Freedom for All
וקדשתם את שנת החמשים שנה וקראתם דרור בארץ לכל ישביה יובל הוא תהיה לכם
“You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; it shall be the Jubilee year for you.” (Vayikra 25:10)
Parshat Behar begins by teaching us about the mitzvah of Shemittah, which requires us to allow the ground to lay fallow every seven years. We are then introduced to the concept of Yovel – the Jubilee year – which occurs in the 50th year after every seven Shemittah cycles. In addition to allowing the earth to rest, Yovel also contains one of the most famous requirements in the Torah.
In the Jubilee year we are also required to free all Jewish servants. The verse in the Torah requiring us to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all of its inhabitants” was immortalized on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, which was rung in 1774 to announce the opening of the first Continental Congress, and according to legend, on July 8, 1776, to summon citizens to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence.
Its historical significance notwithstanding, there seems to be one glaring error in this verse. Although it was indeed appropriate for our nation’s Founding Fathers to declare freedom for “all” of America’s inhabitants, why does the Torah tell us to do so? Since the Jubilee year represents independence only for the servants that would be freed, in what way is it considered liberating for “all” of the people?
The following story will help us answer these questions.
Rabbi Issar Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953) was once walking home with his nephew on a cold winter day. As he reached his home and started to ascend the steps, he suddenly turned around. Rabbi Meltzer began pacing on the sidewalk, apparently deep in thought. His nephew pressed him for an explanation for his bizarre behavior, but he shrugged him off.
After ten minutes, Rabbi Meltzer again approached the house, but again did an about-face and resumed his pacing. As it was growing bitterly cold, his perplexed nephew begged for mercy or at least an explanation. Finally, Rabbi Meltzer relented and explained. “As I walked up the steps, I heard the young woman who comes every week to help out in the kitchen singing to herself while mopping the floor. I realized that if I barged in right in the middle of her work, she would be embarrassed and stop singing. I don’t have the right to deny her the pleasure she has of singing while she works, so I decided to wait outside until she finished.”
In light of this story about Rabbi Meltzer’s sensitivity to this cleaning woman, we can appreciate the answer to our question given by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (1881-1966). The Talmud teaches (Kiddushin 20a) that whoever purchases a Jewish servant in effect acquires a master for himself. The Torah demands that an employer be responsible for the well-being of his employees.
As Rabbi Meltzer teaches us, he is obligated not just to provide them with a paycheck, but also with a warm and supportive work environment which takes their feelings and welfare into account. By ordering the servants to go free in the Jubilee year, the Torah is in effect lifting a major burden off of their current owners, in essence creating a newfound freedom and liberty not just for the freed servants but also for their masters. Recognizing the sensitivity that the Torah demands of us as employers should help us reevaluate the manner in which we treat not just our employees and colleagues, but all of our friends and loved ones.
וכי תאמרו מה נאכל בשנה השביעת הן לא נזרע ולא נאסף את תבואתנו וצויתי את ברכתי לכם בשנה הששית ועשת את התבואה לשלש השנים
“And if you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we will not sow and not gather in our crops!’ I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period.” (Vayikra 25: 20-21)
Parshat Behar commands all Jewish farmers to let their fields lie fallow for the duration of the seventh year of a seven-year cycle. In the verses quoted here, G-d guarantees that all who meticulously observe the laws of this sabbatical year known as shmittah will be blessed with a bountiful crop in the sixth year (the year preceding shmittah), with enough food to last for the sixth, seventh and eighth years.
As quoted in the Medrash, Rabbi Yehuda states that the verse in Psalms (103:20) – “men of strength, who fulfill His commands” – refers to the shmittah observer, “who witnesses his field wither and is silent. Can there be a stronger person than that?!”
Rabbi Aharon Kotler, of blessed memory, questions this assertion. Why is ‘great strength’ attributed to the shmittahobserver? While it may be true that he watches idly while his field withers during the seventh year, he was already blessed with a bumper crop in the previous year and his storehouse is now full! He has the ‘money in the bank.’ Additionally, he has just witnessed G-d’s miracles in providing him with an extraordinary bounty in the sixth year. Wouldn’t anyone observing this unnatural bounty be motivated to observe shmittah? Why is the shmittah observer referred to as possessing great strength?
