OU Torah Insights Project
May 20, 2000
Rabbi Asher Brander
primacy of the Oral Law has always been the bedrock of our belief system.
Shebaal Peh is likened to a body without a soul. Thus, when Oral Law
seems to contradict the Written Law our sense of textual loyalty seems violated.
parshah is home to one of the classic
examples of this apparent incongruity. The Torah states, You shall sanctify
the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all of its
inhabitant; it shall be the Jubilee year (Yovel)
are the implications of this freedom?
Torah teaches that a Jewish servant works a six-year period of service. At the
seventh year, if the servant shall say, I love my master...I dont [want
to] go free, then his master shall bring him to the court
and he shall
serve him forever (leolam).
Torah Shebaal Peh, however,
clarifies that the term foreverleolam
means until Yovel. How so? Ibn Ezra,
cites a verse from Kohelet which
implies that the world olam can mean a
period of time. Since Yovel is the
longest block of time in the Jewish calendar, the word olam, taken in the sense of a long time is appropriate.
even if Ibn Ezra is technically correct, we must still ask why the Torah opts
for the more ambiguous olam when
it could simply say, Yovel. Why
create confusion in the first place?
words of the Ramban
on this topic are cryptic: The enlightened one will understand that
forever (leolam) is
literalfor one who works until Yovel
has worked all the days of the world (olam).
In the words of the Mechilta: Rebbe
says, Come and see that the world is only fifty years old as it says, And he
shall work foreveruntil the Yovel.
is describing the nature of the world. In some mystical way the world only
exists for fifty years. Rabbeinu Bechayei cites the Kabbalists who say that
fifty represents the circle of life.
a national scale, consider the power of fifty days. In fifty days, the Jewish
people were transformed from a bedraggled nation of slaves to recipients of the
Torah. We attempt that same metamorphosis each year during Sefirat Haomer
as we count off fifty days from Pesach
may only serve in the Beit Hamikdash until
the age of fifty. At some level, his world, too, has been completed at that age.
is the powerful message of Yovel. Each
cycle represents a rung, a new level achieved within the world while Yovel,
which follows the seventh shemittah year,
represents the dawn of a completely new world.
for the rational Jew, unaware of the mystical notion of the Yovel
cycle, the message of Ramban still rings powerfula Jew need not die in order
to arrive at a new world; rather, he can transcend worlds in his lifetime.
fitting it is that at Yovel, the
Jewish servant is forced out. He who has lost his sense of destiny and
independence must be taught that a Jew is never consigned to such a fate. A new
world with new hopes beckons.
How many times do we set boundaries for our spiritual goals? This I can do, but Ill never do that, we claim. But slow and steady spiritual progress ultimately creates a nyer velt, a new world, a progress that allows us to be the very personality we never could be. That is the goal of life. We must take a moment, look at who we are, who we can never be and figure out a way to get there.
Rabbi Brander is rav of Westwood Kehillah in Los Angeles, California.