Behar-B’chukotai (Leviticus 25:1-27:34) Freedom of the Soul?

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            We come this Shabbat to the concluding portions, a double portion of Behar-B’chukotai. This is apportion filled with laws and regulations on such things as interest, slavery, the Sabbatical year, and chapters on blessings if you follow God’s laws and curses that will fall upon you if you do not. There is much here to review. Yet, let’s turn to perhaps the most famous passage in this section. It comes from Leviticus 25:10 and reads “You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”. Yes, this is passage on the Liberty Bell.

            Now the context of the verse refers to the Jubilee year, reference at the beginning of 25. And there are different translations of the word used for freedom. Some translations use the English “release” which seems closer to the context. That has led to a discussion on the Hebrew, which in this portion uses the word d’ror. So, I ask you to let this word and idea of release or freedom play in your mind for a while and ask what that concept may mean now for us at our stage of life? I suggest to you that this phrase has great meaning. Think about the fact of what it may mean to be released from past hurts or constraints? What would it mean if you were free from the bounds of the past. It is not that they never happened, rather, it is the understanding that to be bound by them or enslaved by them means that we are never really free from them. Our past life experiences, for good or not, helped shape who we are now. We can never be totally rid of them. But we can, as we age, understand what they were and why we, perhaps, chose to act in certain ways in a context that is long since passed. In other words, this passage can be personalized to invite us to see how we can be and live d’ror, released from living in a past, or being defined by others.

            In the new book on the Haftorah portions, Cantor Rhoda Harrison writes a commentary on this word. She compares it to another Hebrew word often used to mean freedom, chofesh. Harrison cites Rashi’s comment that chofesh can mean “the freedom from living under someone else’s rule”. She adds that later commentators noted that chofesh “marks the absence of labor for a limited period of time”, the word d’ror “implies that a person has become his or her own master”. (“Prophetic Voices”, Rabbi Barbara Symons, ed. CCAR Press. P. 234). So, what this verse from this week’s portion is calling on us to do is to live our own authentic life. Use the life experience of our past, the good and the not so good, to be free of other’s expectations and idealizations. What would your life be if you could proclaim your own release? What would your life be like if you proclaimed your d’ror?


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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