Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Parshat Behar

Jubilee and Freedom

This week's parsha teaches about the strange institution called Yovel – Jubilee.

"You shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years, seven years seven times. The days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you. You shall proclaim [with] the shofar blasts, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the shofar throughout your land. You shall sanctify the fiftieth 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" (VaYikra 25:8-10).

Every fifty years is a Yovel year – all land that has been bought must be returned to their previous owners and all slaves must be freed.

The basic principle behind the institution is that the people acknowledge God is the Master of the world, not humans.

Therefore, land cannot be the permanent property of its owners, nor can slaves be the permanent property of their masters. Without Yovel, Man would believe that he was supreme and that all can be subservient to him as landowners would be eternal masters.

The parsha continuously refers this principle to being the opposite that existed in Egypt.

At one point when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, the Pharaoh died: "Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to God from the labor" (Shemot 2:23).

One of the first acts of a new king was generally the freeing of prisoners and slaves. Israel could therefore have believed that Pharaoh's death would have heralded their freedom from their slavery. However, they had no relief, their enslavement continued.

What's more their slavery was described as "avodat parech" – "back breaking labor" (Shemot 1:13). This week's parsha refers to this type of slavery and forbids it: "He shall be with him as an employee hired year by year; he shall not enslave him with rigor in your sight" (VaYikra 25:53).

Egypt was the epitome of Man's control of earth. Pharaoh was god and all his citizens were his eternal slaves.

God teaches that this model evil. All land and slaves must be freed every fifty years, for man must never be the master of his fellow man.
A Sedra Short on Parshat Behar, entitled: "Shemitta and VaYikra" appears at

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