Levi. 25 notes


וְסָפַרְתָּ לְךָ שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים וְהָיוּ לְךָ יְמֵי שֶׁבַע שַׁבְּתֹת הַשָּׁנִים תֵּשַׁע  25:8

וְאַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה

Levi. 25:8  ‘And you[s] shall count for yourself[s] seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times. So there shall be the time of seven Sabbaths of years for you[s], forty-nine years.’

Two points about this verse, one an observation, the other a question:  The observation concerns the phrase translated as seven years seven times.  As the Israelites had no concept of multiplication, the phrase must mean counting seven, then seven, and so forth.  Because seven years of Sabbaths means the period between jubilee years, it makes some sense to convey the idea the way it’s expressed here, as a counting of seven periods.  Notice that the phrase is very clear -- no ambiguity.  Seven Sabbaths of years means precisely forty-nine years.

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The question that this verse (as well as the next two) raises is, where do we start counting?  In other words, is the jubilee year in which we start the count itself counted as the first one?  Examine the chart below.  It shows a Jubilee year (J), which, by the way, would otherwise count as a Sabbath year, seven Sabbath years (the Ss), counted by the bold numbers, and the years between (the other numbers).  If our count starts with the year after the first Jubilee year, then the forty-ninth year (the time of seven Sabbaths of years) is the year before the next Jubilee (the fiftieth year).  From this understanding, I conclude that the example is the appropriate counting technique; the count must start after the first Jubilee year (a would-be Sabbath year) of the counting and end with the year before the next Jubilee year.  Then the following year is counted as the first year of the next fifty, and the cycle starts over again.

Example:      Counting for Jubilee years

Count of Sabbaths:

0 J 1 2 3 4 5 6

  1  S   8    9 10 11 12 13

  2  S  15 16 17 18 19 20

  3  S  22 23 24 25 26 27

  4  S  29 30 31 32 33 34

  5  S  36 37 38 39 40 41

  6  S  43 44 45 46 47 48

7 S J

This example also applies to the very first cycle of Jubilee years after the children of Israel have settled in the land.  In that case the first J is replaced by the number 1, and all the subsequent cycles would proceed from that first year.

Of course, in reality it probably wasn’t so neat.  When the Israelites starting conquering the land of Canaan, all the tribes didn’t receive their inheritance simultanepously.  The land had to be conquered and occupied over a period of time, most likely more than one year.  Thus different tribes started their planting and harvesting at various times.  So it must have been left to the priests and elders to determine the first Sabbath year for the entire land.  Only in that way could the Sabbath years and Jubilee year be observed by the entire country at once.


וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ שֹׁופַר תְּרוּעָה בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִעִי בֶּעָשֹׂור לַחֹדֶשׁ בְּיֹום הַכִּפֻּרִים תַּעֲבִירוּ שֹׁופָר בְּכָל־אַרְצְכֶם   25:9

Levi. 25:9  ‘Then you[s] shall make a shofar of alarm pass over in the seventh month on the month’s tenth day; on the day of atonement you[p] shall make a shofar pass over throughout all your[p] land.

Does it seem to you that the year being addressed should start in the seventh month of the forty-ninth year and not in the first month of the fiftieth year?  Before we consider that point, however, let’s address another point first, which should be given some attention here, as it may clarify the discussion.  A ram’s horn is to be sounded throughout the land on Yom Kippur?  Because we are busy afflicting our souls on that day, I presume the shofar is to be sounded in the evening, probably after breaking the fast.  Or perhaps in the morning?  However, although the horn is sounded on that day, the next day would not be the first day of the fiftieth year.  The first day of the next year (six months later) would be the start of the fiftieth year.

Now returning to address the question above, I imagine that this verse could form at least part of the foundation for establishing the first day of the seventh month to be the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah-- new year or head of the year).  Let’s consider the probable ways for how this may have come about.  Perhaps after the Temple was destroyed and most of the Israelites were dragged to Babylon, the priests and rabbis might have established the first day of the seventh month as Rosh Hashanah to commemorate and memorialize the Jubilee year, which could no longer be observed.  Or perhaps before the Babylonian exile the community had been tied so closely to agriculture that it was opportune to figure the years from the time of sowing, which occurred in the fall at about this time of the year.  In either case, as far as I am concerned the decision making the first day of the seventh month the start of the calendar year (as it is now) violates the commandment in Exod. 12:2.  It should be considered the start of only the agricultural year, not the time of year by which the Lord has told us to reckon the years.  The Lord’s year for us starts in the first month, that is the month of Nissan, which is close to the year’s minor sowing time.   What this seems to mean is that the part of the forty-ninth year, which is allegedly the beginning of the fiftieth year, the Sabbath year for the land, would have to be extended for an additional half year until the following Nissan, which is in the spring, which means Passover again.  Thus the Jubilee year would be from Yom Kippur to the second Passover -- eighteen months.  This seems unlikely.

Yet it would be inconvenient to begin the Jubilee year in the spring.  The major sowing and harvesting of grains and fruits extended over five or six months in ancient Israel, beginning in the fall and ending in spring.  Plowing and sowing for the primary growth season usually was in the fall.  It would seem most reasonable to start the jubilee year about the time of the harvest.  Thus the Jubilee year would more naturally start in the spring, about the time of Passover.  Thus the start of the Jubilee year should have coincided with the year dictated by the Lord.  But according to this verse it seems tot overlap the forty-ninth and fiftieth “calendar” years.  See v. 25:22 for support for this conclusion, although that verse seems to apply to Sabbath years.

So in order to follow the Lord’s instructions, I imagine the day of Rosh Hashanah should be renamed Rosh Chodesh Hash’vi’i, the head of the seventh month.

Still another point:  I don’t know how many times the Jubilee was observed in Israel, but it seems to me that the Israel economy was Capitalism in its purest form.  Basically no regulation, no controls, complete laissez faire.  An economy in which the rich grow richer and gain more power over the poor, and inflation is unbridled.  But the Lord gave us a natural mechanism of control which, if followed, would eliminate all the ills of that form of economy -- the Jubilee.  In that year all wealth was redistributed:  All debts were forgiven, all gains were nullified, and all land was returned to the family originally possessing it.  Everyone had the opportunity to start over again.  What a marvelous idea!  A new year of new hope, new opportunity, and new incentive, once every fifty years!  God gave us such marvelous means by which to sustain ourselves.

And here’s the final point:  There are three second-person pronouns present in this verse.  As you can see, the first one is still singular, but the last two are plural.  Now that the Lord will be teaching us about the Jubilee, is He reverting to speaking to Moses, and not directly to the individuals among the people?  Note that the transition from singular to plural takes place between the first part of the verse and its second part.  Also that the two parts basically say pretty much the same thing, almost as if it were part of a poem.  Perhaps it was intended to be a poetic verse, to advertise, so to speak, the change in number of the pronouns.

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