BEHAR/BECHUKOSAI (Leviticus, 25:1-27:34) — “Free as a Bird”

We’re all familiar with the famous words on the Liberty Bell:  “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…”  Many people are not aware that it is actually a quote from the Torah. (Leviticus, 25:10)

Do you know why we blow the Shofar every year at the end of Yom Kippur?  Many people assume that the purpose of the Shofar blast is to announce the end of the fast.  Actually, the Shofar on Yom Kippur has nothing at all to do with the fast.

The blast of the Shofar is in memory of the Shofar of the Jubilee year.  The Torah tells us that every seven years, there is a Sabbatical year.  Farmers in Israel are not permitted to work the land.  After a series of seven Sabbatical cycles (i.e., 49 years) there is a Jubilee year.  (While the Sabbatical year is still observed in Israel, the Jubilee year is not.  The law of the Jubilee year applies only when all of the Tribes of Israel are living in Israel.)

The Jubilee year is “give-back time.”  If you bought a Hebrew servant, (sold by the court to pay off his debts for stealing) he is released.  If you bought land, it reverts to its original owner. (Purchase of land in Israel is, in effect, a lease.  The “purchase” price is determined based upon how many years are left until the Jubilee year.)  During this year, the farmers were once again forbidden from planting anything.

The Jubilee year was publicized on the Day of Atonement:  “…on Yom Kippur you will sound the Shofar throughout your land. Sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land for all its inhabitants…everyone will return to his hereditary property and to his family.”  (Verses 9 and 10)

“Proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land.”  

You’ll notice that I left the word “D’ROR” untranslated.  Most commentaries give comparable translations:  Artscroll renders it as “freedom.”  Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (“The Living Torah”) preferred “emancipation.”  These are both almost synonymous with the bell-maker’s translation — “Liberty.”

But is this liberty?  True, the worker was emancipated.  But what did the Jubilee mean to the farmer?  He lost his workers.  He lost the farm he had purchased.  The land that he had inherited had to lay fallow for two consecutive years.  (Year # 49 was a Sabbatical Year.)  If he was so emancipated, he should have the freedom to work his field!  He wasn’t free at all!

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra presents an interesting insight into the word “D’ROR.” The word appears in Proverbs, 26:2 and in Psalms, 84:4.  In both places it is a reference to a type of bird.  (He doesn’t identify it by name, but he mentions that this type of bird was known of in Spain.)  Ibn Ezra tells us that the Dror is a very independent bird.  As long as it is in its own nest, it sings to its heart’s content.  However, once it is taken into captivity it silently refuses to eat and eventually starves.  (“Give me liberty or give me death!”)

What is the connection between this “Freedom Bird” and the prohibition to plant one’s field during the Sabbatical and Jubilee years?  I think we can gain an insight into this prohibition by reading a few verses later:  “You might ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year?  We have not planted nor harvested crops!’  I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year and the land will produce enough for three years.” (Verses 20-21)

The Torah is telling us that our survival is based, not upon the support of others, or even the work of our own hands.  Rather, “I will direct My blessing to you...”

Obviously, we are not supposed to just sit back and wait for G-d to drop income and security into our laps.  We are obligated to make a legitimate effort.  However, it is comforting to know that we’re not in this by ourselves.

As difficult as it can sometimes be to make ends meet, there is true freedom in knowing that G-d will send His blessings.  We will not be forgotten.  That is why the Dror sings in the wild, where he relies upon G-d for his sustenance.  Reliance upon man is nothing to sing about.

There was a time when the French were great friends of the State of Israel.  (Napoleon too gave the Jews unprecedented freedoms)  During the Middle Ages, Jews lived in peace in many Muslim countries.  After the Six Day War, Israel was the darling of Europe and the rest of the world.  Today, she is a pariah.  There are very few people today who are willing to count themselves among the friends and allies of Israel.

This is nothing new.  The Talmud tells us that Esau’s hatred of Jacob is a fact of life.  Logically, we should have disappeared a long time ago.  Isn’t it comforting, isn’t it LIBERATING, to know that G-d has assured our continued survival, despite our enemies’ attempts to destroy us?

There is peace of mind that comes in knowing that we are in G-d’s hands.  Shortly before Passover began in the U.S., we heard about the tragic Seder massacre in Israel.  It gave new meaning to the words we recited that night:  “…in every generation, there are those who rise against us to destroy us.  The Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.”  They will not succeed.


Speaking of birds, remember the dove with the olive branch, that so-called symbol of peace?  (I say “so-called” because I have never found any reference in the Talmud or other commentaries that say anything about it being such a symbol.  Let’s not forget; there are some people who actually consider the United Nations to be a symbol of peace!!!)  Noah had sent the dove out of the ark to see if the floodwaters had subsided.  She returned with an olive branch, plucked from a tree, in her mouth.

What was the silent message she was delivering to her ship’s captain?  Rashi tells us that she was giving Noah the message of Freedom:  Let my food be bitter like an olive, from the hands of G-d, rather than being as sweet as honey, from the hands of man.

The sweetness of gifts from our friends of today can lead to a bitter aftertaste tomorrow.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


From the Archives 

(Sometimes the Torah Portions of Behar and Bechukosai are read in the same week, and sometimes they are read in separate weeks.  To avoid confusion, both are listed here) 

From Behar, the first of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“The Palestinians are Right!” (2010)

 Israel is ours.

