Whether We Like It Or Not

And you shall sanctify the 50th year and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family. [Leviticus 25:10]

Man likes things permanent: He wants to be eternally rich or strong or successful or handsome or young. What he has today he must have tomorrow. And the opposite is also the case: The rich man wants the poor man to always be poor, downtrodden, miserable and deprived. He will never rise up and take back what the rich man has stolen.

Sorry, but G-d runs the world a bit differently. His world can be summed up through something we sang in school years ago, “What goes up must come down. Spinning wheels got to go round.”

Nothing illustrates that more than slavery. The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt for 210 years. Their lives combined anxiety with pain. One day, G-d said it’s over. And it was. The same thing took place with the Babylonian, Persian and Greek occupations of Israel.

In our weekly Torah portion Behar, Israel celebrates the jubilee, the end of the 50-year cycle, and the Torah commands that all Jewish slaves be set free. The biggest obstacle can come from the slaves themselves. There are some who would insist on being the exception. Decades ago, they willingly entered servitude, and after the maximum term of six years expired, told their masters, “I love you, the wife you gave me and the children we had. I don’t want to leave.”

At the time, the Torah honored that wish and allowed the Jewish man to remain a servant — but not forever. At the jubilee, in Hebrew Yovel, the Jew is kicked out of his master’s home whether he likes it or not.

In Hebrew, Yovel means the horn of a ram, blown to proclaim freedom for the slaves. What is freedom, or dror in Hebrew? It is the ability to walk away regardless of what you had been committed to all your life. You promised to stay with your master forever? Not anymore. Now, you must leave; now you can make a home anywhere you like.

Rabbi Judah said: “What does dror mean? As one who dwells wherever he wishes and is not under the domain of others.” [Torah Kohanim. 25:18]

The Talmud picks up this theme. In Tractate Bava Metzia [99a], a Jewish slave is not regarded as the property of his master. Yes, the Jew has work to do. But he remains his own person. He has not become a robot.

The same goes for land. You might have sold your family estate, apportioned when the Jews entered the Land of Israel. Selling your ancestral plot was certainly a mistake — even if you walked away with lots of cash. But that sale was not eternal. At jubilee, the property goes back to its owners. And if some smart aleck says, “Okay, I’ll violate the Torah, but I will not return the field to the original owner,” that won’t help either. Whether he likes it or not.

The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me. [Leviticus. 25:23]

The return of your family’s assets is not merely a transaction. It marks divine truth and justice. The two always go together.

Kindness and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth will sprout from the earth, and righteousness will look down from heaven. [Psalms 85:11-12]

What is truth? It doesn’t mean what the dictionary says, “Being in accord with fact or reality.” Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the greatest halachist in the 20th Century, defines truth as something that leads to peace. “Telling it like it is” regardless of how accurate, might feel good for a moment or two, but it can make enemies and generate life-long feuds. When a feud would erupt in a Jewish community in the United States, the rabbi would say, “The Messiah should have already come but this machlokes [feud] has caused that it should not happen.”

Today, the strife that Jews live under ensures that they are far from free. They are under occupation even in the Land of Israel. The United States can and has frozen bank accounts of Jewish farmers; It can stop the Jews from defending themselves against enemies all around them. And then there are our so-called friends — thousands or maybe tens of thousands of professional missionaries assigned to rip us away from our faith in G-d.

Return us, O G-d of our salvation and revoke Your anger with us. [Psalms 85:5]

King David begs the Almighty to end the exile. David Alschuler knew of exile: He was the rabbi of Prague in the 18th Century whose family was expelled from Portugal. In his commentary Metzudat David, the rabbi asserts that the ancient king is referring to an exile nearly 1,000 years after his death — the Roman occupation of Israel. The king cannot understand why the exile will go on for so long. Will G-d be angry with us forever?

The answer is that the exile will end when truth meets justice. But it is truth, the Metzudat David stresses, that must come first.

The truth is that G-d is ready to forgive us. But we need to turn to the Almighty and forgive each other. More than anything else, we need to desire freedom, regardless of the promises of our masters. Their promises are meaningless because everything belongs to G-d and nothing to man.

The good news: We will be free whether we like it or not.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.