The name of our Sidra, Shemini, ("the eighth") refers to the day on which Aaron and his sons were inducted as the priests of the Sanctuary. It was also the day on which the presence of G‑d was revealed. But why was it called the eighth day? It followed the seven days during which the Sanctuary was consecrated. But it hardly seemed a continuation of them. For they were the days which represented man's effort to draw near to G‑d by consecrating himself and his world; whereas the eighth day was the moment when G‑d answered his efforts by revealing Himself. And surely there is no comparison between man's efforts and G‑d's response. The one is finite, the other infinite. So how can we talk of the eighth day as if it were a mere continuation of the previous seven? Starting from this problem, the Rebbe explores the relation between human endeavor and Divine revelation, as exemplified in the Sanctuary, the Shabbat, circumcision, and the counting of the Omer.

1. On The Eighth Day

Our Sidra begins with the words, "And it came to pass on the eighth day. . . ." The Kli Yakar, in his commentary to the Torah, asks why this day, which followed the seven days of consecration of the Sanctuary, was called the "eighth day." For this implies that it was a natural continuation of the previous days. But in fact the consecration was limited to seven days: "And you shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your consecration be fulfilled; for He shall consecrate you seven days." During that time the altar was dedicated. And the following day was quite separate: It was set aside for the induction of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood.

The answer which the Kli Yakar gives is that it is called the eighth day to emphasize its extraordinary character. For it is written shortly afterwards, "Today the L-rd appears to you." And to explain why it was then that the L-rd appeared, and not during the actual days of consecration, the Torah tells us that it was because it was the eighth day. Seven is the number of the days of the week, the measure of earthly time, a symbol of the human dimension. Eight signifies the more-than-human; it is the symbol of holiness.

This is why a circumcision can be performed on Shabbat. For circumcision takes place on the eighth day from birth, and Shabbat is the seventh day. In other words, Shabbat belongs to human time, but circumcision belongs to the realm of the Holy, the supernatural. And the claims of the spiritual override those of the physical.

2. Degrees of Holiness

To say that seven is the span of the week does not mean that it is the symbol of the weekday world, the secular. Because Shabbat is itself one of those seven days, and it is a day of holiness. But nonetheless it is reckoned as one of the seven days of creation, and thus belongs to the created order. Whereas the number eight expresses the idea of being beyond the normal confines of time, and thus of being wholly united with G‑d as He is in Himself, rather than as He is related to the world.

The Kli Yakar cites an example of this significance of the number eight, namely that the harp which will be used in the Temple of the Messianic Era will have eight strings. The harp which was played in the Sanctuary had only seven. It was holy. But less so than the harp of Messianic times.

The Torah itself is holy. But compared to the way in which it will be learned and revealed in the Messianic Age, our own response to it is called, in the Midrash, "a vanity."

There are, in other words, degrees of holiness. There is the holiness of this world, which is symbolized by the number seven, which is confined to the limits of human capabilities. And there is the holiness which goes beyond the world, beyond the idea that G‑d and the world are two distinct entities, which is expressed in the number eight.

3. Gifts and Reward

Curiously, the answer which the Kli Yakar gives to his own question does not appear to answer it. Instead it seems to make the question more forceful.

If the eighth day stands for the state of absolute unity with G‑d, then it signifies something supernatural. If so, then it surely has no connection with the previous seven days of consecration, which represented human activity, the sanctification of the natural order, and earthly time. Whereas the clear implication of the phrase "the eighth day" is that it was a continuation of the previous seven.

The answer is that supernatural revelation depends on our human efforts. The Messianic Age will be brought about by our acts of worship and of service of G‑d. Our efforts to consecrate the world during the seven days of human time are the gestures of faithfulness which will produce the Divine response of the eighth day-the day of the Messiah. So that although the Messianic Age will be of an altogether higher level of holiness than we can evoke with our Divine Service in the present, it will not be a sudden break in the history of Jewish consciousness. It will be the outcome of what we do now. It will be the "eighth day" in the sense that it continues and completes the perfection after which we now strive, after we have done all of which we are capable.

To draw an analogy: Shabbat, which is the seventh day, has two aspects. Firstly it is one of the days of the week, holier than the other six, but still a part of human time. There is a significant phrase in the command: "And the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat, to make (usually translated, 'to observe') the Shabbat throughout their generations." Shabbat is something we make. It is a Sanctuary within the week which we construct by our own service. But secondly the Shabbat is "a semblance of the World to Come," a glimpse of the Messianic Age. This aspect of the Shabbat is not something we can achieve ourselves. It is something we receive as a gift from G‑d. It is this of which the Talmud says, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, I have a precious gift in My treasure house, and it is called the Shabbat."

There is a difference between a gift and a reward: A reward is something which the recipient has earned, a gift is something he receives only through the grace of his benefactor. And this facet of Shabbat, this glimpse of the future revelation, belongs entirely to the grace of G‑d. It has a holiness which goes beyond human limitations.

Yet, even though it is a gift, we must work for it. The Rabbis say, "If the recipient had not given some pleasure (to the donor of the gift) he would not have given it to him." That is, if we do not give pleasure to G‑d by our actions, we will not receive His gift. Whereas "he who labors on the eve of Shabbat will eat on Shabbat." Because of our labors we are given a Divine gift which far outweighs the worth of our work.

The same is true about the revelation within the Sanctuary on the eighth day. Although it was not earned by the human activity of consecration on the previous seven days, it was only when this consecration was completed that the Divine response came. G‑d gives His gift to man only after man has done all within his power to consecrate himself to G‑d. This is why it is called the "eighth day"-the day of Divine grace which answers the seven days of man's own initiative in drawing close to G‑d.

4. The Counting of the Omer

In many years, the Sidra of Shemini is read immediately after Pesach, near the beginning of the seven week period of the counting of the Omer. What is the connection between the two?

The Torah says about the Omer, "You shall count for fifty days." And yet in fact we count only forty-nine days. Why? In the seven weeks we remove ourselves step by step from the forty-nine "gates of impurity" and pass through the forty-nine "gates of understanding." The fiftieth, the ultimate level of understanding, is beyond us. But it is only when we have reached by our efforts the forty-ninth, that the fiftieth comes to us as a gift of G‑d.

The seven weeks of the Omer are like the seven days of consecration. They represent the spiritual achievement of man. The fiftieth day of the Omer is like the eighth day of the Sanctuary: It is the revelation which breaks in on us from the outside, the answer of G‑d to our endeavors. The fiftieth day is Shavuot, the day when the Torah was revealed on Mt. Sinai. And that day was a foretaste of the revelation of the Messianic Age.

5. Past and Future Redemption

The counting of the Omer was not only a preparation for the Giving of the Torah. It is also a preparation for the Messianic revelation itself.

In Michah it is written, "As on the days of your coming out of Egypt, I will show him wonders." But the Exodus from Egypt took place on one day, the 15th of Nissan. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, explained: the redemption from Egypt will only be complete when the future redemption has come. Until then we are still captives in a metaphorical Egypt, namely the limitations and constraints of our human situation, from which we must liberate ourselves. The historical exodus, in the year 2448, was only the beginning of a continuous process of self-liberation. This will only be complete in the Messianic Age, when we will finally reach the stage where no spiritual heights are beyond the scope of man. If there seem to be dark ages where this process is halted or even reversed, where we seem to be regressing spiritually, this is only because new achievements need sometimes to be preceded by a time of darkness, in which new reserves of strength are discovered. They are not true regressions, for they serve to bring man to new heights of religious understanding. They are part of the Divine plan, stages in the continual ascent of man.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. III pp. 973-977)