The Secret of the Double Mitzvah

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG-13

The relationship between females and the earth has always been far more than a mere anthropomorphic one.

Mother Earth, we call her.

And less subtle:

“Wooha, I’m gonna plow that field!”


That’s where I’m gonna sow my oats!”

There are only two forms of creation that are fertile and that bear offspring: females (human and animal), and the earth. Each receives seed, nurtures it, embraces it, and then produces offspring — and each continues to nurture her offspring throughout its life.

And of course, in Biblical Hebrew, earth is referred to in the feminine tense. There are countless examples, but one such example appears immediately in the beginning of this week’s Parshah of Behar, as G-d commands:

“When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath for G-d.” [1]

The Hebrew word used to mean “shall rest” is “shavta” — a feminine word, as though the verse had said of earth that “she shall rest.”

The Torah goes on the describe the Mitvzah of “Sh’mita.” Much like the Shabbat that follows our six weekdays, Sh’mita was a mandatory shabbat for the earth, an entire year of rest following six years of working the land.

This seven-year Sh’mita cycle would be repeated seven times, and then the fiftieth year would be a special year known as Yovel (somewhat reminiscent of the seven weeks that we count from the day after the first day of Passover, and the 50th day coinciding with Shavuot). During the Yovel year, not only would the land not be worked or tilled, but any transfers of land would be voided, and the land would revert back to its original owners. Why? “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and temporary residents with Me.” [2]

In next week’s Parshah — Bechokotai — G-d makes clear how passionate and protective he is over His land. There are no less than 30 verses that contain some of the harshest curses and consequences for failing to respect G-d’s laws; and although facially, these punishments are for general transgressions go G-d’s laws, there is a clear theme of protecting the land from the deleterious effects of the wrongdoings of its inhabitants — G-d’s own chosen people.

For example, there are several occasions in which G-d threatens to “make your land desolate.” [3] However, one gets the sense that this may be less a threat, and more a reassurance to the land, promising it that it will finally be able to rest. “Then, the land will be appeased regarding its sabbaticals. During all the days that it remains desolate while you are in the land of your enemies, the Land will rest and thus appease its sabbaticals. It will rest during all the days that it remains desolate, whatever it had not rested on your sabbaticals, when you lived upon it.” [4] A bit later, as well, G-d promises to “remember the land,” saying: “For the Land will be bereft of them, appeasing its sabbaticals when it had been desolate of them, and they will gain appeasement for their iniquity. This was all in retribution for their having despised My ordinances and in retribution for their having rejected My statutes.” [5] Thus, there is some overriding nexus between the misfortunes wrought by our misconduct, and the land finally receiving its long overdue rest.

This protectiveness that G-d exhibits toward His land is almost romantic — the protectiveness of a lover from those who might threaten him/her. In fact, the way that G-d waxes passionately regarding the Land of Israel elsewhere makes it even more obvious that that His relationship with the land is a romantic one. “For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, a land the Lord, your G-d, looks after; the eyes of Lord your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”[6]

It is almost as though G-d has two wives with whom He enjoys an intensely erotic relationship: the Land of Israel, and the Jewish people, as we have had many occasions to discuss. “For you are a holy people to the Lord, your God: the Lord your God has chosen you to be His treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than any people did the Lord delight in you and choose you, for you are the least of all the peoples. But because of the Lord’s love for you.” [7]

In the Book of Tanya from R’ Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the relationship between G-d and in the Jews, and the manner in which we consummate the Eros in that relationship through observing His Torah and Mitzvot, is even more explicit:

This is the meaning of the text of the various blessings pronounced before one fulfills a mitzvah: “[Blessed be He] Who has betrothed us by His commandments”: Like a man who betroths a wife, so that she be united with him in a perfect bond, as it is written: “And he shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”

Exactly similar to the unity achieved through betrothal, and even infinitely surpassing it, is the union of the divine soul that is engaged in Torah and the commandments, and of the vivifying soul, and their garments referred to above, i.e., thought, speech and action — all of them becoming united with the light of the blessed Eternal One.