Rabbi Kotler answers these questions with the following insight into human nature. People tend to believe that they would significantly upgrade their spiritual commitment if only their circumstances would be better, or if they would experience an open miracle. The primary factor in spiritual growth however is an inner resolve to do what’s right, regardless of our circumstances. If we are genuinely determined, nothing can stop us. Without that resolve, we will not make meaningful changes, no matter how optimal our situation. The shmittah observer is therefore referred to as a man of great strength because his determination to observe shmittah stems from his inner resolve to observe this commandment, not his miraculous bounty in the sixth year. That degree of blessing in the sixth year, in fact, comes about only because of his pre-shmittah commitment to fulfill G-d’s will – come what may. This is truly a man of strength.
Rabbi Meir Chadash related that when he was a fifteen year-old boy in Russia, he was stopped by an officer who demanded to see his papers. After finding that the young boy Meir had none, he put the boy up against a wall to be shot. Rabbi Chadash was shaking so much that he was unable to remain standing. The officer shouted at him to stand up straight. After repeated bellows, a nearby window opened and a Russian General roared that the ruckus was keeping him awake, and that the officer would be court-martialed. The officer immediately ran off, and the young Meir Chadash was saved. Rabbi Chadash related, “At the time, I thought that this miracle would change me forever. However, as time went on, the effect wore off, and I continued going through life as I always had.”
Rabbi Chadash left Russia a few years later to study in the Chevron Yeshiva in what was then known as Palestine. While at the yeshiva, the infamous 1929 Chevron massacre – during which hundreds of Jews were murdered by Arabs – took place. Rabbi Chadash found himself hiding beneath a pile of dead bodies as the bloodthirsty Arabs furiously searched for more victims. At that moment Rabbi Chadash thought to himself, “What happens to me is up to G-d, but what I take out of this experience is up to me.” Rabbi Chadash related that it was only at that time when he fully internalized the lesson from his previous near-death experience. His two personal miraculous encounters stayed with him throughout his whole life, and served as a powerful driving force for his renowned spiritual accomplishments.
The laws of shmittah are not applicable outside of Israel. Nonetheless, its lesson about the significance of genuine spiritual commitment – regardless of our circumstances – is applicable to us all, wherever we might live. May we all merit achieving that degree of commitment.
Jailed—But Without Cause?
וכי ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך והחזקת בו
“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him… ” (Vayikra 25:35).
Giving charity (tzedakah) is difficult because we tend to believe we’re giving up our own hard-earned money. The Medrash, however, points out that the money was never ours in the first place. It was given to us to use wisely and distribute what we don’t need to others. Moreover, if we don’t give it to the intended recipients, the poor and hungry, we will be forced to forfeit the money in other ways that do not provide the promise of eternal reward.
To drive home this point, Medrash Rabbah (Vayikra 34:12) relates the following incident. The night of Rosh Hashanah, when it is decreed how much a person will earn the coming year, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai dreamed that his two nephews would be slandered before the emperor and forced to pay a ransom of 600 dinar, a princely sum. Rabbi Shimon summoned them and instructed them to dispense charity with an open hand. They resisted. “Where will we get the money to distribute to the poor?” Rabbi Shimon insisted, “Fear not, all you need do is keep track of exactly how much money you distributed. At year’s end, I’ll reimburse whatever shortfall you suffer.”
The two brothers did as he requested and distributed large sums of money throughout the year. To their surprise, shortly before the end of the year a royal emissary appeared in their silk shop and informed them that they were accused of illegal activities. He advised them that they had two means of appeasing the emperor: either fashion a royal silk garment for the emperor, or pay a fine of 600 dinar. Until they could satisfy either of these options, they were imprisoned.
