Yovel Is About Going Back to the Source
In Parshas Behar, following the laws of the Sabbatical year, the Torah says, “You shall count for yourself seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times; and the days of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be for you forty-nine years.” [Vayikra 25:8] This introduces the laws of the Jubilee (Yovel) year, which are associated with the laws of the Sabbatical (Shmitah) years. Following seven cycles of seven years – on the fiftieth year – a very interesting thing happens. If someone sells his family plot in the Land of Israel, the purchaser is only entitled to keep it until the Yovel year. At Yovel, all family-inherited property returns to the original family who had owned it prior to the sale. Furthermore, even a Hebrew slave who was indentured past his original six-year servitude – which the Torah calls “and he is a slave ‘forever’ (l’olam)” – goes free on the Yovel year.
The pasuk then says, “You shall sound a broken blast on the shofar, in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month; on Yom Kippur you shall sound the shofar throughout your land.” [Vayikra 25:9]. The Yovel year is announced with the blowing of the shofar. Even though, strictly speaking, the year begins on Tishrei 1 (Rosh HaShannah), regarding Yovel, the Yovel laws take effect on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year.
Now we all know that the tenth day of the month of Tishrei is Yom Kippur. Nevertheless, the previously-cited pasuk redundantly identifies the start of the Yovel year both by saying “in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month” and by saying “on Yom Kippur.” Rashi on that pasuk questions this redundancy. Rashi answers that this teaches that the blowing of the Shofar for Yovel overrides any associated prohibition of Shabbos or Yom Kippur.
The Maharal, however, asks a very interesting question. If someone listens carefully to the words of the pasuk, the first identifier mentioned is “the seventh month, on the tenth of the month.” Only subsequently does it add “on Yom Kippur.” Now, let us ask – which of the two identifiers are extra? It would seem that “Yom Kippur,” which is the second mentioned identifier is the extra one. Yet, this is not how Rashi articulates his question. Rashi says “From the fact that the pasuk mentions Yom Kippur, do I not understand that we are speaking of the tenth day of the seventh month?” It should be the other way around! The Maharal asks that Rashi should have phrased the question in the reverse – “From the fact that the pasuk states the tenth day of the seventh month, do I not know that this is Yom Kippur?”
Maharal gives two answers. We will only concentrate on the Maharal’s second answer, in which he says a beautiful thought.
The Maharal says it is no coincidence that Yovel is related to Yom Kippur. Yovel is not triggered by Rosh HaShannah of the fiftieth year, or Succos of the fiftieth year, or Pesach of the fiftieth year. It is specifically Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year. The Maharal says there is something interrelated between Yom Kippur and Yovel. The connection is thematic. Yovel is all about going back to the source. Things return to the original configuration that they are supposed to be in. The slave who sold himself beyond the specified six-year term, goes free. He goes back to his family. He goes back to where he belongs. The field that was in someone’s family for generations but had to be sold out of desperation because of poverty – now that field comes back to where it belongs.
“Everyone who understands the depths of the matter realizes that Yom Kippur and Yovel teach one and the same lesson. Yovel marks the return of everything to its original status. And so too, on Yom Kippur, everyone returns to his original status (of presumed innocence).”
Yes, we may have strayed during the course of the year. We all stray. But Yom Kippur, we go back to the Source. We go back to the Ribono shel Olam. We go back to our pristine relationship with Him. That is why Rashi emphasizes the primary role of Yom Kippur in setting the date of Yovel: “From the fact that it mentions Yom Kippur, would I not realize that we are speaking about the tenth of the seventh month?” Even though it might be mentioned second in the pasuk, it needs to be treated as the primary factor in the setting of the Yovel year because Yovel and Yom Kippur are two sides of the same coin.
You May Treat Your Worker Like a Slave – But Not Your Eved Ivri
The pasuk in Parshas Behar states, “If your brother becomes impoverished with you and is sold to you, you shall not work him with slave labor.” [Vayikra 25:39]. If a person falls on hard times and must sell himself as a slave – a halachic status known as Eved Ivri (Hebrew Slave), the owner is prohibited from having him work “the labor of a slave” (avodas eved). Rashi defines the term avodas eved as demeaning labor. This means, that although this person is indeed your slave—he is not salaried, he works for you day and night for six years—nevertheless you are not allowed to ask him to do “demeaning work”.
