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Liberty Throughout the Land

By: Rav Yonny Sack

This week’s parasha (in Israel) is parashat Behar. The Torah opens with the mitzvah of Shmita , the command to allow the land to have a Shabbat, to leave the land fallow every 7th year. The Torah also details how in the 50th year, after 7 cycles of 7, there is to be a Yovel, a 'jubilee' year where not only the land is to be fallow but all land returns to its ancestral heritage and servants go free.

The Torah opens the parasha with the words: "And Hashem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai saying ..." and what follows are the laws of Shmita and Yovel as discussed above. Many of the commentaries ask: Were not all the laws of the Torah given at Mt Sinai, yet the Torah doesn't need to mention this fact when instructing regarding other mitzvot? What then is the unique connection between these laws and Mt Sinai? The answer is beautiful and profound.

To address our question, we will begin by asking a few more. The Torah in describing the Yovel year (Jubilee) says "You shall sound the shofar in the 7th month on the 10th of the month; on Yom Kippur you shall sound the shofar throughout the land" and then it brings the verse that is famously inscribed on the iconic liberty bell in Philadelphia (in bold): "You shall sanctify the 50th year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (Vayikra 25:10).

Why are we blowing a shofar throughout the land in the Jubilee year? What is the connection between the Shofar and Yovel?

One final question - the parasha ends its description of Shmita and Yovel with the following words: "And you shall perform my laws . . . and you will dwell in the land securely" (Vayikra 25:18) on which Rashi comments from the Midrash that the consequence of not keeping the shmita year is exile from the land. Thus for 70 years the Jewish people were in exile after the First Temple was destroyed in response to 70 shmita years that were not observed. This is most perplexing. We are told in the Gemara in Yoma and other places that the reason for the first exile, the 70 year Babylonian galut, was because the people were doing the three cardinal sins of idolatry, immoral relationships and murder. How then can Rashi (quoting the Midrash) say that the exile was the result of not keeping Shmita? What is the connection between not keeping shmita and exile?

Let us explore for a moment the mitzvah of Shmita. There is a 7 year cycle that is counted and each 7 years there is a full year where one is not allowed to work the land; not a farmer nor a home owner in their own garden. The produce becomes owner-less. It is sanctified and in essence, free for all to take. This law is kept in Israel today and anyone who has been in Israel during a shmitta year would have had the privilege of eating the holy shmita fruit and vegetables which is a mitzvah according to some authorities. The Mei haShiluach teaches that the overarching message of the mitzvah of shmitta is that Hashem is the true owner of the land, where the “land” is a metaphor for all shefa - abundance and blessing that flows into our lives.  He is the true Source of our material success, and in the words of the Mishna in Avot, Shmitta renews our recognition that "Sheli Shelach"  - what is mine, is really Yours Hashem [1]. The Shmita year thus brings the ego back down to earth, it works to pierce the balloon of inflated self importance and humbles one from a belief of "Kochi Ve Otzem Yadi asah li et hachayil hazeh" - "my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth" (Devarim 8:17) to a realization that "Ki Li Kol HaAretz" - "For all the land is Mine (Hashem’s)" ( Shmot 19:5).

So how then can the failure to observe the Shmita lead down a slippery slope to exile? Perhaps one could say that it is this very selfish, self-focused arrogance that Shmita comes to relieve, which is at the core of the three cardinal sins that caused the first exile: Murder can only result from a false belief where one thinks that another person's life is in their hands to destroy. Immoral relationships flow from a perverted ‘taking' selfish attitude of 'what can I get’ rather than the healthy foundation of commitment which is based on "what can I give". Finally, Idolatry is rooted in the desire to have a connection to a transcendent power, but only on my terms - within my grasp, where I can see it and reduce it to an image that my mind can wrap around. Thus the failure to observe the Shmita, the failure to internalize the message of "Sheli Shelach" leads to a selfish society which can produce the greatest of evils. But that is only a surface level understanding of the connection between Shmita and Galut (exile).

Looking deeper into Shmita and Yovel we find something wonderfully inspiring. The Shmita is of course a cycle of 7s. The 7th dimension in Torah, as expressed in Shabbos, always represents a duality of completion and return to source. The very term "Shabbat LaShem", which the Torah uses when referring to Shmita, literally means "a return to HaShem", the root of Shabbat being 'Shav', to return. Indeed the Zohar [2] teaches that the secret of Yovel, the culmination of 7 Shmita years, is the ultimate return to source, the return of the Neshama to its source in Hashem, where the external motions of the mitzvah are only the 'clothing' while the internal 'pnimiut', the message of the mitzvah, is a return to the essence of self, to one's source in Hashem, where true humility lies. The freedom, the liberty from bondage that the Torah then speaks of, is a freedom of slavery to the outer 'shells' of life, the bondage of the material and the slavery of the ego which so often entrap us. With Shmita and then Yovel, everything returns to Source (Rav Moshe Shapira in Mimaamakim).

With this understanding, the connection to Sinai (our first question) and to the Shofar becomes apparent. The Shofar was used at Sinai as well; it blasted with ever increasing reverberation, penetrating the souls of every Jew, accompanying them on their journey back to Source with the crystal clear revelation of Hashem's presence and unity as the Source of all creation. In the presence of such a revelation, everyone experienced an overwhelming 'bitul' - nullification of ego - as HaShem revealed that His Unity permeates their very essence, like a great light, consuming all the smaller rays in it's midst.  Sinai was thus a "return to source" experience.

The Shofar is of course the accompanying instrument for this experience as it is the cry of the inner soul, the "kol Demama Daka" [3] - the soft still voice - of the soul that cries out for us to return to Hashem. It is thus used as our wake-up call during the month of Elul - "Wake up you sleepers from your slumber, and return to your true pure essence" - and of course on Rosh Hashana, the day of recreating the self through reconnecting to the King within. And of course, we now see a deeper dimension to the connection between Shmita and exile; by truly internalizing this message of Shmita and Yovel, the Geula, the redemption, the ultimate freedom through return can unfold. Then each man will 'return to his ancestral inheritance' in the land of Israel, and return to his Source in realization and clarity of purpose and connection to Hashem.

One final idea. The word Yovel is made of the letters "Yud" "Bet" and "Lamed". Deeper sources point out that every spiritual concept is expressed in place, person and time [4]. The time of Yovel is the 50th year, its personality is King David and its place is Beit Lechem, where David grew up [5]. Beit Lechem is referred to in the Torah as "Beit Lechem Yehuda" [6] whose first letters form the acronym "YOVEL". It is David that holds the soul of Moshiach, the redeemer, the one who will bring all Jews back home. It is no wonder then that he is the Yovel personality and called "Beit HaLachmi" - "the Bethlehemite" and Rachel who is buried in that place is told by Hashem "the words of Hashem - and the children will return to their borders" - which the Hebrew states as       - which spells the acronym "YOVEL".

May we work to internalize the message of Shmita and Yovel, release the grip that the ego has on the self and proclaim 'liberty through the land', as we all return, both individually and collectively, to our pure holy Source.

Shabbat Shalom,


[1  Brought in MimaamakimMei Shiluach on this parasha.

[2]  Chelek 3 108b Raya Mehemna (quoted in the Sefer; Mimaamakim pg 403)

[3]  Melachim 1. 19:12

[4]  The kabbalistic text 'Sefer Yetzira' (not that I have read it, but it is a famous concept mentioned in various other books)

[5]  Flames of Faith, Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson and the Stuchiner Rebbe written beautifully by Rav Zeev Reichman.

[6]  Ruth 1:1


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