Behar: The Liberty Bell, from ​​​​​​​Sinai to Philadelphia

National Library

Growing up in Jerusalem, I recall going often to the Gan Hapa’amon, “the bell’s garden”, right outside the walls of the old city. At the center of the Garden was a huge replica of the bell made in 1751, which I got to see years later right outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. While the two bells are thousands of miles apart, the bell in the heart of the city of Jerusalem, and the Bell at the epicenter of American democracy have so much in common. “Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) These sacred words are inscribed onto the liberty bell and draw upon the Jews were taught in Sinai when leaving the land of Egypt. God made sure to tell the people right out of Egypt—when the wound of slavery was still hurting: slavery must go. Proclaim Liberty!

 

Commentaries note that the obligation of proclaiming liberty through the sounding of a Shofar is uniquely different than the obligation to blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana[1]. With regard to the Mitzvah of sounding the Shofar on the Jubilee, Maimonides states (the laws of Shemitah and Yovel 10:10):”

It is a positive commandment to sound the shofar on the tenth of Tishrei in the Jubilee year. This mitzvah is entrusted to the [High] Court first, as [Leviticus 25:9] states: “You shall sound a shofar blast. Each and every individual is also obligated to sound the shofar, as [the verse] continues: “and you shall sound the shofar.”

We sound nine shofar blasts in the same way as we sound them on Rosh HaShanah.38 We sound the shofar throughout the boundaries of [Eretz] Yisrael. “

Clearly, the mitzvah is to blow the Shofar, not just to hear it.

On the other hand, the Mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashana is very different. Maimonides states (chapter 2 of the laws of Shofar):

Everyone is obligated to hear the sounding of the shofar: priests, Levites, Israelites, converts, and freed slaves. “

Clearly, the obligation with regard to Rosh Hashana is very different, it is an obligation to hear the Shofar, not necessarily to blow it.

Why the difference?

When we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, we remind ourselves of the importance of introspection. When it is time for spiritual change and repentance, it is time we look into ourselves, it is time we listen. It is time we need to think about our priorities and what we can change.

When it comes to Liberty, however, the plan is different. When it comes to fighting for liberty—especially for the liberty of others—action is the way to go. Introspection is not needed. This is the time to go out to the street, take a ram’s horn, and proclaim liberty.

This was the message God gave to Israel at Sinai, and this is what inspired generations later those who fought for liberty and independence. It is why the bell was sounded on the day the Declaration of Independence was read in Independence all, and the reason it was championed later in the 1800s by the abolitionists who saw it as a source of inspiration.

As we read through Parashat Be’har let us remember the powerful role the verses of Shemitah, Yovel, honesty, and many more have played in world history. Let us make sure these words are not just icons of human history, but that they keep guiding us for a better future, and a brighter tomorrow.

 

[1] See further the commentary of Nechama Leibowitz here.

About the Author
The writer is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He is the president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network and lives with his wife in New York City.
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