Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Behar-Bechukosai, on Shabbos morning. See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Behar-Bechukosai 5775
We long for the opportunity to observe the Yovel, the Jubilee Year, again. The Ramban in this week’s parsha (on Vayikra 25:10) quotes a number of psukim from throughout Tanach to explain the meaning and origin of the word Yovel. One of the psukim he quotes is Yirmiyahu 17:8: “He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, that spreads out its roots by the river [יוּבַל].” After all of the proofs he brings, the Ramban concludes, “But the true understanding is… ‘יובל, Yovel’ [means something which] returns to the river from which it came…” The word Yovel refers to a river, but it comes from the word “מוביל, to bring” because it means bringing something back to its source. During the Yovel, we somehow return to the waters, to the source, from which we draw the essence of our lives. We return to our roots.
We know that the Torah is eternal, yet we do not merit fulfilling the mitzvah of Yovel today. How can we relate to it? Let us review the three main aspects of Yovel mentioned in the Torah and consider how each one speaks to us today.
The first is the freeing of the slaves (Vayikra 25:10): “And you shall proclaim freedom [for Jewish slaves] in the land.” It takes very little imagination to see how we need to be redeemed from so many different types of slavery even today. The Gemara says that we are meant to be slaves to Hashem and not slaves of slaves (Kiddushin 22b). How many of us are enslaved to our jobs and careers? We never see our wives or spend time with our children and when people ask us why we work so hard, we say, “It’s because I love my children!” How many of us are enslaved to tiny electronic devices? We cannot go thirty seconds without checking, looking at, and touching them. Yovel is when we declare ourselves free from human bondage and allow ourselves to be reclaimed by Hashem as His servants. We recognize that in our core, we are free men. We cannot be bound by human chains. Yovel reminds us to return to our roots, our essential freedom.
The second attribute of Yovel is (Vayikra 25:10), “And you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family.” Part of the essence of who we are is to stay connected to our families (see also Meshech Chochmah on this pasuk). How many brothers, sisters, or parents have grown apart from each other, either because of apathy or because of some dispute or pain and hurt one has caused the other. Yovel means returning to our hometowns and reconnecting with estranged family. By reconciling with people from whom we have become distant, we reconnect with our own roots, to our essential selves.
The third attribute is our connection with our homeland, Eretz Yisroel. The pasuk (Vayikra 25:23) says, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me.” Yovel reminds us that our connection with Eretz Yisroel exists because we and the land belong to G-d. We cannot be separated. Today, many Jewish people with good intentions believe that they can give away portions of Eretz Yisroel for promises of “peace” or that we can engage in “land swaps” with our enemies. But they do not realize that doing so is like cutting off our arms, hoping that this will satisfy our enemies’ bloodlust. We cannot separate from our homeland. It is part of us. Yovel reminds us that ultimately all of Eretz Yisroel will return to where it belongs, with us.
We see a common denominator in all three attributes of Yovel. They all involve returning to our roots, coming back to some part of our true selves from which we had become separated. With that background, we can understand the true meaning of freedom when the pasuk says, “And you shall declare freedom [דרור] in the land.” Dovid Hamelech (Tehillim 84:4) speaks of a bird called the דרור, Dror: “Even a bird found a house, and a Dror, her nest.” What is the nature of this bird called a Dror? The Gemara (Beiah 24a) says, “Raba Bar Rav Huna says, ‘This refers to the Dror bird which does not accept [human] ownership… And why is it called a Dror bird? Because it lives [דר] in the house just like in the field.” The nature of this free bird does not allow it to accept human mastery. So even when one puts this bird in his house, it behaves as if it were still in the field, flying and flitting around in every direction. It is impossible to capture it. It is true to its inner nature as a free creature no matter what its external circumstances are. That is real freedom.
Chazal also teach (Rosh Hashana 9b), “Everyone agrees that the word Dror means freedom. What is the origin of this word? As the braisa says, ‘Dror [דרור] means freedom, like one who lives [as if he were at home] in any inn [כמדייר בי דיירא], who brings [שמוביל] merchandise to every country.’” Freedom means the ability to bring anything where it belongs and act and feel as if one is at home no matter where his circumstances bring him.
What does it mean to embrace freedom? Shlomo Hamelech refers to the Dror, the free bird, in a pasuk in Mishlei (26:2): “Like a wandering bird, like a flying Dror…” The Ibn Ezra explains: “It is a small bird which sings when it is in its own domain [when it is free]. And if it is in a man’s domain, it does not eat to the point that it dies.” The Dror was born to sing. It loves nothing more. But the moment it is enslaved, it can no longer bring itself to sing. Over 600 years after the Ibn Ezra penned his commentary on Mishlei, Patrick Henry echoed the substance of his words when he said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” When the Dror is no longer free to sing its own song, to be true to itself, it would rather starve itself to death.
Our people are like the Dror, the free bird, which thirsts for the freedom to return to its roots, to express its own essential nature. It bristles at the thought of being forced to masquerade around as something other than its true self. The Jewish people as a community, and each Jew individually, longs to sing his or her own song. We can only fly higher when we are in our own domain, connected to our own roots.
This is what Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy’a, was trying to tell us when he wrote (Oros Hakodesh 64):
Ascend higher, ascend.
For you possess a mighty power.
You have wings of the spirit,
Wings of mighty eagles.
Do not deny them,
Lest they deny you.
Seek them out,
And they will find you.
