It was in the early years of the space effort. Millions of dollars and years of planning had gone into designing a rocket launch. At the planned time, the rocket rose from Cape Kennedy and ascended upward. Everything looked fine and then suddenly, a fire broke out. On TV screens throughout the country, everyone watched in horror as the flames spread and the rocket exploded.

When NASA investigated what had gone wrong, they discovered that almost everything had been in order. The only problem was that one screw had been slightly loose. That had allowed for a current of air to pry loose some of the coating and ultimately destroy the entire rocket.

This tragic incident brings home a fundamental point: There is no such thing as a small, inconsequential element of a larger picture. On the contrary, every element of the picture relates to the set as a whole.

Parshas Behar

This week’s Torah reading begins: “And G‑d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying...,” and continues to describe the laws of the Sabbatical year. Our Rabbis ask: “Why does the Torah associate the Sabbatical year with Mount Sinai?” After all, the Sabbatical year is observed in the Holy Land only. What connection does it have with the Sinai experience?

In resolution, our Rabbis explain that with this expression, the Torah is teaching us that on Mount Sinai, the Jews were given not only the general concept of the Sabbatical year but all its particulars. Moreover, they continue, the fact that the Torah makes this association teaches us not only about the Sabbatical year, but about all the mitzvos: All their particulars were given on Mount Sinai.

The association with Sinai conveys more than a historical point. Associating the mitzvos with Sinai means that every individual mitzvah a person performs — whether it be putting on tefillin, lighting Shabbos candles, eating kosher, or helping a person in need — is more than an isolated good deed. It is an extension of the revelation at Sinai.

On Mount Sinai, every person had direct contact with G‑d. They all heard Him speak and felt His presence. When we perform a particular mitzvah, we may lack the external trappings of the Sinai experience, the thunder and lightning that the people perceived, but the fundamental dimension of what happened there — the establishment of a bond with G‑d’s essence — continues to prevail.

The Sabbatical year and all the other mitzvos are not isolated details, but rather integral elements of a larger whole. G‑d gave us the mitzvos to establish a multi-dimensional connection with Him and draw His holiness into our material world.

Looking to the Horizon

The Sabbatical year makes us conscious of a more inclusive pattern that pervades our entire existence. Time is structured in sets of seven. As mentioned above (see essay on Parshas Chayei Sarah), in his Commentary to the Torah, the Ramban (Nachmanides) explains that just as there are seven days of the week, there will be seven millennia in the existence of the world, each one paralleling the corresponding day in the seven days of creation. The culmination is the seventh millennium which, like the Sabbath, will be a time of rest, peace, and spiritual fulfillment.

According to that conception, the present age can be compared to Friday afternoon, past midday. Now in every traditional Jewish home, at that time, the house begins to look a little Shabbosdik. Similarly at this time, G‑d’s home, the world, is beginning to anticipate the era of the Redemption. We can see how the advances in science and technology have prepared the backdrop for Mashiach’s coming. What is necessary is for us to contribute the foreground by living in the spirit of the Redemption and mirroring to the fullest of our potential the mindset that will prevail in that era.