This week we will be concluding the book of Leviticus with the double portion of Behar-Bechukotai. In Behar we receive the mitzvah to observe the Jubilee year. The Jubilee (Yovel) was to be observed every 50 years. The Jubilee started with the sounding of the shofar and was to be followed by three elements: 1. Allowing the land to lie fallow, so that the land could rest; 2. Returning all land to the original owners or their descendants; 3. All Israelite slaves were to be freed.
The announcement of the Jubilee began with the following words, “and you shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10). However, the more common translation of the Hebrew word d’ror is not ‘release’ but liberty.
As is mentioned in the Plaut commentary, “the fact that this verse was inscribed on the ‘Liberty Bell,’ which announced the signing of the Declaration of Independence, might suggest to the modern reader that ‘liberty’ here refers to national autonomy or to civil rights – neither of which was in the author’s mind” (Plaut Commentary 850).
Though it may not have been the original intent, nonetheless the idea of release or liberty has certainly captured the imaginations of religious readers ever since.
As Rabbi Artson writes in the Bedside Torah, “As Jews, our call to freedom emerges naturally from our relationship to God. Freed from human bondage in Egypt, we recognize that freedom is the corollary to divine service. In the words of the Talmud, we are God’s servants, and therefore not the servants of servants. In a world of social justice and spiritual depth, Jewish notions of freedom can thrive, the freedom to assume our rightful place in a world sanctified and at peace” (Pg. 213).
What all this means for us is the sounding of the shofar and the proclamation are not merely enough. They are the beginning of a call to action. As we recite every Passover, “no one can truly be free until all are free.”
To this end, we as a congregation will be participating in a vigil on June 6th at 7:30pm to help redeem those who are hiding in our communities, those in the shadows, who fear the authorities who wish to return them to places of suffering and persecution. We will also be standing with those who seek sanctuary from death and destruction. More will be spoken about this at our Shabbat evening service and materials will be available with more information.
So as we read about proclaiming release or liberty throughout the land, may we then be inspired to help make all be free, so that one day we can all truly be free.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff