To lead or to be lead?
The portion of “Be’har” which is read together with “B’chukotai” discusses two important issues:
- The year of the sh’mita (to let the land rest, to let go its agricultural cultivation, to give it freedom every 7 years)
- And the Yovel — the Jubilee year (freeing all slaves in the 50th year), a revolutionary idea, socially.
What does it actually mean to set the slaves free?
The portion of Be’har raises the idea of the Jubilee Year, a revolutionary idea in itself socially, that takes place once every fifty years, in which we are commanded to set the slaves free.
So what does it actually mean to set the slaves free?
There is a big difference between letting someone go free and leading him to become a free person.
A slave who has lived all his life in the consciousness of slavery did not know what to do with the freedom given to him, the reality of the life he knows he will lead, and he may prefer the life of slavery in order to receive his “pot of meat” rather than face the responsibility of freedom. It’s not enough to remove the handcuffs and release him.
In freedom there is a lot of responsibility, as Erich Fromm reminds us in his book Escape from Freedom.
Moving from the state of consciousness of a slave to the state of consciousness of a free person is a process; many times, we need someone to lead us in this process (coach, mentor, psychologist, etc.)
Who can lead the slave in this process? Show him the way? Help him “stand on his own two feet” on his own?
To set the slaves free is to allow ourselves to enter for a moment into the role of God, who set us free from Egypt and led us from slavery to freedom.
God, through Moses, led us physically in the wilderness for 40 years, on a path from slavery to freedom, and this freedom was engraved in our bodies and our minds, both through our feet and through our heads.
So, what exactly is Yovel (jubilee)?
In his attempt to interpret the meaning of the word YOVEl, Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) , known as the Ramban, relies on the verse:
וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּם, אֵת שְׁנַת הַחֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה, וּקְרָאתֶם דְּרוֹר בָּאָרֶץ, לְכָל-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ; יוֹבֵל הִוא, תִּהְיֶה לָכֶם, וְשַׁבְתֶּם אִישׁ אֶל-אֲחֻזָּתוֹ, וְאִישׁ אֶל-מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ תָּשֻׁבו.
And you shall sanctify the 50th year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all its inhabitants. It is a Jubilee year for you, in which each person shall return to his original home, and each person shall return to his family. (Leviticus, 10)
The Hebrew word “dror” (freedom), the Ramban interprets based on the Hebrew word “ladur”, meaning to live in a place, and continues that everyone should be free to live wherever they want. In other words, the year of the Jubilee is a year in which each person will be led (“yuval”, in Hebrew) to his estate and family.
Of the many commentaries that discuss the meaning of the name Yovel, Jubilee year, this is the interpretation I personally feel most connected with.
And I bless all of us, to learn to find our way to freedom, to be precise in choosing the right guides, that are right for us, to know how to lead ourselves at the right pace towards our goals, and to free our inner slaves — the thoughts that hinder us from being truly free.
And if it is possible, let it not take 50 years. And if we can also show the way and help others to be lead to their freedom – then, we are indeed truly blessed.