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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Behar(72)

This week's sedra deals with the seventh year - Shemitta - when lands are released from their job of producing produce. And of the 50th year - Jubilee - when slaves are freed. The rest of the sedra deals with the laws that are derivative and related to the Jubilee year. What does the Hebrew word "Yovel" Jubilee mean? Rashi deals with this.

The verse is familiar to those who have visited the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia where it is inscribed on the bell.

Leviticus 25:10

You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It is Yovel year for you and you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage and each man to his family, you shall return."

First it is important to clarify that the two phrases -1) "you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage" and 2) the phrase "each man to his family, you shall return" have different meanings for the words "you shall return."

In the first phrase it commands the owner ("you" the owner) shall return him (the slave). In the second phrase it speaks to the slave himself, ("you" the slave, each man of you shall return)

It is interesting to ponder that the command to be free is given to both the master and the slave. Both must work towards the slave's freedom.

Now let us look at Rashi:

It is Yovel: Rashi: This year is distinct from other years by giving it a name onto itself. What is its name? "Yovel" (Jubilee) is its name. By virtue of the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn).


Rashi simply tells of the meaning of the word "yovel" It means, he says, "Ram" because we blow the horn of the ram on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year. Now Rashi may mean that the word derives from ram or from blowing the horn. (see Exodus 19:13).

Ramban Questions this Interpretation

The Ramban disagrees with Rashi's interpretation of the word "yovel." He finds it hard to accept that the whole year should be named after the act of blowing the shofar which took (maybe) a minute or two to perform. Whereas the year has much more. He also says that if that is what it means it should have said "It is Yovel" in the previous verse which mentions blowing the shofar (verse 25:9) and not in our verse which speaks of freedom each man returning to his homestead.

Therefore the Ramban says the word is derived from "Yuval" meaning "shall be transported" or "shall come." This touches the main aspect of this year - that each man is free to "come and go" as he wishes. He "comes" home.

The Dispute

Rashi seems to focus on the symbolic act that ushers in the year, the blowing of the shofar. It is at that moment that we become aware that the year begins and that it is a special year. The Ramban focuses on the essence of the year - freedom to go as you please. The Ramban also points to the place in the verses when Yovel is first mentioned. He finds the connection to freedom to be the connecting link to its meaning.

The concept of freedom as expressed in the Yovel is a very Jewish idea. The Talmud says no man is free who does not have the discipline of following the laws of the Torah. Tru freedom exists when man is not ruled by his urges. When he controls them and not when he is controlled by them. But another aspect of freedom is that no man can rule over another. This is only true when there is a Master of all men - G-d, Who rules over all men without discrimination. This is the message of the Yovel.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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