Recent blog posts
One of the main themes of this week’s Torah reading is the Yovel. Following seven Sh’mita cycles of seven years each the fiftieth year is set aside as Yovel, an additional year of rest for the land. This is also a time when all land must revert back to the original family who inherited it when the Jews first came into the land of Israel. Furthermore, it is a time when all slaves must be set free, even those who refused their freedom in the Sh’mita year.
Rashi1 and Ramban2, the two foremost medieval Biblical commentators, disagree as to the grammatical derivation of the word Yovel. Rashi understands that it is named after the Shofar that is sounded at the beginning of that year. He bases his understanding on the verse at the giving of the Torah “When the Yovel (ram’s horn) is sounded with a long blast” (Shemos 19; 13) and “.. upon an extended blast with the Yovel (ram’s horn....)” (Yehoshua 6; 5). The essence of this year of freedom and returning to roots is contained within the blast of the Shofar.
Perhaps we can delve deeper into the underlying point of disagreement between these two commentators. What is the theme of the Yovel year that they wish us to understand?
The Shofar blast signifies G-d’s interaction and concern with the world. There are many examples of this. At Mount Sinai the Shofar blast showed G-d’s special relationship with the Jewish nation. When He gave us His Torah He showed His intimate connection with us. This event is described as a wedding between G-d and the Jewish nation, with the Torah given in place of a ring. Similarly, when G-d gave us the land of Israel the first conquest, the fall of Jericho, was accompanied by the blast of the Shofar.
Each year on Rosh HaShana we sound the Shofar, both as a reminder of these events, and to symbolise G-d’s judging of the world. Divine involvement with, and judging of, each person on earth is a concept which defies logic. The fact that He does so demonstrates His love and concern for our well-being. Similarly we conclude the Yom Kippur service with the sound of the Shofar, showing the extent of G-d’s connection to us, giving us atonement and forgiveness for past transgressions.
The blowing of the Shofar to begin the Yovel year also shows us G-d’s continued involvement with the world. We accept that He is the real master over all the land and all its inhabitants. He is concerned that the land return to its original owners and that all slaves be freed. We mark this by sounding the Shofar and acknowledge G-d’s involvement with the running of the world. According to Rashi’s translation of the word this concept of Divine intervention, called Hashgacha in Hebrew, is the main message we are to learn from the Yovel.
Ramban tells us to look at our own human frailty. The very word Yovel tells us that we are transient. We do not actually own or control anything or anyone; everything that we have is a gift from the Almighty. We recognise and acknowledge this gift every fifty years by returning all purchased property, and freeing all slaves. No matter how hard we work, or what we think that we have achieved in material gains, everything ultimately belongs to the Creator of the Universe. We are dependent upon Him for any success we may have, and conversely for any hardships we may suffer. The knowledge that anything we own or earn is purely a gift from G-d is called in Hebrew Bitachon. We are certain that G-d will look after us, and have faith that He will provide us with our needs. We know that we do not deserve anything by right, but trust that G-d will help us to attain whatever we need.
Behar - Bechukotai
This week's Torah reading contains the commandment of Sh'mita, allowing the land to lie fallow in the seventh year. The Midrash (Yalkut Tehillim 103) says about this mitzvah, "Bless the L-rd, you angels of His, you mighty ones who perform His bidding, hearkening to the voice of His word" (Psalms 103; 20). Rav Yitzchak Nafcha says that this refers to those who observe the Sh'mita laws. The normal course of the world is for a person to perform a mitzvah for a day, or a week, or even a month; is it possible to keep something for a whole year? Yet these farmers watch their fields become destroyed, and their vineyards ruined, and they remain silent.
Support this web site: Shop online at HaSOFER.com for tefillin, mezuzot and a wide variety of Jewish gifts
<!-- Start of StatCounter Code -->