From Strength to Strength – MeChayil el Chayil (Psalm 84:8)

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, May 31, 2024

On the afternoon of June 16th, we will celebrate our new Torah with a special siyyum (ceremony of completion). This will be the culminating event of our year of celebrations for Solel’s 50th year.

It is fitting that we celebrate the receiving of our new Torah in the same week that we will have celebrated the holiday of Shavuot. From Pesach we have been counting seven times seven weeks of the Omer, or 49 days leading into the 50th day which is Shavuot, the festival on which we commemorate our people’s receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai. From Pesach, commemorating our freedom from slavery, symbolically our ancestors rose to the wisdom of Torah, to new heights of spiritual inspiration and insight on Shavuot.

Shavuot is also an agricultural festival. Evey seven years is a year of shmita (sabbatical year) in which the land was not cultivated and allowed to rest. After seven cycles of shmita – seven times seven, in the 50th year the Israelites would celebrate the yovel or Jubilee year. In that year, the land was allowed to rest, slaves were freed, debts were forgiven, and land returned to its owners. Just as we rest on the seventh day of each week, the practice of the yovel -50th year- was a societal rest and reset. “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year and you shall call (that year) a year of freedom in the Land for all the ones who dwell in it, it shall be a yovel – Jubilee for you….” Leviticus 25:10

Jews enjoy finding meaning and significance on special numbers, especially those that reappear in the tradition. At the yovel – year 50, the spiritual significance of seven has an even greater meaning. It represents the completion of a cycle of seven times seven years, and allows us to rest and reflect on where we have been and look ahead at the direction forward. We may not have gotten so much rest this year, but we have certainly had an opportunity to reflect and rejoice. Kol Hakavod for our wonderful Solel at 50 team, and all of the volunteers who have contributed to make this very special Jubilee year through all of our Solel at 50 events!

In a Baraita appended to the 5th chapter of Pirke Avot, our rabbis drash on numbers of significance throughout the human life cycle. Upon reaching fifty, one is fit to offer counsel. The Hebrew says ben chamishim (at age 50) l’eitzah. Eitzah is a common word in biblical and rabbinic Hebrew which means “counsel” or “advice”.

Why is fifty the age of advice or counsel? Rashi and many other commentators on Pirke Avot teach: We have learned from the Levites, about whom it is said (Numbers 8:25): “but at the age of fifty they shall retire from the work force and shall serve no more”. But what shall he do? “He shall assist his brothers” (8:26) with the eitzah (advice) he gives them.

What kind of counsel or advice? Rabbenu Yonah (13th c. Spain) says that this means teaching the younger Levites the laws of the Temple service.

Don Isaac Abarbanel (Spain, Portugal, Italy, 1437-1508) along with several other commentators, explains that eitzah (counsel) requires yishuv hada’at (deliberation, peace of mind) and knowledge acquired by having experienced many things, which only comes with age – not before the age of fifty. In other words, by then a person has already seen a lot in life and is able to look at events with more peace of mind than in their younger years.

While Solel has now reached the age of 50, collectively, our Solel family has accrued way more than fifty years. This means that we also are blessed with many who are able to look at life with varied experiences and perspectives, who teach and pass down eitzah, advice and good counsel. As we will receive and pass forward our new Torah, may we go MeChayil el Chayil from strength to strength!

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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