Our faculties, interests, passions and idealism, when they flow from our deepest selves and not from the desire to imitate foreign nations and ideologies, are powerful wings that will allow us to soar higher and higher if we do not stifle them.
It is clear from everything above that that being a free bird means allowing the truth of our inner essence to express itself. But some feel that being free means throwing off the yoke of all responsibility, whether moral, interpersonal, or religious. But this is a mistake because it not only ignores the true meaning of freedom, it also means closing one’s eyes to the fact that such “freedom” usually means subjecting one’s self to the yoke of the fickle demands of the animal soul and foreign nations or their ideologies.
Freedom divorced from responsibility, commitment, and stability leads to destruction because it takes one further away from his own inner truth. It means forgetting the lesson of Yovel, which is מוביל, brings things back to their source. The Navi refers to this false freedom when he writes (Yirmiyahu 34:17), “Behold I call out ‘freedom’ to you, says Hashem, to sword, plague, and famine…” There is a negative type of freedom. When we “free” ourselves from the need to be true to who we are, it leads to our destruction because Hashem appears to “free” us from a connection with His providence. True liberty means freeing ourselves from the bonds of limited, finite human concepts of “truth.” Real freedom does not mean obeying every fleeting (or persistent) fancy. It means returning to the song of our roots, our essence, our home, our homeland, our families, and our people. “And you shall return, each man to his property and you shall return, each man to his family.”
Hashem prepares a certain life for each person in this world, an environment in which his soul can truly express itself. When a person gets married, he exchanges the apparent freedom of single life for the responsibility and commitment of marriage because that is the life Hashem prepared for him. Fulfilling his responsibilities in the context of that life is the true expression of his nature and the actualization of his personal potential.
Dovid Hamelech refers to the fact that we must each learn to soar in the unique portion Hashem prepared for us when he said (Tehillim 16:5-6), “Hashem is my allotted portion and my cup. You guide my lot. Packages have fallen to me in pleasant places, even the beautiful inheritance upon me.” Dovid Hamelech is saying that he finds whatever portion Hashem gives him pleasant because that is his lot. One’s portion includes being born into a certain family, having a certain wife, being bestowed with certain faculties and limitations, and having a certain level of financial success or hardship. But “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.” I soar when I play the hand I am dealt to the fullest. I express my own personal song when I can sing (Shacharis), “We are fortunate and how good is our portion, how pleasant is our lot and how beautiful is our inheritance!” One’s portion and inheritance are not the product of free will. They are not a matter of choice. Yet in davening we praise Hashem for our portion, our lot and our inheritance. Why? Because they belong to us. By fulfilling our commitments to the life Hashem custom designed for each of us, we are truly free because we express our true nature. We are being ourselves.
Yovel, which means freeing ourselves from external, superficial, temporary, and foreign influences and returning to who we are, forces us to ask ourselves: How far have I flown from my roots? Have I misused my free will by rejecting my personal portion in favor of some stranger’s portion I thought looked more attractive? Have I clipped my own wings by cutting myself off from my family, responsibilities, land, and my brothers and sisters? Am I singing someone else’s song or my own?
Rav Laizer Djhikover, zy’a, was the son-in-law of Rav Chaim of Tzanz, zy’a, the Divrei Chaim. At one point, Reb Leizer’l fell ill. He became sicker and sicker until he was literally within minutes of death. He whispered to someone to summon his father-in-law, the Divrei Chaim. When Rav Cham arrived, Reb Leizer’l said, “Please, I do not want to leave this world. Daven for me.” But the Rebbe seemed someone indifferent and responded, “This world is filled with so much darkness. Why do you want to stay here? Go in good health to the next world!”
Hearing this, everyone in the room began wailing with mourning and could not understand why the Rebbe was not praying for his son-in-law. So Reb Leizer’l said, “But Rebbe, I’m worried. I do not feel confident about my place in the next world!” So the Divrei Chaim reassured him, “That’s why you don’t want to leave the world? Don’t worry! I assure you that you will have the highest place in Gan Eden. You have nothing to worry about. Now go in peace.”
But Reb Leizer’l begged him, “But Rebbe, what about my family?” “You’re worried that there won’t be anyone to take care of your wife and children?! Do not be concerned. They are my family too. I will ensure that they are cared for. You do not need to stay in this world for that.”
Finally Reb Leizer’l pleaded, “But Rebbe! It’s almost Rosh Hashanah. You know that no one sings ‘Unesaneh Tokef’ like me. When I lead the davening on Rosh Hashanah, the angels stand in wonderment. They cannot understand how such a Divine sound can emanate from this lowly world.” The Divrei Chaim thought for a moment, and then responded, “Indeed you have a point.” Immediately, the Rebbe ran to the mikvah and, knowing that his son-in-law had only moments of life left in him, returned quickly with his talis on to daven with every bit of life in him for Reb Leizer’l’s salvation. And in fact, Reb Leizer’l recovered and lived for many more years.
Each of us has our own song in this world, our own Unesaneh Tokef, which only we can sing and which brings pleasure and Divine light to all worlds when we sing it. It is irreplaceable as long as we are truly singing our own song, using the tools and blessings which Hashem gave us. This year, even before Yovel begins, may we merit to return to our own music based on the portion Hashem gave us. Then we will truly be free birds, soaring higher and higher as we sing our own song until our voices join the music of the Levi’im in the third Beis Hamikdash, may it be built very soon in our days.