Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bechukotai
To dedicate this lesson

The Yovel, You And Yerushalayim


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Iyar 21 5777
One of the more famous – yet forgotten – holidays of the Jewish year is found in our Sedra. I refer to Yovel – the Jubilee year. It came after 49 years, at the end of 7 cycles of 7 years (i.e. after 7 Shemitas) and was a holiday
in and of itself. A special Shofar blast was sounded, on Yom Kippur, signaling the advent of Yovel, and in this 50th year, all the laws of Shemita continued to be observed in full.

But while Shemita remains an active Mitzva even in our own day, Yovel has been lost to us. Some say Yovel was discontinued when the 10 tribes of Israel were exiled (since Yovel depended on ALL the nation observing the
occasion); others say it ended when the Sanhedrin was dissolved, following the second Temple’s destruction.

The word "Yovel" actually means "ram" or "ram’s horn;" but Ramban defines it as "movement" (as in the modern Hebrew word, "hovala," a moving company). The word "Jubilee" connects to "jubilation," the joyous celebration of families when their ancestral land would be returned to them, which was the primary centerpiece of the Yovel phenomenon.

But is Yovel truly, irreparably gone forever more?

The pasuk tells us that when Yovel occurred, "Freedom was declared throughout the land; each man shall return to his heritage, each person shall return to his family." (25:10). The Torah then immediately ordains that "a man
shall not harm his fellow-man….you shall fear G-d and you shall follow G-d’s laws - both those that you rationally understand and those which you don’t - and you shall dwell securely on your land, which I, Hashem, shall bless."

I suggest that the Torah is telling us that even when Yovel cannot be observed in its literal fashion, it can still be kept in a spiritual way. If we decide to re-order our approach to others by treating them well, if we reconnect
to our family, if we return to our Jewish heritage, then we create a kind of "virtual Yovel!" If it is a shipur, an improvement (as in the word, "shofar); a "movement" towards Hashem, then indeed it is a "jubilation" that will
surely bring us bracha.

All our blessings are intertwined with the Land of Israel. And so consider: In 1917 – the first "modern Yovel?" – the Balfour Declaration affirmed our right to the land, ushering in an age of Jewish freedom, unprecedented in
2000 years. 50 years later, in 1967, we reunited Yerushalayim as our eternal capital and recaptured our holy places. And now, another 50 years on, we stand at the brink of another Yovel, as our great country gathers in the
exiled of our people and we take our place as a preeminent nation among the world’s nations. Shall we not be jubilant?!
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