What is the definition of “demeaning work”? Rashi explains this is work which makes it apparent that he is a slave. For example, a person may not ask the slave to carry his towel and laundry into the public bath house. A person is also not allowed to demand of him “Tie my shoes!” (I am too lazy to bend down and do it myself.) Those are two examples of avodas eved, which we are prohibited to ask a Hebrew slave to do.
The Sifra here comments: These laws apply to one’s “Hebrew slave“, but if someone has a hired worker who is not an eved ivri – an employee who is paid by the hour or paid a salary – he may ask him to do even the most menial of jobs. He can be ordered to shine your shoes, to lace them, to carry your towel and laundry to the bath house – anything!
There is an irony here – the slave is given better treatment by halacha than the free man! An eved ivri has more rights and privileges than a ben chorin (free man). That is strange! The free man is also a Jew. Just because he is working for a living, we can ask him to scrub the garbage cans?? Seems strange, but this is the halacha.
There is a second observation from Parshas Bechukosai. Among the curses in Parshas Bechukosai is: “Then I too will do this to you; I will assign over you panic, and the wasting away (shachefes), and the fever (kadachas), causing eyes to pine (mechalos einayim) and souls to feel anguish (medivas nefesh); you will sow your seed in vain, and your enemies will eat it.” [Vayikra 26:16]. This is a terrible enumeration of illnesses that will befall us, if we become deserving of the curses mentioned in this parsha. Rashi explains that these plagues – shachefes, kadachas, mechalos einayim, u’medeevos nefesh – represent stages of decline that get progressively worse.
Rashi spells this out: Shachefes (wasting away) is an illness that wears away the flesh. The person is like someone who has been swollen, whose swelling has eased, and whose countenances appears sullen due to the sagging of his flesh. Kadachas (fever) is worse. A person can be sick even to the extent of having Shachefes, but he does not yet have fever. He is not burning up. So, the Torah indicates that the condition will deteriorate until he has fever as well. Then you can have someone who is burning up with fever but he has hopes that he will recover. Therefore, the Torah specifies the next level: mecahlos einayim – I give up on myself. Rashi then goes on to say that the final curse, the lowest level, the worst of the worst is yet to come. Until now, the sick person may feel he has no hope, but others yet hold out hope for his recovery. He may have given up on himself, but his friends and family still encourage him: “You’re going to make it!” The final level of descent into hopelessness is medivas nefesh – when the people around you also give up hope!
Let us ask, however, why is that so terrible? Why is it that when your friends are already talking about you in shul – “Aach! There is no hope!” — that seems to be the lowest of the low?
I heard a beautiful talk from the Tolner Rebbe, shlit”a, explaining both these observation of Rashi: Why the Hebrew Slave has to be treated better than the free man, and why it is that people around a sick person giving up hope due to his dire medical condition represents rock bottom hopelessness. The Tolner Rebbe lays out a foundational idea in parenting, in teaching, and in all interpersonal relationships.
The Mishna [Yoma 18a] discusses the Yom Kippur Service of the Kohen Gadol. On the night of Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol reviews the morrow’s order of the service. The senior members of the Beis Din, the Elders, are assigned go over the Yom Kippur ritual with the Kohen Gadol. They then tell him: Read this over yourself, perhaps you forgot some detail or perhaps you never learned it.
The Talmud asks: I understand that they can suggest “maybe you forgot,” after all, anyone can forget something. But what is the meaning of “Perhaps you never learned it?” Would we appoint someone to be Kohen Gadol if he never learned the proper service of the Day of Atonement? What on earth is he doing in the robes of a High Priest if he never learned the order of the Divine Service for Yom Kippur?
Rav Yosef in the Gemara there answers that we are speaking of the Second Temple era. During the first Bais Hamikdash, the individuals appointed to the position of Kohen Gadol were indeed knowledgeable and righteous. In the time of the second Bais Hamikdash, however, there were cases where the office was a political appointment, which sometimes went to the highest bidder. How could there be a Kohen Gadol who never learned Parshas Achrei Mos (which details the laws of the Yom Kippur Temple Service)? It is someone who bought the job, without having deserved it!