Upon hearing of their plight, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai visited them in prison and inquired how much charity they had distributed throughout the year. They produced their ledgers and arrived at a total of 594 dinar. Rabbi Shimon asked them for six dinar and promised he’d ransom them for that paltry sum. They proclaimed, “Can you believe this old man? A royal emissary demands six hundred dinar and he thinks he’ll get us out of prison for six!” Unfazed by their skepticism, Rabbi Shimon responded, “All I’ve asked for is six dinar. Give me that amount and it is irrelevant how I’ll succeed.”
They gave him the six dinar, and he easily bribed an influential person to erase all traces of this matter before it reached the ruler. The brothers were freed, and they came before Rabbi Shimon to ask how he was so successful. “Did you know in advance how much we had to lose this year?” they inquired. Rabbi Shimon explained that he’d known exactly how much since Rosh Hashanah. “If so,” they wondered, “Why didn’t you tell us in the first place? We could have given you even the six dinar for charity [instead of having to use it for ransom money].”
“No, my children,” answered Rabbi Shimon. “I knew you would have given the entire amount for charity. I feared, however, that none would be given for the right reason, sincerely, not because you were going to lose it anyway. When charity is given sincerely, the mitzvah is so much greater and significant.”
According to the Medrash, the opportunity to give charity is a gift from the Almighty, allowing us to earn reward for dispensing money that is not truly ours. To do so properly, however, we must give it with a smile and experience genuine happiness for the opportunity
For Discussion Around the Shabbat Table
As soon as the Jews would enter the land of Israel, they would be obligated to keep certain laws specific to the land. For six years they would work the land, and the seventh year was a sabbatical—Shemitah. After seven Shemitah years, a total of 49 years, the following year, the 50th year, was a Jubilee year.
1. According to Rashi (Vayikra 25:1), the Torah emphasizes that the mitzvah of Shemitah was given at Mount Sinai in order to teach that all mitzvot, both their general principles and detailed rules, were also given at Mount Sinai. If all mitzvot were equally taught at Sinai, why is this point made specifically using the mitzvah of Shemitah?
2. Since no planting is done during the Shemitah year, some people were anxious about what they would eat that year. Therefore G-d promises to bless the harvest of the sixth year so that it will suffice for three years (Vayikra 25:21). Since people will already witness this miracle during the sixth year, why might they still ask what they will be able to eat in the seventh year?
Q: The Torah commands ‘ושבתה הארץ שבת לד – that the land during the Shemittah year shall rest, a rest (Sabbath) for G-d (Vayikra 25:2). A number of commentators are bothered by the seemingly redundant twofold use of the word שבת – rest – in reference to the Shemittah year. Why is this word repeated?
A: A most novel explanation is offered by the Mateh Moshe (473), who suggests that in a regular year (not Shemittah), the farmer must refrain from working the field on Shabbat. Yet the crops which he planted during the week continue to grow on Shabbat. The ground is thus denied the ability to rest on Shabbat along with the rest of Creation. During the course of a year, there are 52 such Shabbatot (plural of Shabbat) on which the land is unable to rest. Over a period of 7 years, the total number of such days which accrue for which the ground must be compensated comes to 364. As a result, the Torah decreed that once every 7 years, the land shall lie completely fallow in order to “pay it back” for all of the Shabbatot during which it was unable to rest, and it is for this reason that the Torah stresses that in the Shemittah year, the ground should rest a שבת to G-d! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
In the Torah portion this week, we are taught the basic prohibition against charging interest. There are many subtle distinctions in Jewish law between transactions that carry a forbidden interest charge and those which are considered acceptable forms of business (Vayikra 25:35).
1. A loan is simply charging someone for the use of our money. Why might this be forbidden while it is permissible to charge money for lending out other possessions, such as a car?
2. In the verse in which the Torah forbids taking interest, it says, “Do not take interest, and you shall fear G-d” (Vayikra 25:36). Why might the Torah include the additional directive to fear of G-d specifically with this commandment, as opposed to any other prohibitions (e.g. stealing)?
3. When stating this law, the Torah says, “Do not give him money for interest… I am the L-rd your G-d Who took you out of Egypt” (Vayikra 25:37-38). What connection might there be between charging interest and our Exodus from (or our experience in) Egypt?
