Behar Bechukotai

Texts and beliefs By Allan Myers 07th May 2021

This week’s double sedra includes the rules for celebrating the Yovel – The Jubilee Year. Every seventh year was a shmitta year, in which all the land became fallow and the Israelites were forbidden to eat produce grown on the land in that year. After forty-nine years, that is, after the seventh shmitta year, a Jubilee year was proclaimed. In the Jubilee year, all slaves were set free.

The word previously used when an individual slave was released after having served six years was hofshi, a word meaning a release from serfdom and labour. But the word used in this week’s reading, where all slaves are released, is dror. a word meaning unqualified freedom with no exceptions. In tractate Rosh Hashanah in the Talmud, Rabbi Yehuda says that the word indicates that the person being freed is able to dwell where he likes and to carry on trade throughout the whole country. The word has a root that we find in the word dira, a flat or apartment – a place where you dwell in freedom, so dror is the redemption of the land – the end of human ownership and the start of a period of God’s sovereignty.

On Monday it will be Yom Yerushalayim, which commemorates the day in June 1967 when Israeli soldiers fought back the invading army of Jordan and broke through the Lions Gate to re-occupy the Old City of Jerusalem. The poet Haim Hefer wrote at the time, “Twenty-year-old paratroopers carry on their backs two thousand years”. For the first time in nineteen years, Jews could walk through the alleyways of the Old City, shop in the Arab shops and visit the Kotel.

The significance of this event was immortalized in the song written by Nomi Shemer called “Yerushalayim shel Zahav”, in which she sings of Jerusalem of Gold and of copper and of light. The name “Jerusalem of Gold” is the name of a piece of jewellery given by Rabbi Akiva to his wife Rachel on his return from years of Torah study, after which he had acquired twenty-four thousand pupils. Rabbi Akiva had always promised that, one day, he would be able to afford a crown of gold, like the one worn by Mordechai after he had been honoured by King Achashverosh.

The song continues, “I am a violin for all your songs”, a reference to one of the songs of Yehuda Halevi, who wrote poetry in Spain expressing his longing for Jerusalem. “My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost West”.

Jerusalem is the place for which we always yearn. We remembered it when we sat by the rivers of Babylon. We recall it when we recite the Amidah daily.

Yom Yerushalayim reminds us that the land was redeemed. No longer was it occupied by an enemy. From that date on, we were free to dwell where we wished and to carry on trade vin the whole country. We were able fully to experience real freedom – dror.

Allan Myers.

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