven millennia, and the seventh millennia will usher in complete annihilation[18]. Rabbeinu Bachaya explains[19] that the world is destined to last through seven such cycles of seven millennia, each time being destroyed and re-created by HaShem; however, in the end of the seventh cycle, the world will be completely destroyed and not recreated. We are in the midst of the seventh cycle of seven thousand years.

[1] See Maharsha to Yoma 2a
[2] Yoma 2a
[3] Tosafos HaRosh to Yoma 2a
[4] Poras Yosef to Yoma 2a
[5] Tosafos on the tractate Yoma is ascribed to Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293), see Siach Yitzchok and the glosses of Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) to Yoma 2a
[6] See his glosses to Yoma 2a
[7] Pnei Yehoshua to Yoma 2a
[8] See Maimonides' commentary to the Mishnah, Yoma 1:1, who uses this verse as the source for the required seclusion before Yom Kippur.
[9] Maharsha to Yoma 2a
[10] Leviticus 23:32
[11] See Exodus 12:16
[12] Ecclesiastes Rabbah to Ecclesiastes 1:15
[13] Leviticus 23:27, Numbers 29:7
[14] Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 31:12-17
[15] Leviticus 23:15, Deuteronomy 16:9
[16] Leviticus 25:1-7
[17] Leviticus 25:8
[18] Sanhedrin 97a
[19] Midrash Rabbeinu Bachaya to Leviticus 25:2


Anonymous said...

What is your email address?

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

It's in my profile.

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