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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Behar

The Yovel and You

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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) & it was a holiday in & of itself. A special Shofar blast ("Yovel" actually is another name for a Shofar!) was sounded on Yom Kippur, signaling the advent of Yovel, & in this unique 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 & you shall follow G-d’s laws - both those that you rationally understand as well as those which you don’t - & 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.

As we IY"H slowly but surely come out of isolation from the Corona crisis and literally "return to our family," we hopefully can face the world with renewed energy and a sense of commitment towards others. Hopefully we have learned that we truly live in a global village, where the actions of even one person, far away, can affect and alter an entire planet. And surely we have come to realize that no matter how safe, solvent and secure we think we are, without Hashem's blessing upon us, nothing can be taken for granted.

In many ways, life is "starting over" for the Earth. And that is a Yovel for the ages.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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