December 8, 2019

Weekly Parsha: Behar

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the Land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee Year for you: Each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. –Leviticus 25:10

Rabbi Eva Robbins
N’vay Shalom,

The Jubilee year is the culmination of “seven cycles of sabbatical years,” the seventh year letting the land lay fallow, a complete rest, “a Sabbath for HaShem,” as well as the remission of all debts. However, the Jubilee marked an even greater principle; that all lands would be returned to their original owners and all people would be returned to their original state, just as they stood at Sinai, as free individuals. 

Shavuot, the “50th” day after the second day of Passover, and the Jubilee, the “50th” year, share something in common: the acknowledgement that it is God who is supreme; whether it is resting the land, forgiving loans or releasing slaves and indentured servants, it is “for HaShem.” “The land is Mine, for you are sojourners and residents with Me.” God is the source, creator, and owner of all. 

Shavuot and the Jubilee are heralded by the sound of the shofar, which we associate with Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world. Shavuot and the Jubilee are also new beginnings; land and people return to their original, pure state in a society limiting the amassing of great wealth, ensuring economic and social equity for all. The colonists, inspired by this profound biblical concept, inscribed the Liberty Bell with, “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The Jubilee year and the biblical belief that freedom is an essential feature for all would be a welcomed blessing to many in a world such as ours. 

Rabbi David Seidenberg
Creator and director of, author of “Kabbalah and Ecology”

The great liberation of the 50th year, called Jubilee or Yovel, was a once-in-a-generation experience. But the seventh year, called shmita, which means release, was a liberation every adult had experienced multiple times in their lives. 

Shmita freed all citizens from debt, freed the land from being farmed or bought and sold, and freed human beings from hoarding and profiting off the land. It even freed wild animals to roam anywhere humans normally fenced off for themselves. That’s the kind of Edenic freedom we need to return to again and again. But in the Jubilee year, after seven cycles of practicing letting go of the land, everyone renewed their ancient connection to the land, returning to their place of family and origin. Whoever lost or gained land over the previous 49 years went back to ground zero, literally. 

To be free at the level of shmita, it is necessary to release ourselves from the obligations of doing and controlling, again and again. Every Sabbath, we rehearse this. But the Jubilee requires more: reconnecting, re-upping one’s obligation to the land and to one another. We model the Jubilee cycle in our journey from Passover to Shavuot, when we count seven weeks until the liberation of Matan Torah, the gift of the Torah, on the 50th day. Both Torah and Jubilee represent a higher freedom that comes from knowingly accepting the obligations arising from our relationship to God, to the land and to one another. That is what true liberty looks like.

Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld

Freedom is the mantra and mission of every democracy. But let me ask a heretical question: Is freedom inherently a blessing? Hear me out. On the second night of Passover, we start to count toward Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. We count 49 days and on the 50th day, we celebrate the greatest sound and light show in the history of humanity. These are the only two holidays connected in this way and it is a connection that implies an inextricable link. So, what’s the link? 

One idea is that if freedom isn’t linked to a higher purpose, then it is illusory at best and dangerous at worst. Freedom is a blessing only if it is used to pursue elevated values. Freedom is a blessing only if we remain true to the Godliness that was breathed into each of us. Without such aspirations, freedom can spawn and rationalize the most repugnant of doctrines and behaviors. Socialism, which was pioneered by Jews, began as a lofty experiment with noble aspirations that eventually devolved into communism. 

Yovel was the 50th year in the counting of seven Sabbatical cycles. It was a year that embodied freedom. It is not random that the Torah was given 50 days after we left Egypt and the freedom of Yovel was experienced in the 50th year. The parallel is poetic. Freedom is a gift only for those who use it to elevate themselves and the world around them.

Rabbi Cheryl Peretz
Associate dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

For generations since the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia has inspired millions to embrace the American notion of liberty (outlined in the Declaration of Independence) as the freedom to achieve “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Embossed on the Liberty Bell in 1751 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s “Charter of Privileges,” the original bell’s sound and this verse became the iconic reminder of liberties granted to all inhabitants. 

The Torah verse describes the release of servants from their bosses. Every 50th year, a Jubilee was declared; Jewish servants were released from their servitude and land reverted to the original owners, preserving the delineation of land given to each tribe upon entering the Promised Land. Rashi (11th-century France) understands this freedom as having two elements: the ability to live anywhere, and not living under the authority of any other. So, while the bell’s inscription refers to American independence from an enemy nation, the original text refers to an economic liberty of one person from another.

The true lesson of that freedom? No single person had the right to claim eternal ownership; no individual permanently owns land or people. The land is God’s domain and each person is, ultimately, free to establish the life of his or her own making … not a life ordered by another. Rather, a life dedicated to hearing God’s call to serve, a message we are called to hear every day of every year.

Rabbi Aryeh Markman
Aish LA

“If only God would appear to me, I would keep the Torah.” I hear that all the time. What if you knew that His book was for real? Would you commit then? 

At Aish LA, we teach the Discovery Seminar, which lays out the evidence that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. It is based on a rigorous method used by the Mossad to verify any transmitted message. Such as, “Is the message credible that we can bomb an enemy’s nuclear reactor without radar detection?” There are five criteria of verification. One is control. For our purposes, God’s. 

God commands a B.C.E. agrarian society not to farm every seventh year, including the 50th Jubilee year of the Sabbatical cycle when land ownership returns to its tribal origins. Famine anyone? And yet God promises no hunger. The Jews knowingly submit to the Book with this commandment. And there are major consequences if we do farm when we’re told not to. 

What religion could ever make such a promise? Only one that truly knows its God controls everything. We still keep the Sabbatical year. The farmers lose a year of revenue but, in the long run, they prosper. Many attest to miraculous good fortune in subsequent years with superior crop yields and business windfalls. 

To know God, is to be tested by God. Even though you think you will lose through the natural course of events, this is where you will find your faith. Where is He calling you?