Rav Assi gives an example thereof. There was a wealthy woman named Marta, daughter of Beisus, who brought a large quantity of gold dinarim to King Yannai as a bribe, so that the king would appoint Yehoshua ben Gamla to be the Kohen Gadol. There you have it. That is how you can get a Kohen Gadol who is an ignoramus.
Does the name Yehoshua ben Gamla ring any bells? The Gemara says [Bava Basra 21a] that if it would not have been for Yehoshua ben Gamla, Torah would have been forgotten in Israel! The Gemara praises him extensively. Prior to his time, Torah was transmitted in Israel strictly on a father to son basis. If a person did not have a father, he did not learn Torah. Yehoshua ben Gamla enacted that in every town, there had to be schools and teachers. This way, anyone whose home situation was such that he could not learn from his father, he would learn Torah in school. Eventually, every son was brought to school at age five or six and taught Torah. Universal education was established for Jewish boys throughout Eretz Yisrael through the initiative of this Yehoshua ben Gamla.
Tosfos Yeshanim in Tractate Yoma and the Ritva raise this contradiction: From the Gemara in Yoma, it sounds like Yehoshua ben Gamla was an ignorant man (he acquired the High Priesthood by having someone purchase it for him) while the Gemara in Bava Basra lists him as one of the great men of Israel for having implemented universal education! “Had it not been for him, Torah would have been forgotten from Israel.” They each suggest answers to this question.
The Sefas Emes gives an interesting answer, different from those proposed by the earlier commentaries. Sefas Emes on Tractate Yoma writes as follows: The Gemara [Yoma 18a] derives from the pasuk “The Kohen who is greater than his brethren…” [Vayikra 21:10] “You should make him greater (i.e. – “richer”) (by giving him wealth) from his brethren.” The Sefas Emes says that “make him greater from his brethren” does not mean only giving him financial wealth. It means that his fellow Kohanim should pray for him that he should in fact become spiritually greater than them, a person possessing true leadership qualities. The other Kohanim are commanded to treat the High Priest like a Kohen Gadol regardless of how he came into office. They prayed that he should in fact be the Kohen Gadol. They asked him shaylos (Halachic questions) as if he was the Kohen Gadol.
What was the result of all this treatment by his fellow Kohanim? He in fact became the Kohen Gadol! He became a great person because of the confidence and faith that others invested in him. He had a metamorphosis. He went from being an am ha’aretz (ignoramus) to being Rabbi Yehoshua ben Gamla, by virtue of the fact that they believed in him and they treated him like a Kohen Gadol.
This tells us that what others say about us, how others feel towards us, others believing in us—has a tremendous impact. With the right treatment, there is no limit to what we can achieve. This answers why the worst of the worst illnesses is not the shachefes, the kadachas; or the mechalos einayim. The worst of the worst is when people around him say “He is a goner.” If they already believe that the patient has a foot in the grave, then that has an impact on him as well. Everybody knows that how a sick person feels about himself can have a profound influence on whether he will get better or not. This is saying, however, that what others feel about the patient can also have major impact on his prognosis.
Now we can understand that first Rashi as well. Rashi says not to treat the eved ivri like a slave. Rashi defines this as “making him look like he is a slave.” If you want to have him tie your shoes or shine them in the privacy of your own home – that is all well and good. But when you go out in public and this fellow is carrying your gym bag and everyone knows he is an eved, then everyone will look at him like an eved and treat him like an eved. He will then feel like an eved. “I am an eved!”
A Ben Chorin has no such problems of self-esteem. “Listen, I am getting paid for this. This is my job and I get good money for it. I have that sense of confidence. It does not bother me so much what people will say.” But someone who is a slave and it is clear that he is a slave and he is treated like a slave – that is too much for a person to take. The Torah therefore commands: “Do not make him do menial labor like a slave.” [Vayikra 25:39].
The Tolner Rebbe says: When Klal Yisrael left Mitzraim, “Both these (the Jews) and these (the Egyptians) worshipped idols.” Klal Yisrael were in the depths of impurity. They sank to the 49th of the 50 levels of Tumah. Even at the Splitting of the Sea – a week after the Exodus – still “both these and these worshipped idols.” How could the Ribono shel Olam give them the Torah a mere six weeks later?
