The Uniqueness of the Eighth Day

The Kli Yakar explains that thephrase,1 “On the eighth day,” implies a connection to the preceding seven days of miluim, which prepared for the final erection of the Sanctuary, as it is written:2 “Your inauguration will last seven days.” During these seven days, the altar was dedicated.

The eighth day, by contrast, served a different purpose; it was for the dedication of Aharon and his sons. Why then was it given a name that implies that it was a continuation of the previous seven?

The Kli Yakar explains that the name was intended to highlight the uniqueness of the day on which “G‑d will reveal Himself to you.” The eighth day is distinguished with a unique quality of holiness, as the Kli Yakar continues: “The number seven always refers to the mundane, while the number eight refers to holiness.”3

This is reflected in the fact that the mitzvah of circumcision supersedes the prohibition of forbidden labor on Shabbos. Circumcision is associated with the number eight, and Shabbos with the number seven, and “the spiritual takes precedence over the material.”

Two Levels of Holiness

The expression that “seven… refers to the mundane” must not be taken in a strictly literal sense, for the seventh day is also holy. Nevertheless, since Shabbos is one of the seven days of creation, it shares a connection with the world which is mundane. In contrast, the number eight is above creation, and is “set aside for Him, blessed be He.” In comparison to this level, even Shabbos is considered mundane.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the example cited by the Kli Yakar to illustrate the unique level of holiness associated with the number eight: the fact that the harp in the Era of the Redemption will have eight strands.4 Certainly, the harp used in the Beis HaMikdash in previous eras, which had seven strands, was holy. Nevertheless, when compared to the transcendent holiness of the Era of the Redemption, the earlier harps can be considered mundane.

A similar pattern can be seen with regard to the Torah. The Torah (even as it is studied in this world) is holy. Nevertheless our Sages state:5 “The Torah of the present era is vaporous when compared to the Torah [to be studied] in the Era of the Redemption.”

Learning What It Means To Count

The Kli Yakar’ s explanation does not, however, appear to answer the question he raised. Indeed, it reinforces the question. Since the number eight is associated with a rung “set aside for Him, blessed be He,” above the natural order, it seems to have no connection with a creation that is structured on a pattern of seven. Why then does the Torah use the term “the eighth day,” implying a connection with the previous seven?

The problem can be resolved as follows: All the revelations of the Era of the Redemption are dependent on our Divine service in the present era.6 The revelations are connected with the rung of eight, a rung so elevated that it cannot be reached by the Divine service of mortals. Instead, these revelations must come from G‑d.7 Nevertheless, they can be considered dependent on our Divine service. After we have perfected our Divine service and have drawn down the revelations associated with it, the revelations which transcend that service will come from above.

To cite an example: There are two levels of Shabbos: One level is associated with the seven days of creation. In comparison to the previous six days, it is holy. Nevertheless, its holiness is within the natural order and therefore is drawn down through the Divine service of the Jewish people, who are commanded to “make the Shabbos holy.”8

Another dimension of Shabbos is its role as a microcosm9 of the Era of the Redemption, which is described10 as “the day which is all Shabbos and rest for eternity.” As mentioned previously, this level cannot be drawn down through our Divine service, but requires Divine initiative. In this context, our Sages quote11 G‑d as saying: “I have a superb present in My treasure store. It is called Shabbos. “ For this higher level of the Shabbos is a present from above, and like a present, it is not earned, but dependent on the donor’s generosity. (For when a gift is given because of a person’s efforts, it is something which has been earned; the term present is not appropriate.)

Nevertheless, even this higher level of Shabbos is granted because it was preceded by Divine service, as implied by our Sages’ statement:12 “Whoever works before Shabbos, eats on Shabbos. “ The intent is not to imply that the level of Shabbos described as a present is precipitated by human service. Rather it reflects our Sages’ statement:13 “If a person did not generate pleasure for him, he would not have given him a present.” Although a present is given because the recipient generated pleasure for the donor, what is given is worth far more than the pleasure generated, and for that reason it is considered a present.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the revelations of the eighth day of the dedication of the Sanctuary. Although these revelations have their source in a level which cannot be drawn down through man’s Divine service, they were nevertheless granted after the seven days of dedication; after man’s service had been perfected.

For this reason, the day is referred to as “the eighth day.” For the revelations of this day come after and are dependent upon the Divine service of the seven preceding days.

A Parallel to the Counting of the Omer

Often Parshas Shemini is read on the first Shabbos after Pesach, the beginning of the counting of the omer. Based on the above, it is possible to explain the connection between Parshas Shemini and this period.14

The Torah commands us to count the omer with the charge: “Count 50 days.”15 And yet, as our Sages note,16 our practice is to count only 49 days. The fiftieth day is the holiday of Shavuos, which is not counted as a day of the Omer.

