Lev. 25:1 – 26:2/ Lev. 26:3 – 27:34
Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss
וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּ֗ם אֵ֣ת שְׁנַ֤ת הַחֲמִשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ לְכׇל־יֹשְׁבֶ֑יהָ יוֹבֵ֥ל הִוא֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְשַׁבְתֶּ֗ם אִ֚ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּת֔וֹ וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶל־מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֖וֹ תָּשֻֽׁבוּ׃
You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and put out a call of freedom to all the land. (Lev 25:10)
In this middle of this week’s double Torah Portion, Behar and Bechukotai we read the words, “Ook-ratem dror b’aretz l’chol yosh-ve-ha: Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants.” (Lev 25:10). Those words might sound familiar. They are inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
How did these lines of Torah end up on the Liberty Bell? Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly Isaac Norris chose this inscription for the State House bell in 1751, possibly to commemorate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges which granted religious liberties and political self-government to the people of Pennsylvania. The bell would ring to call lawmakers to their meetings and to call the townspeople together to hear the reading of the news. It was first called the “Liberty Bell” in the 1830s by a group wishing to abolish slavery. The Liberty Bell has become a visible symbol of the desire for political, social and religious liberty.
Another translation of the word understood as “Liberty” –D’ror would be “release.” “Proclaim a release of all people who dwell in the land.” This would refer to a release of debts and from servitude. In addition to a sabbatical year every seven years to allow the land to rest, the Torah calls for a jubilee year –in Hebrew, Yovel– every 50 years which releases all individuals from their debts and Hebrew Slaves are released from servitude.
The concept of Dror, Liberty and Release can resonate for us today. While the Liberty bell proclaimed a desire to abolish slavery in the early 1800s-both American and Israel in modern times, deal with their share of racism, religious persecution and economic injustice.
There are political and socio-economic implications behind this commandment. This commandment functions to help prevent social and economic injustice in society. We often hear of the systemic racism and religious persecution just as Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in this country but how does this manifest itself in Israel?
Every fiftieth year, the Torah commands us to celebrate a yovel, a Jubilee year. During this year, all land remains uncultivated, all the land goes back to its original owners, all debts are erased, and all slaves go free.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld points out that while the Hebrew word דְּר֛וֹר, dror, is usually translated as freedom, the word is actually a very rare word. This is the only place the word “dror’ appears in the Five Books of Moses. Whenever a word is so rare, our rabbis struggled to capture its precise meaning. Medieval Commentator, Rashi quotes the Midrash and offers the following explanation:
- Dror derives from the Aramaic word dar “to dwell” or “to live’.
- Dror means she-dar bekol makom she-rotzeh, that the person lives in any place he desires.
Rabbi Herzfeld explains, “the word dror thus means one has the ability to live safely- peacefully and openly—in any place that he wants.
America is supposed to be a place of freedom and equality for all, and still, Jews are living among higher reported levels of Anti-Semitism and more acts of hate—from the display of antisemitic symbols to hurtful language, and even to a rising number of hate crimes.
Rabbi Herzfeld suggests that even though we may not always feel safe today, the Torah also shows us through the mitzvah of Yovel what is required from us in order to aquire a feeling of safety and security.
While America sounds a symbolic bell to proclaim freedom, this week’s Torah portion instructs us to sound the shofar to announce the beginning of the Yovel-the Jubilee year.
Rabbi Herzfeld explains, “The Jubilee begins with sound of the shofar. But it is different than the one sounded on Rosh Hashanah. On Rosh Hashanah one shofar is sounded for the entire community. Not so on the Jubilee, on the Jubilee, everyone must be personally and actively involved. “Taaviru shofar be-kol artzechem—You shall sound the shofar ‘throughout your land.’ According to the rabbis, every single individual is obligated to sound the call, to blast the siren for strength. The blast of the trumpet is the clarion call for safety. The shofar is the human input in the divine plan….Each of us must accept our individual responsibility to sound the shofar and fight for the safety of the Jews throughout the world.” In today’s world, this means not being a bystander, speaking out against acts of hate, and offensive language.