Q: The law is that a Jew sold as a servant to a non-Jew is obligated to work for him until the next Yovel (Jubilee) year (Vayikra 25:50). Nevertheless, it is the duty of his relatives to redeem him as quickly as possible so that he not assimilate and learn from the foreign ways of his new master. Rashi explains that he is to be redeemed by dividing the amount paid for him by the number of years which remained at that time until the Yovel year, yielding the value to his master of each year of his work. This should be multiplied by the number of years he has already worked, which indicates the “value” of the work he has performed thus far. This amount should be subtracted from the original purchase price, and the remaining amount is the “balance” which his brethren must pay his master in order to secure his freedom. What inspiring lesson can we take for ourselves from these seemingly mundane calculations?
A: The Chofetz Chaim suggests that a Jew living today who is told to yearn for the coming of Moshiach could easily despair and wonder how he will merit to see the coming of Moshiach, something which was denied to so many righteous individuals in previous generations. We learn however from the aforementioned laws that the closer a servant gets to the predetermined time of his release (the Yovel year), the less money will be needed to purchase his premature freedom because of all of the work he has performed with the passage of time. Similarly, upon creating the universe, G-d decreed a preordained time for the final Redemption. He also stipulated that with sufficient merits, it would be possible to bring Moshiach before his time. In order to cause his arrival centuries in advance of the prearranged time, tremendous merits were necessary, something that even our most pious ancestors weren’t able to accomplish. As the time for the ultimate redemption draws ever nearer, however, and we continue to suffer from persecution and anti- Semitism, the remaining “balance” dwindles ever smaller, a balance which we are indeed capable of “paying off” if we serve G-d to our maximum potential! (Rabbi Ozer Alport)
Jumping Points for Discussion and Further Study
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
“G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come to the land which I give to you…’” Vayikra 25:1, 2
Which I Give To You – Why does the Torah speak in present tense [I give to you], as opposed to future tense [which I will give to you]? The sanctity of the Land of Israel is so great that it cannot all be experienced immediately. Instead, one must prepare himself beforehand, and the greater the preparation, the more one senses of its intrinsic holiness. Thus, the land is constantly being “given” to him, because ones appreciation for it is renewed on a regular basis. – Korbon Ani
It is said that Rav Nachman of Breslav zt”l claimed that only once he actually ascended to the Land of Israel and tasted the multiple flavors of spiritual succulence that the Land had to offer, did he finally comprehend the phraseology of this verse since he felt that each day he was truly “given” the land anew.
UNTIL 120 YEARS
“You shall sanctify the fiftieth year, declaring emancipation all over the world. This is your jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family… In the jubilee year, every man shall return to his hereditary property.” Vayikra 25:13
You shall sanctify the fiftieth year – Rabbi Yosi said, “Come and see how serious it is one who does business with the dust of shviis [produced by working the land during the seventh year, which is forbidden – i.e. one who violates even the rabbinical prohibitions against doing business with the produce of shviis]. One who sells its produce will eventually be forced to sell his personal possessions as a result… then he’ll have to sell his fields and eventually he’ll have to also sell off his house… he’ll then have to sell his daughter as a maidservant… and then he’ll have to borrow with interest… eventually he’ll come to a point at which he’ll have to sell himself as a servant in order to pay his debts…’ – Kiddushin 20a
Although Rabbi Yosi only enumerated six consequences that will befall one who ignores the prohibition of dealing with produce of shviis, in reality there is a seventh – he will lose all his money first, which is what leads to his having to sell his possessions initially. These seven consequences are a fulfillment of the scriptural warning, “If you still do not listen to Me, I will increase the punishment for your sins sevenfold.” – Ben Yehoyada
Sanctify the fiftieth year – One reason the Torah forbade working the land during the jubilee year is because it knew that if a person would invest his energies into the land and see it producing, it would be very difficult for him to return it to its original owner. Therefore, the Torah demanded that it be left to lie fallow so that the person would not become emotionally invested in it and would more readily part with it. – Meshech Chochmah
It is said that the holy Chozeh of Lublin once told his loyal disciple Rabbi Yisroel of Ziditchov, of blessed memory, that so long as he remains alive, he does not fear for the spiritual health of Rabbi Yisroel, but after his passing, he cannot guarantee that all will be well. Rabbi Yisroel responded that if that is the case, he does not want to live longer than his rebbi. Stunned, the Chozeh pointed out that he was an elderly man, whereas Rabbi Yisroel was yet young and had many years to live. “If so,” said Rabbi Yisroel, “I’d pray that my master should live forever,” to which the Chozeh wondered whether anyone could actually live forever. To this Rabbi Yisroel responded that he’d pray that he live for 120 years. “Well, which one is it, 120 or forever?” asked the Chozeh.
