We come this week to a very interesting portion, a double one to end Leviticus; a portion that looks at social and economic laws as well as a series of laws and instructions that raise many ethical issues of reward and punishment.(Leviticus 26 and 27) We are given instructions on the Sabbatical and Jubilee years (Leviticus 25). Also, we come to Leviticus [25:10], one of the more famous verses in Torah, a verse which states “and you shall make holy the fiftieth year and proclaim release within the land. It will be a Jubilee for all the inhabitants and each shall return to his holdings and families”. Why is this famous? Because the middle part of the verse was taken and placed on the Liberty Bell and release was change to “liberty”. The context of the verse does not speak to issues of national rights, rather, it is placed within the context of economic life; release of land, slaves, etc.*
Let us return to the text and the word “release” (“dror”). I ask you to look at this idea of release and how it may impact us as we get older. Maybe the Jubilee concept relates to us as we age, for as we get to pass 50 years of age, it is not too uncommon for many to begin to reflect on what was and what may still be. So we can ask, what is it that we need to “release” from our own life so that we can continue to grow and live? What emotions, issues, relationships and feelings do we need to release so that we can be free to “be”? It is a challenge to let go of some of these for, as many of us know, that which binds us also provides a sense of the known. Yet, we know people who, as they age, come to understand that holding on to past issues can sometimes inhibit the ability to live one’s life to the fullest. Again, we come to an on-going theme of life, that of holding on vs. letting go.
The portion, I suggest, places this in the context of allowing for personal freedom. It maybe difficult to let go and release that which holds us, even controls us. Yet, to be free to live out life, we may need to do that. Sometimes, life hands us a curve and we are “released” from a circumstance not by our choosing and not by our desire. A change in relationship, a death, a move; all not of our choice, may force us to “let go” and release us from a circumstance. It is how we choose to react to this “release” that helps shape our own future. But, no matter what the circumstance, the power to “proclaim release” rests with us in how we choose to react and move forward. This power of personal choice is a key to who we are and what we can become. Once again, the tradition reminds us that as we let go of that which holds us back and choose to move forward in life, that the choices we make should be choices that speak to holiness and sanctity. But the choices are ours to make.
Rabbi Richard F Address
*—for an more detailed explanation of this concept see the Plaut Commnentary to Torah. CCAR Press NYC p. 942