Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 973ff;
Vol. XVII, p. 92ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 475ff
Learning What It Means To Count
In Jewish thought, numbers represent not only concepts in our material world, but spiritual forces which mold our reality. Seven is a fundamental number, representative of the seven Divine middos, the attributes which are the source for and which parallel our emotions. These middos comprise the active force which brings our material world into being. For this reason, time is structured in cycles of seven. There are seven days in the week, seven years in the Shemittah cycle, and our Sages speak of seven millennia as the span of the world’s existence.
Shabbos, the seventh day, reflects perfection within the natural order. Just as the original Shabbos brought Creation to a close, on Shabbos a person should feel that “all his work is completed.” Moreover, Shabbos does not symbolize only material perfection; referring to it as Shabbos Kodesh, “ the holy Sabbath,” indicates that the G-dly light enclothed within the world is manifest at that time.
The number eight, however, refers to an even higher level of holiness the G-dly light which transcends the limits of our world. Indeed, it eclipses the number seven to the extent that our Rabbis state that “the number seven is always mundane, while the number eight is holy.”
“The Eighth Day”
These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shemini. Shemini means “the eighth.” It refers to the first of Nissan, the day on which the Sanctuary was established. It is called “the eighth day” because it was preceded by seven days of dedication, during which Moshe erected and took down the Sanctuary each day, and taught Aharon and his sons the order of sacrificial worship.
The Kli Yakar asks why the Torah employs the term, “the eighth day.” For this day is not one of the seven days of dedication, and indeed represents a totally different plane. For it was on this day that G-d’s presence manifested itself in the Sanctuary: “G-d’s glory was revealed to the people and a fire came forth from before G-d.”
In resolution, he explains that the day is associated with this number to highlight its uniqueness. For the number eight is “set aside for G-d,” representing a transcendence of the world’s natural limits.
But this resolution is itself problematic. Since the number eight reflects such a high level, how can it be associated with the seven days that precede it? Calling it “the eighth day” implies the continuation of a sequence. Thus the very term used to accentuate the day’s uniqueness points to its connection with the previous days.
Earning More Than We Can
The above difficulty can be resolved on the basis of a ruling with regard to monetary law: Giving a present is equated with a sale, because if the recipient had not generated satisfaction for the giver, he would not have granted him the gift.
Similarly with the concepts mentioned previously: the manifestation of G-d’s presence cannot be drawn down by man’s service, for it is a transcendent light. Instead, it must be granted as a gift from above. Nevertheless, when does G-d endow us with such a revelation? When we have created a fit setting for it when we have refined and developed our environment and ourselves to the limit of our abilities.
Thus the seven days of dedication represented man’s efforts to refine our environment an objective within man’s capacity. And by carrying out this objective, a setting is created for the revelations of the eighth day, the transcendent light.
Focus on This World, Not on the Next
Moreover, when this transcendent revelation is brought about by man’s Divine service, it does not remain an isolated occurrence, but permeates our environment, showing the immanence of infinite spirituality.
This concept is underscored by the continuation of the Torah reading, which speaks of the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. The Torah relates that they brought an unauthorized incense offering and as a result, “Fire came forth from G-d and consumed them.”
Many explanations are offered as to why the brothers were punished by death. From a mystical perspective, it is said that they died because their souls soared to such heights that they could no longer remain in their bodies. Nevertheless, their conduct is judged unfavorably because their spiritual quest ran contrary to G-d’s intent in creation: the establishment of a dwelling for Himself amidst the day-to-day realities of our existence. Their deaths show that our spiritual quest should not be directed towards the attainment of lofty rapture, but instead should remain firmly grounded in our actual lives.
This theme is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading, which focuses on kosher food. For the establishment of a dietary code indicates that Judaism’s conception of Divine service involves living within the world.
A Fusion of Opposites
This fusion of transcendence and immanence is also alluded to by the name Shemini. Shemini shares a root with the Hebrew word shemen, meaning “oil.” Oil has two tendencies. On one hand, it floats above other liquids, to the extent that if an impure person touches oil floating on another liquid, the lower liquid is not rendered impure, for the two are not considered to be joined.
On the other hand, oil permeates the entities on which it is placed. Therefore, if a non-kosher substance which is fat or oily is roasted together with other food, it makes the entire quantity of food non-kosher, although ordinarily only the food actually touching the non-kosher substance would be tainted.
Similarly, with regard to the subject at hand, the essential light associated with the eighth day transcends the limits of our material realm. Nevertheless, G-d’s intent is not that this light remain in a sublime state, but that it permeate the material world, endowing it with holiness.
New Doors of Perception
The number eight shares a connection to the Era of the Redemption, as our Sages state: “The harp of the Era of the Redemption will be of eight strands” (while the harp used in the Beis HaMikdash had seven strands).
The revelations of the Era of the Redemption will also follow the motif described above. Thus in describing those revelations, our prophets say: “And the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see.” “The glory of G-d” refers to a spiritual peak above the natural order. This level will be “seen,” perceived openly, by “all flesh”; mortals within our material world will realize this spiritual truth.
Moreover, these revelations will be an intrinsic part of that era. Just as today it is natural for our eyes to see material objects, in that era, all flesh will perceive the glory of G-d. This involves a remaking of the natural order through our Divine service. For as stated in Tanya, the revelations of the Era of the Redemption depend on our service during the time of exile.
To refer to concepts mentioned previously: seven prepares for eight. By refining and elevating ourselves and our environment in the present age, we precipitate the transcendent revelations of the Era of the Redemption. Our Divine service creates a framework for the fusion of the spiritual and the material, allowing for these revelations to permeate and remake our worldly existence.