“Truthfully,” answered Rabbi Yisroel, “My intent originally was to bless you to live until 120 years, which is the number of jubilee cycles that will pass from the beginning of the universe until it’s conclusion at 6,000 years. The Torah refers to the jubilee year as “forever,” and this is what it meant by that. Similarly, Moses lived for 120 years, each one corresponding to one jubilee cycle. So I bless you to live until 120, representing all the jubilee cycles – akin to living forever.”
SHARP WORDS MAKE STRONG PRAYERS
“And one man shall not torment his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d” Vayikra 25:17
Shall not torment – This verse prohibits annoying others with words…not offer advice to another which is inappropriate for him and for the benefit of the advisor. – Rashi, Torat Kohanim
Shall not torment – “Rabbi Chisda said, ‘All the gates [of heaven] are closed [to one’s prayers] with the exception of the gates of [prayer that emanates from] hurtful words.” – Talmud, Tractate Bava Metziah 59a
All the gates of heaven are closed – This does not mean that one’s prayers are not heard or accepted, but that he must double down on his efforts to send forth a proper prayer that will be accepted and responded to in a timely fashion. Prayers that express one’s inner anguish over insensitive words however, need little firepower in order to be effective and are immediately responded to. – Torah Chaim, Bava Metziah 59a
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that when one is anguished by his fellow, he tends to feel humbled and lowly and cries out more sincerely than at other times. The added emotion is what ensures the prayers’ favorable Divine reception and response.
“If your brother becomes impoverished and loses the ability to support himself with you, you must come to his aid, help him survive whether he is a proselyte or a sojourner.” Vayikra 25:35
Come to his aid – Do not allow him to decline and fall to the degree that it will be difficult to restore him to his original position. Rather, strengthen him while he is only weakened. To what can this be compared? To a burden on a donkey: while it is still on the donkey, one person can grab hold of it and re-balance the load, but once the donkey falls to the ground, even five cannot raise it up. – Rashi
A proselyte or a sojourner – Even if he is a proselyte or a non-Jewish sojourner, you must still help him. And what constitutes a ‘sojourner’? One who accepts upon himself the prohibition not to worship idols, and he may eat neveilot[carcasses]. – Rashi
To support himself with you – The words “with you” are seemingly superfluous, since all that needed to be said is that he cannot support himself. When there are poor among the Jewish people, this is a sign that we are not properly fulfilling the will of G-d. If so, his impoverishment is a sign that not only is all not right with him, but also with all of us. Therefore the Torah tells us that “he cannot support himself with you” to emphasize our obligation to help him because we too, are part of the problem. – Sifsei Kohen
Or HaChaim highlights a mystical interpretation of this verse and explains that occasionally a wayward and sinful soul is stirred to repent and must find a physical “host” through which it can achieve repentance. Sometimes it attaches itself to a person with a goal to participate in the fulfillment of a specific mitzvah, in which case it remains for only a short while. Other times, it remains for a longer period of time to achieve some other form of repentance. It is these souls to which the Torah refers in this verse when it speaks of the brother [i.e. a soul] who becomes impoverished. The impoverishment is of a spiritual nature, and its return can be in the form of a sojourner [temporary dweller] or a native [long-term dweller], and in each case, we are bidden to assist this desperate soul in achieving full penance.
