Home > geula > An End to Slavery – Part V

An End to Slavery – Part V

By Devorah Fastag

The Torah tells us in Parshas Bihar: “וקראתם דרור בארץ” – and you shall proclaim liberty in the land. This phrase is referring to the Yovel (Jubilee) year which follows seven shmittah cycles.

 We read about Yovel during the period of sfiras ha’omer. Sfiras ha’omer followed by Shavu’os follows the exact same pattern as the shmittos followed by the Yovel. Each is a cycle of seven times seven, totaling 49, followed by a climax at the fiftieth level. The omer period consists of seven weeks of seven days, totaling a sum of 49 days, which is followed by the giving of the Torah on the 50th day, and the Yovel cycle is seven periods of seven years followed by the yovel in the 50th year.  Is there a connection between these two phenomena?  Why do they parallel each other?

Engraved on the American liberty bell in Philadelphia are the words וקראתם דרור בארץ – you shall proclaim liberty in the land.  Of course this appears to have no connection to the actual Yovel, or to Torah at all; it was simply a way of giving honor and validation to the American ideals. We will soon see, however, that there is more involved here – although not in the way the American founding fathers had in mind. First, however, let us examine more deeply the concepts of shmittah and yovel, and then see how significant they are for our times.

What is Shmittah and Yovel?

Every seventh year in Eretz Yisrael is shmittah, the Shabbos of the land. One may not work his land, nor may he even consider it as his private property. Anyone may come and eat the fruits that grow there naturally. The owner’s rights to the fruits of his land are just like anyone else’s; he may eat only what he needs right then. When describing shimittah, the pasuk says:  “And the Sabbath of the land will be for you for eating, for you and for your manservant and for your maidservant and for your hired worker and for your toshav that lives with you” (Vayirkrah 25:6).  (A toshav is a non Jewish resident of Eretz Yisrael who has accepted before a Bet Din to keep all the seven Noahide laws.) On this Rashi comments: “Although I forbade them to you [i.e. Hashem forbade us the fruits and produce of the land on shmittah], I did not forbid them for eating and for enjoyment, but rather that you do not act as their owner. Rather, all will be equal in it, you and your hired worker and your toshav.”

We see, then, that on shmittah there is economic equality. Instead of private ownership of the produce of the land, all can share in it equally. Furthermore, all debts are cancelled on shmittah, so the poor person who has fallen into debt can start afresh once more.

But that isn’t the end. After seven shimittah cycles, that is after forty nine years, the Jubilee year – Yovel – is proclaimed “and you will proclaim liberty in the land to all its residents” (Vayikrah 25:10). The land being referred to, of course, is Eretz Yisrael, the only land where shmittah and Yovel apply.

Yovel is also a shmittah year, but it is even more. In Yovel all Jewish slaves (who were actually indentured servants) are freed. Jewish land in Eretz Yisrael that was sold (usually due to poverty) returns to its original owners, “and every man returns to his holdings”.

Yovel applies only when the majority of the Jewish People live there. In that case, can Yovel, or its ideals actually have anything to do with our times? And what about economic equality? Does this have any connection to modern day ideals of economic equality? Let’s take a deeper look at what transpired in modern history, for it is Hashem who controls what we call “the spirit of the times”. By examining modern ideologies in the light of the deeper teachings of our chachamim we can discover some amazing things.

A Historical Analysis

The second half of the 18th century saw the start of major social equality movements. The western world had actually been moving slowly in this direction for some time, with slavery petering out in Europe, and with European women enjoying more respect than oriental women, as actually noted by the poskim. But now the ideal of equality gained new momentum. The American declaration of Independence claimed that all men were created equal. Paradoxically, they didn’t seem to be bothered by American slavery, or by the fact that women did not have many civil rights. But the idea laid a foundation that would grow and spread.

Soon afterwards France followed with its own revolution and its claim of “liberty, equality, and fraternity”.  What actually transpired there was a different story, but once again, the ideal was being recognized, and would gain momentum. Then came Marx and his followers with their socialism and communism. These movements were also aimed at creating equality, (in theory) both economically and socially. Of course much of it was perverted – sometimes horribly perverted – but the world was now adjusting to new ideals. Why?