From time immemorial, theLandofIsraelhas been inhabited by Jews.  There is no such thing asPalestine.  The so-called “Palestinians” need to wake up to that fact, get a life, and move on.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, dismiss this notion as wishful thinking on the part of the Jews.  They continue to argue that there is no proof that the Land is ours…

Of course, as we know, the Palestinians are wrong … Right? …


Read more.


“The Price of Tea in China” (2006)

“…  For six years you may sow your field, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and you may gather its crop.  But the seventh year will be a complete rest for the Land…”

…  A farmer works his field for six years, trying his hardest to produce an income to support his family.  Now we tell him to take a year off.

Take a year off?!  How am I gonna eat?!

Good question…

Read more.


“Aharon Moshe — Servant of G-d and His Children” (2005)

… It is customary among Chassidim to bring written requests to righteous people.  All of their needs are written on these “Kvittlach” — notes, and the righteous people are asked to pray to G-d for the fulfillment of these requests.  After the Second World War, there was a dearth of such holy people.

One great Rabbi, the Rebbe of Satmar, of Blessed Memory, was asked what to do.  “Now that so many of our Tzaddikim, righteous people, have been killed, to whom should we bring our requests for blessings?”

The Rebbe gave two answers…

This was not an easy article to write.  (Tears don’t show up on computer screens.)…

Read more.


“Ask a Stupid Question…” (2004)

… CHAYIM: I can’t believe what happened to me today!

YANKEL: What happened?

CHAYIM: A guy came by the office today selling ties.  He showed me some hand-made silk ties.  He told me that they were worth $50, but he was willing to sell them for only $30.  What a bargain!  Twenty dollars off!  I bought five!

YANKEL: That’s great, Chayim!  What’s the problem?  You saved $100!  That’s wonderful!

CHAYIM: Well, not exactly.  As it turned out, they were actually made of polyester, and are available on Ebay for $3 apiece.

YANKEL: Oh…Uh, Chayim…

CHAYIM: Yes, Yankel?

YANKEL:  You, my dear friend, are a jerk.  A naive, stupid fool!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  What’s the matter with you?!  How could you allow yourself to be ripped off like that?!  Boy, that con man must be laughing at you now!

We have just observed two violations of Torah Law…

Read more.


“Free as a Bird” (2002)

We’re all familiar with the famous words on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land…” Many people are not aware that it is actually a quote from the Torah. (Leviticus, 25:10)

…”Proclaim ‘D’ROR’ throughout the land.”

You’ll notice that I left the word “D’ROR” untranslated. Most commentaries give comparable translations… synonymous with the bell-maker’s translation – “Liberty.”

… Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra presents an interesting insight into the word “D’ROR.” … the Dror is a very independent bird. As long as it is in its own nest, it sings to its heart’s content. However, once it is taken into captivity it silently refuses to eat and eventually starves. (“Give me liberty or give me death!”)…

Read more.


From Bechukosai, the second of this week’s two Torah Portions 

“Don’t Just STAND There…” (2009)

We strive to be holy.  It is not an easy task.  The Torah was not given to angels; it was given to human beings with human weaknesses.  Yet, we make the effort.

In our daily prayers, we make reference to the angels in Heaven and the divine symphony of praise that they offer to G-d every day…

The Heavens ring forth with holiness that we mortals cannot even begin to imagine, much less, understand.  Yet we try:

We shall sanctify Your Name in this world, just as they sanctify it in Heaven above, as it is written by Your prophet, “they call one another and say:  ‘Holy, holy, holy..’

The above prayer is recited standing, with our feet together as if they are one foot, just like the angels, about whom it is written, and their legs are one straight leg” (Ezekiel 1:7) and who are referred to as “Standers.” (Zechariah, 3:7)

All this, of course, begs the question: whom are we trying to kid??!

We are simple, mortal human beings.  How can we even contemplate a serious attempt at being like the angels?  Their level of holiness is so far beyond ours that it seems pointless to even make the comparison…

Read more.


“Confessions of a Would-Be Vegetarian” (2005)

… it began to sink in.  Do I really want to KILL my chickens?  Do I really want toEATmy chickens?  After months of watching their antics, running and wing-flapping and squawking around my back yard, making me laugh and giving me eggs, do I really want to put them in a soup pot?…

Read more.


“Your Money or your Wife!” (2003)

How much is a person worth?  What is the dollars-and-cents cash value of a human being? … The Book of Judges tells us the heartbreaking story of Yiftach, whose poor judgment led to a tragedy … Yiftach was praying for success in battle … “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice.” (Judges,11:31).

The Talmud says that Yiftach had made an irresponsible vow.  Not every animal is acceptable as an offering.  If the family cow or his pet lamb had ambled out the door to meet him, either one would have served as a fine Thanksgiving offer on the Altar.  But what would he do if he were greeted by Fido or his daughter’s pet iguana?!

Actually, the scenario was even worse…

Read more.


“Labor Gains” (2001)

Jewish life is all about choices.  We are given the option of choosing the path that G-d wants us to follow, or a path that goes the other way.  Either way, says the Torah, there are consequences to our choices….

We are, of course, proud to be Jewish.  We fulfill Mitzvahs and we recite prayers.  But do we LABOR IN TORAH?  Do we toil and struggle to make Torah the be-all, end-all emphasis of our lives?  Is Torah our lifeblood?  Or is it little more than a cultural appendage, a potpourri of chicken soup, matzah balls and gefilte fish?… There are two types of people who subscribe to my weekly messages…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on May 3, 2002 at 5:51 am  Leave a Comment  

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