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Seeds and Sparks: Cycles of Seven

by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

The statement by the Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 29:10) that “all
sevens are precious” is derived from their understanding that seven is the
primary cycle of time as revealed by God in the Torah. “And the heavens and earth
were completed and all their array. By the seventh day God completed His work that He
had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all his work that He had done. God
blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He abstained from all His work
which God created to make” (Genesis 2:1–3). Thus, the seventh day became
not only the culmination, blessing, and sanctification of the entire Divine creative
process, but the cycle of seven became engraved in all future cycles of time as
 well.

In days, weeks, months, years, and millennia, the number seven appears as
the principle cycle by which we mark the continual flow of time. Shabbat has become the
central axis around which all Jewish life revolves, like the menorah of seven branches,
whose middle column and light is the main pillar, balancing the three other branches on
each side of it. The continual observance of Shabbat plugs us into a Divine energy and
pattern of time, the very model of creation relived on a weekly basis.

There are two seven-week periods in the Jewish year — one
prescribed by the Torah and one by the Sages. There are seven weeks in the period
between Pesach — the redemption from Egypt — and Shavuot — the giving
of the Torah on Mount Sinai. These seven weeks, or seven-times-seven Omer period,
serves to connect these two holidays, thus teaching us that the purpose of leaving
Egypt was in order to receive the Torah. This seven week cycle is not marked passively,
but actively, by consciously counting each day with the recitation of a blessing, as we
figuratively climb the mountain once again to receive the Torah on Shavuot, the
culminating fiftieth day. These seven weeks are further associated with the
sefirot, the Divine emanations through which God’s infinite light is
channeled into our finite world. The seven lower sefirot (there are ten in all)
relate to seven emotions and archetypal energies in the psychological makeup of man.
During each day and week of the Omer period, we work on rectifying these energies in
order to become worthy vessels to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

The second cycle of seven weeks are the seven weeks between Tishah
B’Av and Rosh HaShanah. Tishah B’Av, the fast day commemorating the
destruction of both Temples and many other calamities in Jewish history, represents the
“lowest” time of the year. From that low point to the new year on Rosh
HaShanah is seven weeks. During this time period, the Sages established the reading of
various prophesies of consolation on seven successive Shabbats, leading us from the
destruction of Tishah B’Av to a new beginning on Rosh HaShanah.
The number seven relates to the monthly cycle in a number of ways. An
astronomical month is approximately 29 days, which is basically four periods of seven
and slightly more than a quarter days. The idea of a month consisting of four basic
weeks is found in a month having a new moon, a quarter moon, and a full moon in its
waxing, and then reversing itself in its waning towards the next new moon. The Jewish
calendar is essentially a lunar one and the new moon is celebrated as a minor festival,
while the full moon is celebrated in the monthly sanctification of the moon ceremony,
known as kiddush levanah. In this model of the month, a seven-day week becomes the
basic building block of the twelve months of the year.

The three pilgrimage festivals in the Torah — Pesach, Shavuot and
Sukkot — all occur during the first seven months of the year. These three
festivals constitute a cycle in themselves as relates to many laws and customs that
applied at the time of the Holy Temple. Pesach and Sukkot are themselves seven days in
length.
The seventh month of the year, Tishrei, is the richest one as regards
holidays and in that sense is the most important month of the year. The new year begins
on Rosh HaShanah, followed by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and culminates in the
joyous days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a
Shabbat rest for God. For six years you may sow your field, and for six years you may
prune your vineyard and you may gather in its crop. But the seventh year shall be a
complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for God…. You shall count for yourselves seven
cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times; the years of the seven cycles of
Sabbatical years shall be for you forty-nine years. You shall sound a broken blast on
the shofar in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month, on the Day of
Atonement…. You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the
land…” (Leviticus 25:2–10)

The Sabbatical year follows the same pattern in years as the six days of
work followed by a seventh day of rest, thus creating a macromodel of years based on
seven. The pattern of the seven weeks of the Omer period, followed by Shavuot on the
fiftieth day, is repeated in the seven times seven Sabbatical years, followed by the
fiftieth Jubilee year. Although we have lost the feeling and effects of the Sabbatical
cycle in the Diaspora, for nearly 1,500 years, when the Jews were in the Land of Israel
and the during the time the Temples stood, this cycle was part and parcel of the
experience of living in the land. For an observant Jew in Israel today, especially one
living on the land, the Sabbatical year once again has begun to reenter our
consciousness as an important and meaningful cycle.

The even larger cycle of millennia also follows the pattern of six days
of work and the seventh day as a day of rest. According to tradition, the present
period of history will last six thousand years, followed by the seventh millennium
— the Messianic period. It is no coincidence that the rebirth of the Jewish State
and the ingathering of the exiles is occurring as we draw closer and closer to the six
thousandth year. The seventh millennium, the Messianic era, is called “all
Shabbat and rest for eternal life” (Tamid 7:4). (Many of the above ideas
will be dealt with in greater detail at the end of this chapter.)

The Sages integrated these cycles and their inner meanings and mysteries
and applied them to all areas of Jewish law and custom. The first time the root of the
word holy is used in the Torah is in relation to Shabbat: “And God blessed
the seventh day and made it holy…” (Genesis 2:3). Therefore, the inclusion
of “sevens” in a host of rituals adds an aura of holiness and endless
symbolic associations. From the bride circling the groom seven times, winding the
straps of tefillin seven times on our arms, circling the synagogue seven times on
Simchat Torah, to the seven fruits of Israel, the seven shepherds, the seven branches
of the menorah, the seven blessings of bride and groom — in all these cases and
many more, the number seven reminds us not only of holiness and blessing, but also of
God’s imminence in the dimensions of time, space, and soul.

The popular saying coined by the author Sholom Aleichem: “More than
the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews,” is true in a very
fundamental way. Shabbat is the beloved soul mate of the Jewish people, the pearl in
the crown of the King of Kings. Not only are all sevens precious, but they also connect
us with God’s plan and purpose for the world, as it says in the Friday night
Kabbalat Shabbat service: “The end of deed [Shabbat] was the first in
thought.” The infinite oneness that existed before the creation will one day
reveal itself and infuse all reality. On Shabbat we can already taste what that means
in as tangible and real way as this world currently allows, for in truth, the future 
already exists in the present.

The cycle of seven is like a stone dropped in water, its evergreater
ripples of influence creating widening circles of effect and blessing. The mystery of
seven is deeper than the seven oceans and higher than the seven heavens. It is with us
from the beginning of time and will accompany us till the end as it is stated:
“Their end is embedded in the beginning and their beginning in the end”
(Sefer Yetzirah 1:7).