Therefore did Solomon, peace unto him, in the Song of Songs, compare this union of G‑d and Jews through Torah and Mitzvot with the union of bridegroom and bride, this union being with attachment — an external level of unity, with longing — a more inward level of unity, and desire — an even more inward level of unity, with embrace and kissing.[8]

So both we and the Land of Israel are the subjects of G-d’s divine ardor.

But it is a bit more complicated than that.

For we not only share G-d’s passion with the Land of Israel, but we are the instrument of G-d’s passion toward the land. We are the point of G-d’s spear (pun intended). We are His phallus, the organ with which He penetrates and plows the land. And when the land has had enough, G-d tells us to lay off, and to give the land her rest.

Which brings us to an interesting anomaly regarding the Double Mitzvah.

The Double Mitzvah column is so named because, in addition to the Mitzvah that it explains, it is also posted before Shabbat — and Friday night has traditionally been the ideal time for the “marital Mitzvah” — the mitzvah of sexual intimacy. Six days a week people are busy, but Shabbat is a day of rest — and a time to reconnect intimately with one’s spouse. Thus, the Talmud states:

How often are scholars to perform their marital duties? R’ Judah in the name of Shmuel replied: ‘Every Friday night.’ Judah the son of R’ Hiyya and son-in-law of R’ Jannai would spend all his time in the study hall but every Shabbat eve he came home [to be with his wife].[9]

This is consistent with G-d’s greater degree of intimacy with His people on Shabbat, where we leave the world behind, and focus on our relationship with the Divine.

Plowing the land, however, is clearly much different than “plowing” one’s wife. When it comes to plowing the land, we work the land for six years, and then in the seventh year, we give it a break. The Sh’mita year is the equivalent of the land telling us: “Honey, please — not tonight. I have a headache.” With marital intimacy, however, it is the reverse: we spend six days absorbed in our work, but then we celebrate Shabbat by engaging in sexual intercourse.

In fact, on a symbolic level, it is truly interesting: we spend the first six days of our week working the land — and on the seventh day we rest from the land, and focus on our (human) wife. Thus, in this respect, the earth and the female are different: the land gets more than its fair share of plowing, and its rest involves us leaving it alone; for the female, on the other hand, sexual intercourse is rest, and a pleasurable contribution to the holy day of Shabbat.

Perhaps this provides some additional insight into the respective curses that G-d delivered unto Adam and Eve after they ate of the forbidden fruit. To Eve, He said: “To your husband will be your desire, and he will rule over you.” [10] Thus did G-d establish Eve’s thirst for intimacy, and directed her focus toward her husband.

Her husband’s focus, however, G-d directed elsewhere. “Cursed be the ground for your sake; with toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life. It will cause thorns and thistles to grow for you, and you shall eat the herbs of the field. With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”[11] Thus did G-d enlist man in tending to His other love — the land — which would require Adam’s attention to the point that it would become his full-time occupation; and to such an extent that both the land and man would require rest from each other: man, on Shabbat, and the land, during the Sh’mita year.

Had Adam and Eve not been cursed, then perhaps the land would have easily yielded its produce without being worked at all, and, surely being taken for granted, would have craved human attention. And Adam, who would not be a slave to farming, would spend all of his time in sexual congress with Eve, who might well turn to Adam on Shabbat, saying: “Honey, not tonight — I have a headache.” Then, perhaps, Adam might have turned to the earth, and planted something in honor of the Shabbat.

Adam and Eve were cursed, however, and it is the one day of Shabbat, and the one year of Sh’mita, that we enjoy temporary relief from the curse, and fulfill a double Mitzvah indeed: we lay off the land, and we lay on our spouse.

Shabbat Shalom!

Works Cited

[1] Leviticus, 25:2.

[2] Leviticus, 25:23.

[3] Leviticus, 26:31, 32, 33, and 34.

[4] Leviticus, 26:34-35.

[5] Leviticus, 26:42-43.

[6] Deuteronomy, 11:10-12.

[7] Deuteronomy, 7:6-8.

[8] Tanya, Likutei Amarim, 46.

[9] Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 62b

[10] Genesis, 3:16.
[11] Genesis, 3:17-19.