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B’har, Leviticus 25:1-26:2
D'VAR TORAH Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land Naamah Kelman
As I write these words for mid-May, the secular calendar’s anniversary of Israel’s Independence, I am struck by the events surging in the Middle East, now, in late February. Starting on January 25, the Middle East has been witnessing volcanic events, and the lava spews forth to more and more Arab countries. First was Tunisia, then Egypt was reclaimed, Libya is in turmoil, as is Yemen, Bahrain, and now Jordan. By the time these words are circulated, who knows what other dictators will have fallen and what will be the processes at play in the countries mentioned thus far.
Thankfully, I am not a political analyst, so my musings will come from a place that I know better: our biblical tradition. This week’s parashah, B’har, contains one of the most powerful passages regarding liberty and equality, which often appears as, “. . . proclaim liberty throughout [all] the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). In its biblical context, “liberty’s charge” comes to announce the fiftieth (Jubilee) year, the year after the seventh time in the seven-year cycles of the Sabbatical year. The Jubilee year calls for the return of all lands to original owners, the release of slaves and of all debts: economic freedom for all indeed! But the better translation, found in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh and other sources, renders the Hebrew word d’ror as “release.” In The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, scholars Tamara Cohn Eskanazi and Jocelyn Hudson write: “This verse [Leviticus 25:10] sums up the goal of the laws in the parashah: to ensure the fundamental freedom from economic oppression.”1 Perhaps that is why it never was enforced: the ideal was too high to reach. And yet its symbolic power has been and remains enormous, so much so that our American forefathers embraced this, with the actual construction of a liberty bell in Philadelphia. Here’s what one source has to say about the Liberty Bell: