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The Yovel

Hirsch At Your Table



Written by the rabbi


וקדשתם את שנת החמישים שנה וקראתם דרור בארץ לכל יושביה יובל היא תהיה לכם ושבתם איש אל אחוזתו ואיש אל משפחתו תשובו: (Lv 25:10)
After describing the laws of the seventh year, the year of שמיטה, the Torah teaches about the יובל/ Jubilee, year which falls after the completion of seven cycles of שמיטה, i.e., after 49 years. The fiftieth year is sanctified, and liberty is declared for all inhabitants. Every person returns to his land and to his family.

The phrase וקראתם דרור/you shall proclaim liberty, signifies the first stage of the process of sanctification/וקדשתם, that culminates with every person recovering his land and returning to his family. In essence, the phrase announces that everyone should return home.

The word וקראתם is from the root ק-ר-א "to summon" and proclaim. The word דרור is from the root ד-ר-ר "to return." The word וקדשתם is from the root ק-ד-ש "to dedicate all resources."


What does the word דרור mean? Unusually, the Tanach does not include a single root that is a cognate of the root ד-ר-ר. So we must examine the various uses of the word to determine its meaning.

The word דרור appears in three contexts. The first refers to a swallow, an independent bird that roams freely. This usage supports the popular understanding of the word דרור as "freedom." Similarly, the Talmud uses the Aramaic phrase דררא דממונא, a legal term indicating a dispute that arises independently of the contention of either party. The third usage of ,דרור is מר דרור, generally translated as "pure myrrh," a type of spice.

All three meanings can be unified under the root ד-ר-ר by defining it as "following a natural trend." The swallow is a bird that follows its natural instinct without concern for human or other influences. The Aramaic phrase also signifies a dispute that develops on its own, not as a result of external forces. And pure myrrh is a spice is in its natural pure state, with no foreign elements mixed in.

Consistent with this definition, the דרור of the יובל freed people and property to revert to their original, natural state. People will return/ושבתם, to their families and land will revert to its original owner, אחוזתו. The word יובל, a noun (using the causative verb form) meaning "the bringer," further reinforces this idea. In the Jubilee year both individuals and land are brought back to where they began, where they belong.

The word ושבתם is from the root ש-ו-ב which means "to return." The word אחוזתו is from the root א-ח-ז "to grasp and take hold of." The basic meaning of this root translates in our verse to being tied to the land. The word יובל is from the root י-ב-ל "to bring home."


The movement of return that characterizes the יובל has a spiritual dimension as well. The Jubilee starts on Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year. Just as Yom Kippur challenges a person to cleanse himself of sin and revert to a life of purity, so too the דרור of יובל dictates that people revert to their natural environment and return to full Torah observance.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.


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