“Do not take from him interest…I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a G-d unto you.” Vayikra 25:35-38
Who Took You Out Of The Land of Egypt – I took you out of Egypt on condition that you would agree to abide by My commandments, even the difficult ones, such as refraining from charging a Jew interest. – Rashi
To Give You The Land Of Canaan – Although Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is a land replete with luscious fruit and abundant crop for you to enjoy, that was not the primary reason I gave it to you. Instead, My intent was for you to serve Me by observing My commandments in the land. – Or HaChaim
Although some would like to portray the Exodus from Egypt, and subsequent resettlement in Eretz Yisrael, as an act of compassion by G-d who couldn’t bear to see us suffer, this verse makes it clear that it was about much more than that. Instead of going through all the trouble of relocating us, G-d could just as easily have relieved our conditions in Egypt and allowed us to remain there in comfort. Removing us from Egypt and resettling us in Eretz Yisael was part of a larger agreement that G-d forged with us, wherein He would present us with a land of our own, and we would utilize that land to reinforce our relationship with Him. Failure to do so represents a breach in the terms of our agreement with him and is grounds for being exiled from the land.
LEAVE THE REST TO ME
“You shall observe My Sabbaths and you shall revere My Sanctuary, I am Hashem.” Vayikra 26:2
You Shall Revere My Sanctuary – Although the Holy Temple has been destroyed due to our sins, we are nonetheless obligated to revere it just as if it were still standing. One must not enter areas that are off-limits to him, nor may one sit in the courtyard area, and one should not act flippantly while standing opposite the Eastern Gate. This is derived from the juxtaposition of the obligation to revere the Sanctuary with the obligation to observe the Sabbath. Just as the Sabbath must be observed for all generations, the Holy Temple must be revered even though it is in a state of destruction. – Rambam, Beis HaBechirah, 7:7
My Sabbaths – Why does the verse refer to Sabbaths [plural], and not merely speak of observing the Sabbath [in the singular]? Perhaps this alludes to the Talmudic dictum, “If only the Jews had observed two consecutive Sabbaths, they would have been redeemed immediately.” [Shabbat 118b] This also explains the juxtaposition to the mitzvah to act with reverence toward the Temple, for had they been redeemed, they would once again merit a Holy Temple to serve Him and revere. – Maadanei Melech
Perhaps the juxtaposition of the obligation to revere the Sanctuary to the obligation to observe the Sabbath can be explained in another manner as well. There are some who erroneously believe that the role of a Sanctuary in Judaism is of such primary importance, that it overrides all other commandments, even severe prohibitions, such as the prohibition to violate the Sabbath. To dispel this notion, the Torah precedes the obligation to “revere the sanctuary,” with the obligation to “observe My Sabbaths,” in an effort to limit the obligation to revere the sanctuary to only those situations where it doesn’t conflict with the obligation to observe the Sabbath. Thus, the Torah dismisses the notion that attending synagogue, however important it may be, can supersede the obligation to observe the Sabbath.
Hey, I Never Knew That
“And you shall count seven years…” (Vayikra 25:8). The word for “you shall count” is in singular form in the Hebrew, whereas the verb used regarding the counting of the Omer (ibid 23:15) is in plural. Why the difference? The Talmud states that the obligation to count the Omer (the days between Passover and Shavuot) is obligatory upon each and every individual. According to this, therefore, the command speaks to everyone and is in plural because many count the Omer. However, the command to count the years of the Sabbatical cycle is only incumbent upon the supreme court (beit din) and therefore is in singular form, for there is only one counting for the entire people (Menachot 65b, Tosafots.v. usfartem)
In ancient times, the shofar was also blown on occasions other than Rosh Hashanah. One such occasion was the release of indentured servants every jubilee (50th) year, which was proclaimed by the blowing of a shofar. The famous verse from the Torah portion this week is inscribed in part on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: “[…Blow the shofar throughout your land…] Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants…” (Vayikra 25:9-10). The sages of the Mishnah explained that the primary significance of the shofar, including that of Rosh Hashanah, is a proclamation of freedom (Sifri, Beha’alotcha, piska 19). The freedom proclaimed by the shofar is the freedom from our past, from our sins and failings. It is the freedom to change ourselves and the entire world through the power of free will and repentance. The shofar reminds us that we are always free to choose what is right and good, that our lives are not pre-determined, and that we are not slaves to the past.
