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The Liberty Bell
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is best known for two things: It is cracked and its inscription comes directly from this week’s parsha: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

This text is taken from the Torah’s description of the Jubilee year. The Jubilee cycle required counting seven Sabbatical cycles and on the fiftieth year, holding a “Super” Sabbatical or “Jubilee” year. During the Jubilee year, in addition to the requirements governing Sabbatical years, all land had to be returned to its original owners (or their heirs) to whom the land was bequeathed after it was conquered by Joshua.

In addition, the Jubilee year laws required release of all indentured servants who had stayed on after their initial six-year term of indenture. It is in this context that the Torah declares: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The famous Talmudic commentator P’nei Yehoshua asks why the Torah characterizes this year as a year of freedom for all its inhabitants. In actuality, it only set free an eved Ivri nirtza, a Hebrew indentured servant who refused to leave when the six years of servitude were over. This was a rather rare situation. Only people who were so poor that they had to sell themselves or thieves unable to make restitution became indentured servants. And only those who refused to leave after six years were set free in the Jubilee year –a small fraction of the already small population of indentured servants.

 P’nei Yehoshua provides us with a partial answer. The Talmud states that a person who purchased an indentured servant was actually buying a master for himself. For example, if the master had only one pillow he would have to give it to his servant. If he had one steak he would have to give that to his servant as well. Hence, when the servant was freed it actually brought freedom to his master as well.

A parent, teacher, employer, seller, leader, healthcare provider or anyone else who is on the giving end of a relationship is, in one way or another, in control of the other person’s life. The power you have over an individual also comes with an immense responsibility. Thus, only when your “servant” is free are you also free; while he or she is under your control you are burdened and privileged with special responsibilities.


There is another way of explaining the reference to freedom “for all its inhabitants.” As long as there is even one isolated Jew who is not totally free, no Jew is truly free!

We are an organic and interdependent people. What affects one Jew in any part of the world affects every Jew. The entire Jewish nation is likened to one body. If one organ of this body is in exile, then all of the Jewish people are in exile.

That crack in the Liberty Bell should remind us that no matter how good things might be for some in exile, materially and spiritually, we are still very much in exile.

There are some who, unfortunately, confuse the idea that we have to be thankful to G-d for all that we have with being in a state of contentment and complacency. While we must thank G-d for every small blessing we enjoy, as we do countless times daily, we must also plead and demand that He bring an end to the suffering and pain associated with galus.

Let us not rest until it can be said that, indeed, unadulterated liberty was proclaimed throughout all the land unto all its inhabitants. Let us not rest until the crack in the process of Redemption (the ultimate Liberty Bell) will be made whole forevermore.


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