The secular year 1740 and thereabouts marks the introduction of new philosophies of equality. 1740 C.E. corresponds to the year 5500 from creation, which is actually the dawn of the Erev Shabbos of the world.  What does this mean?

Just as every week has an erev Shabbos when we prepare for Shabbos, so does the world have its Erev Shabbos when the world prepares for it’s own Shabbos. Just as the world was created in six days, with the seventh day being Shabbos. so this world exists for six thousand years, with the seventh thousandth year (called the seventh millennia) being the Shabbos of the world. With a simple arithmetical calculation one can see that we are now in the period of Erev Shabbos afternoon.

(The sixth day started in 1240 C.E. with the first 500 years being the night time period, since in Judaism the evening precedes the morning. The morning started in 1740 c.e. and noon time was 1990 C.E.)

And just as on our weekly Erev Shabbos, we must prepare for Shabbos, so the Zohar (Parshas VeYera p.117) says that in the world’s Erev Shabbos, the world is also preparing for it’s Shabbos, which is in the Seventh Millenia.

What will be in the seventh millennia? Everyone will recognize Hashem and do His will. All evil will stop. There will be great wisdom of every sort, including, most importantly, the deep celestial wisdom of the Torah. The yetzer hara is gone. Life is ideal and perfect. There is no more suffering, no more injustice, and no more cruelty of any sort. And, there is equality.

But how can there be equality? Doesn’t’ the Torah itself set up a hierarchy? And we know that the Torah is eternal. How, then, can there be equality?

The Me’or ViShemesh, (a primary student of Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk) based on the teachings of the Ari z”l, explains that at the start of creation, Hashem made everything in a circle. The circle represents equality because there is no beginning and no end and the distance to the center point is equal from every point on the circumference. Therefore, the circle represents the basic equality that existed at the beginning of creation.

Afterwards, however, Hashem created the system of the straight line, which is like a ladder going down and up. In this system there is a hierarchy. Whoever is at the top of the line is closer to the source – Hashem – and will consequently be more spiritually knowledgeable. Those who are higher must teach those who are beneath them, and they in turn must teach those who are beneath them, etc. etc.  Parallel to this, is the need for everyone to be striving upwards, raising themselves by Torah and mitzvos so that they rise step by step closer to the source.

All this, however, exists only in our present world, where we were put to earn merit. In this world there needs to be apparent injustice and inequality in order for us to earn merit by having faith in Hashem, by striving to know Him better, and by righting the social wrongs through tsdaka and chesed. After the full redemption, however, the yetzer hara is taken away. At that time Hashem’s presence is no longer hidden, and the circle situation will return. “They will not teach each other any more for they all will know Him from their big ones to their small ones” (Yirmiyahu 31:33). All those who served Hashem will be equally close to Him, no matter whether their souls originated from a higher, more spiritual world, or a lower one. At that time there will no longer be a hierarchy for those who served Hashem. (see Me’or Vishemesh on Bishalach, speaking of Miriam’s circle dance with the women).

This type of total spiritual equality exists only li’asid lavoh – in the future to come – when all sin has been rectified and we return to the level of Gan Eden before the sin. Earthly equality, however, comes into the picture way before that. It is an essential element of the ge’ulah as Chazal said, “אין דוד בא עד שיהיו כל המידות שוות – Moshiach ben David will not come until all the measurements are equal (Sanhedrin 98).  The Vilner Gaon explained this to mean that before Moshiach ben David will come there must be both economic and social equality (see Kol HaTor pp. 34-35). In other words, equality, is a prerequisite for the coming of Moshiach ben David, and it must be in the world before Moshiach ben David comes.

Now how does any of this connect with the equality movements of the gentiles? They were certainly not done in accordance with the ideals of the Torah.

As we mentioned above, the world is now in the period of Erev Shabbos and must prepare for the ge’ula shleima – the full redemption, with all that this entails. Hashem therefore brought the emanations of the redemptive powers, amongst them liberty and equality, into the world. They were meant to be used by am Yisrael to make a perfected society as portrayed by shmittah and yovel. This would have very significantly helped to bring the ge’ula. Sadly, we missed the opportunity. Yet this was not all. There is a rule that when a power enters the world it must be used for holiness. If not, it does not simply lie dormant but rather goes to impure forces who will use these powers for their own impure purposes (Michtav MeEliyahu vol. 4 p. 123).

