Shabbat Behar and Behkotai

Candles Friday May 19th @ 7:50pm
Havdalah March 20th @ 8:46pm
Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim

There are four words used in this week’s Torah reading that signify, in one way or another, freedom.

We start with Shmittah. This is the Seven Year release of bonded Israelites who have debits to pay off, either by working for their creditor or because they cannot afford to feed themselves and their children. It was also a year to leave the land fallow to help with fertility and to offer a break from hard labor. Hence our modern use of the word “sabbatical.” Some of us still keep the Shmittah by not eating produce of the Land of Israel during the Shmittah year. In addition, debts incurred were released. In ancient times lending was only an act of charity or to help someone set up in business. The Torah did not want people to be burdened indefinitely by debt.

Then came the Yovel. In addition to the Shmittah, every 50th year, all tribal lands returned to their original owners. This was to prevent anyone monopolizing the real estate and ensuring a fair division. We don’t know if this ever happened. It required lots of conditions such as a Sanhedrin of rabbis to convene and declare it’s start. But the idea of a Jubilee, also remains part of our language.

And then the word Dror. Which is a beautiful name in Hebrew and literally means freedom but it is used this way only once in the Torah. Its only other mention is one other place in the Torah where it is applied to sweet-smelling spice. Perhaps this is the origin of the phrase “freedom is sweet”.

There is another word for freedom, Chofshi. That simply means being “let out".

There are two different dimensions to freedom. One is the act of release, the removal of an obligation. That’s, if you like, negative. It’s good in that it removes a burden. But it doesn't substitute anything positive. Dror, means a positive sense of freedom. It is the appreciation of one’s free state. And that involves an obligation to use one’s freedom well and constructively. To be able to develop our inner beings and our spirituality.

Next Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim when we celebrate the Old City being freed in 1967. Which puts an obligation on us to appreciate having a State of our own, having reclaimed our heritage and the freedom and use it well.