Word of the Week
“Proclaim דרור — dror — liberty throughout the land” (Vayikra 25:10). The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 9b) understands that דרור is related to דר — to dwell. In the words of the Talmud, a free person is “one who can choose to live wherever he wants.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch translates the word as “return,” as in, “You shall proclaim a return throughout the land.” The Radak commentary (Sefer Hashorashim) relates the word to the expression for a pure, unadulterated spice, מר דרור — pure myrrh (Shemot 30:23) in that the spice is “free of foreign substances.” The word is also the name of a species of bird, mentioned in Psalms (84:4) and Proverbs (26:2), so called because it makes nests wherever it pleases, without any fear (Radak).
The verse states “[A]nd your brother shall live, with you” (Vayikra 25:36). Rabbi Akiva understood this to mean that “your life comes before your friend’s life,” and that one should not sacrifice his own life for someone else (Bava Metzia 62a). Are there situations in which one may, or even should, sacrifice his life for others? For instance, what of Major Roi Klein, the Israeli soldier (married and father of two) who, while shouting “Shema Yisrael” threw himself on a grenade during the Lebanon War and saved the other soldiers in his unit? Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg maintained that at times of war, in a battleground scenario, the normal rules of saving lives and not sacrificing life do not apply. He argues that the very essence of war involves one group (i.e. soldiers) putting their lives in danger for the sake of others (i.e. the nation). Therefore, Rabbi Akiva’s dictum does not apply. Major Klein did the right thing; he performed a mitzvah and died sanctifying the Name of G-d (Tzitz Eliezer13:100:7).
“For they are My servants, because I took them out of Egypt” (Vayikra 25:42). The Talmud (Bava Metzia 10a) expands the verse as follows: “They are My servants — and not servants to servants.” Based on this, Jewish law rules that a worker may not be forced to work and may always resign, even in the middle of a job. Even if he has already been paid and doesn’t have the money to pay back his employer, he may nevertheless resign, albeit with a debt to the employer (Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 333:3). What about someone who contracted to perform a specific task, as opposed to a specific amount of time? Most authorities rule that he may not retract, since he has not given his time to the employer but rather a promise to fulfill a task, and hence forcing him to complete that task would not make him a “servant to servants” (ibid and commentaries). Some prohibit a worker from hiring himself for three years or more if he will be living on the property of his employer, because this would be similar to selling himself into slavery (Ramah, ibid. See Minchat Asher, Behar, 61)
Parsha at a Glance
G-d instructed the Jewish people that upon entering the land of Israel, they must observe the mitzvah of shmittah (the sabbatical year). Every seven years, for the entire year, it is forbidden to prepare the ground, plant, or harvest. Trusting that G-d will provide and keeping this mitzvah ensures physical sustenance. The yovel year (the 50th year), introduced by the sounds of the shofar on Yom Kippur, is similar to the shmittah year in its agricultural restrictions. In addition, all Jewish slaves are automatically freed, and land which was sold automatically returns to its ancestral owner.
The Jewish people will remain secure in the land of Israel, as long as they fulfill the mitzvot of the Torah. G-d promised that the land will be blessed and will yield abundantly for the 6th, 7th, and 8th years if we keep the shmittah year.
The Torah delineates the laws of selling ancestral land.
• A Jew has two years to redeem his ancestral land that he sells.
• After two years, he loses his rights to it until the yovel year.
• If the land is in a walled city, the sale is final.
• The Levites’ cities belong to them forever.
The Torah also emphasizes the importance of helping our fellow Jews when they become impoverished. It is forbidden to take (or give) interest on a loan to another Jew. If a Jew becomes poor and is sold to you as a slave, he is not a slave to you, but rather a laborer or resident – until the yovel year.
This parsha ends with the prohibition against making idols and worshiping them.