Think about it. A fellow becomes a Baal Teshuva. He makes a life-changing decision that he wants to become an observant Jew and learn Torah. What are you going to do? Do you take out Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Chapter One, Paragraph One and go through the entire Code of Jewish Law with him all the way to the last paragraph of Choshen Mishpat? “I am going to tell you about Shatnez; I am going to tell you about Chadash and Yashan; I am going to tell you about worms in fish; I am going to tell you about everything under the sun!” You cannot do that to a new Baal Teshuva!
And yet, Klal Yisrael went from the level of “they are idolaters” (Trust me, no Baal Teshuva today is on as low a spiritual level as the Jews were in Egypt) to the Revelation at Sinai. The Revelation at Sinai involved all 613 Mitzvos! How could the Almighty do that to them?
The reason He could do it was because He told Moshe Rabbeinu before He gave him the Torah, tell them that “You will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation! These are the words that you shall speak to the Children of Israel” [Shemos 19:6]. “Tell them in My Name” said the Almighty, “YOU ARE A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION!” This is a title that the Ribono shel Olam gave to no other people.
If the Ribono shel Olam has that confidence in us, then fine – we are prepared to hear all 613 mitzvos. He believed in them.
That is what I mean when I say this is a lesson not only for the Kohen Gadol and for the eved. It is a lesson for all of us – how we treat our children; how we look at our children; the confidence that we have in our children; or the lack thereof. That can make a profound difference in how they turn out.
The Master of the Universe tells us “You will be for Me a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation!” This is the preface for receiving the Torah.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Behar is provided below:
- CD# 011 – Rationing Medical Care
- CD# 012 – Can Teachers Strike?
- CD# 054 – Life Insurance: The Torah Policy
- CD# 055 – Candle Lighting & Havdalah: How Early & How Late?
- CD# 097 – “Ribis” Problems of Interest for the Jew in a Mercantile Society
- CD# 098 – “Cheremei Tzibur”: A Ban on Living in Germany?
- CD# 145 – Kidney Donations: Endangering Oneself to Save Another
- CD# 192 – Making Shabbos Early
- CD# 282 – The Physician’s Obligation to Heal
- CD# 328 – Sh’mita and the Heter Mechira
- CD# 372 – Using Shuls As A Shortcut
- CD# 416 – Supporting Jewish Merchants
- CD# 460 – The Obligation of Checking One’s Teffilin
- CD# 504 – Lag B’Omer
- CD# 548 – Marrying for Money
- CD# 592 – Ribis and the Non-Jew
- CD# 636 – The Kedusha of the Ezras Noshim
- CD# 680 – Is Ribis Ever Permitted?
- CD# 724 – The Chazzan Who Changes His Mind
- CD# 768 – Dos and Don’ts of Treating a Lender
- CD# 812 – How Much Is That Tiffany Necklace?
- CD# 856 – Distractions When Performing A Mitzvah
- CD# 900 – Oy! My Tefillin Are Pasul
- CD# 945 – Overcharging: How Much Is Too Much?
- CD# 987 – Limud HaTorah – Must You Understand What You Are Learning?
- CD# 988 – Bentching – Making Sure You Eat and Enjoy
- CD#1031 – Sh’mitta – How Did the Farmers Survive?
- CD#1032 – The Child Molester – What Must We Do?
- CD#1076 – Cheating in Business It May Be More Asur Than You Think
- CD#1118 – What Are You/Aren’t You Allowed To Talk About on Shabbos?
- CD#1119 – Davening in a Rented Movie Theater–Is There A Problem?
- CD#1160 – The Mahram of Padua, The Ramo, and l’Havdil the Pope
- CD#1204 – The Friend Who Reneged on their Power Ball Agreement
- CD#1205 – The Case of the Women of Vienna and the Incredible Response of the Rabonim
- CD#1249 – Heter Meah Rabbonim: The Rarely Used Sanction of Polygamy
- CD#1292 – The Price of Fish for Shabbos Went Sky High – What Can the Community Do?
- CD#1293 – A Tragic Holocaust Shailah
- CD#1336 – The Tochacha of Parshas Bechukosai – Should It Be Avoided?
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