This difficulty is resolved as follows: The Jews’ Divine service follows the pattern: “You shall count seven weeks.”17 These parallel the seven days of creation, and invoke the spiritual heights associated with the 49 (7x7) Gates of Understanding (Binah). The fiftieth level is above mortal grasp.

Nevertheless, after we draw down these 49 levels through our Divine service, we are granted the fiftieth level from above. This also explains why this level is drawn down on Shavuos, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. For the giving of the Torah provided a foretaste of the Era of the Redemption.18

For this reason, the verse states “Count 50 days.” For even the fiftieth level is granted to the Jewish people as a result of their Divine service.19

First Strides Toward Redemption

The counting of the omer does more than prepare us for the giving of the Torah. The counting is itself a preparation for the Era of the Redemption.

This can be explained by considering the verse referring to the Future Redemption:20 “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt…” The use of the term “days” (plural) raises a difficulty, for the Jews left Egypt on one day, the Fifteenth of Nissan.

The Previous Rebbe explained21 that the exodus from Egypt will not be truly complete until the Future Redemption. For Egypt (Mitzrayim in Hebrew) refers to spiritual boundaries and limitations (meitzarim). Therefore from the Fifteenth of Nissan in the year of the exodus until the present date, we are in the midst of our departure from Egypt, striving higher and higher 22 until we reach the Future Redemption, at which time our journey will be complete.

The first service performed by the Jews after the physical departure from Egypt was counting the days until the giving of the Torah a counting which parallels the counting of the Omer.23 Thus the counting of the Omer echoes man’s first strides toward the Era of the Redemption, an era associated with the number eight.

Two Contrasting Thrusts

The above concept also lets us understand why the counting of the Omer is carried out at night. This is atypical, for the omer was considered a sacrifice,24 and with regard to sacrifices, the night follows the day.25 Moreover, counting the omer involves counting the number of days since the offering of the omer.26 Since the omer is offered during the day, why does the counting take place at night?27

These questions can be resolved by comparing the Era of the Redemption, the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah. The exodus from Egypt, and even the giving of the Torah, was characterized by revelation from above, and not by the Divine service of the Jewish people. Although they did count 49 days until the giving of the Torah, it was impossible for them to raise themselves from the 49 levels of impurity in such a short time.

Therefore when the Divine Presence retreated after the giving of the Torah, the world remained in its material state.28 And the absence of permanent development was reflected in the Sin of the Golden Calf, the source of all subsequent sins.29

The Future Redemption, by contrast, will be brought about by the Divine service of the Jewish people, which began when we left Egypt. This service has as its object that every person refine, not only himself, but his portion of the world,30 making it possible for nature to encompass Divine revelation. As it is written:31 “And the glory of G‑d will be revealed, and all flesh shall see.” Even physical flesh will perceive “the glory of G‑d.”

As stated above, created beings are not fit to receive the revelations of the Era of the Redemption. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, after our Divine service has reached perfection, G‑d will grant higher revelations on His own initiative.

As such, there are two seemingly contradictory elements to the revelations of the Era of the Redemption:

a) The light will be incomparably higher than our powers of conception. Indeed, it is impossible to tap this light today, even through Divine service.

b) This light will nevertheless be internalized within the world.

As mentioned above, the counting of the omer was the first element of Divine service undertaken by mankind on the road to Redemption. Our Rabbis teach:32 “From the reward given [for Divine service], it is possible to determine the nature [of that Divine service].” Similarly, the reward which will be granted as a present in the Era of the Redemption demonstrates that our service must also parallel the two thrusts mentioned above. They are reflected in the counting of the omer in the following manner:

a) The counting of the omer begins with the offering of the omer, indicating an ongoing connection with the holiness of the service in the Beis HaMikdash ;

b) The intent in counting the omer is to refine the world and prepare it for revelation. Therefore the counting follows the order of creation33 : “First darkness and then light.”34

The Natural Order and Revelation

To explain the above: With regard to the sacrifices, night follows day, as opposed to the order of creation, concerning which it is written:35 “And it was evening, and it was morning….”

The rationale is that generally our Divine service works in ascending order. We begin with darkness and, through our efforts, the world is refined and made fit to receive Divine light. The service in the Beis HaMikdash , by contrast, had a different intent: to reveal G‑dly light from above. This activity begins with the day, and night follows day. And this brings about an approach to the refining of material entities that is associated with light, for revelation empowers one to descend into darkness and refine it.36

The counting of the omer is intended to refine the world and make it fit for Redemption. As such, it follows the pattern “first darkness and then light,” refining the world through an ascending pattern.

Nevertheless, the counting is dependent on the omer. This implies that this mitzvah has the power of the sacrifices a revelation from above. Ultimately, this mitzvah will lead to the time when revelations will be internalized. This will happen with the coming of the true and ultimate Redemption, to be led by Mashiach. May it come speedily.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Shemini, 5720)