Parsha of the week: Rabbi Avi Billet

‘Proclaiming Liberty Throughout the Land’


It is worthy to note that one of the most famous quotations from the Torah that has been adopted as part of American history was actually originally used, in a sense, in a proper context.

As the Bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of Penn’s Charter, the quotation “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” from Leviticus 25:10, was particularly apt, for the line in the Bible immediately preceding “proclaim liberty” is, “And ye shall hallow the 50th year.”

What better way to pay homage to Penn and hallow the 50th year than with a bell proclaiming liberty?

The proclamation of Liberty (in Hebrew, “Dror”) was specifically during the Yovel (Jubilee) year, once every 50 years, when slaves went free and property was returned to original owners (for a fair market price).

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 9b) notes that the word “Dror” refers to freedom, and that whether Yovel was observed in Israel determined if it would be observed in the Diaspora as well. Maimonides notes (laws of Shmittah and Yovel 10:8) that Liberty was only proclaimed in Yovel years until the two and a half tribes (Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe) were exiled from their inherited land.

Nachmanides suggests that the word Dror comes from the word “Dor,” meaning generation, as per Kohelet 1:4, “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.”

Liberty, therefore, is proclaimed throughout the land on a generational scale. It comes around every 50 years, when each generation has the opportunity to proclaim, as per the change of the times, (and as per Abraham Lincoln in 1863), “A new birth of freedom.” Since Lincoln uttered those words, ironically, the following 50 years housed mostly Republicans in the White House.

The next 50 years housed mostly Democrats in the White House (until Martin Luther King, Jr. essentially declared a new birth of freedom two Jubilees after Lincoln). And the fifty years since then have had mostly Republicans in the White House. Perhaps in the United States, every “Yovel” has been marked by a shift in the political winds.

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