And so, alas, the powers of the erev Shabbos of the world went, to a great extent, to the non-Jews, or to renegade Jews who opposed the Torah, such as Carl Marx. In the case of communism it is easy to see how much harm this caused, but even in the western world, the ideals of liberty and equality became perverted. Liberty turned into the “right” to follow ones evil impulses even to the extent of the most abhorrent immorality, and equality turned into a total lack of respect for parents, teachers, and even the highest officials of the country. In fact, in many “modern” social groups, respect for anyone or anything is a foreign concept.

Perhaps this was predicted in the words of Yeshayahu on the coming of Moshiach as explained by Targum Yonoson (Yeshayahu 62:11). According to Targum Yonoson, Yeshayahu informs us that if we are meritorious we will be the ones to welcome Moshiach who will only afterwards appear to the rest of the world. If, however, we are not deserving, then Moshiach will appear first to the gentiles, who will then inform us of his arrival, as it says, “Behold, your salvation has come” (see Michtav MeEliyahu vol. 4 p. 300).

Although this seems to be speaking about the arrival of Moshiach himself, it is perhaps true for his redemptive powers as well, which are also called “your salvation”. This would explain how the gentiles proclaimed ideologies that are related to the ge’ula.  Yet, as we said, they very badly perverted these powers.

Chazal told us what true liberty is; אין בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה – the only free person is one who occupies himself with Torah. This is because the Torah frees us from the shackles of the worst form of servitude; subjugation to the evil inclination. The person who cannot control himself not only loses his chance for a decent life in this world, but even worse, he will certainly not reach his place in the world to come, which is the goal of his creation. His/her life is a total failure, the greatest tragedy that can be.  (According to Chassidic sources, Hashem will bring a person back in reincarnations again and again until he regains his share in the world to come, but this is very painful.) On the other hand, the person who occupies himself with the Torah is connected to the ultimate freedom; not only freedom from addictions and passions in this world, but also the glorious freedom and pleasure of the world to come.

The Torah comes from the level of olam habo, the world to come. There are fifty levels of understanding called 50 gates of binah. In kabbalah it is explained that the fiftieth gate is in the world to come, which is called the world of binah. This is the world of the upper Shchinah, called the upper Mother. It is the world of tshuvah, for all Jewish souls come from there and all return there. That is the deeper significance of the words “each man will return to his inheritance and his holding” for in the world of binah, which is the world to come, every person returns to the root of his own neshama. Each Jew has his own particular share in olam habo according to the neshamah he was given. This is his own inheritance and his own holding. No evil can reach anyone in that world. There is true liberty from all oppression and evil, with only the unending pleasure of being connected to the Shchinah.

The world of binah is also called the world of Yovel. The yovel is the shofar that was blown by Hashem at the giving of the Torah, which comes from the world of binah, and the yovel is the shofar that was blown to usher in the Yovel year. Both the Torah and the Yovel year are the fiftieth level, a “piece” of olam habo, so to speak.

But to get to this 50th level of the world of yovel, we must first undergo years and years of purification. In fact we must first undergo 49 thousand years to prepare for this! Seven is the number needed for purification as we see from the seven “clean” days needed for a woman to purify herself from nidah. To get an even higher, total, purification the seven is done seven times. And so there are seven worlds of seven thousand years each, with the fiftieth world being the world of Yovel, the world of ultimate freedom and pleasure. After we have been totally purified, am Yisrael, the “kallah” of Hashem, can unite with the Shchinah, the source of all goodness, love and pleasure.  This is the great thrill of olam habo.

So now we see the secret behind the fifty years of yovel and the fifty days of sfiras haomer. Both are working up to the level of acquiring olam habo – one through Torah, and the other through the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. And they are both essential, for Eretz Yisrael, like olam habo, is the home of the Shchinah, and is essential for connecting to olam habo.  One cannot attach to the Shchinah sufficiently without it. It is only in Eretz Yisrael that the Torah can be kept in full. This is true not only for those mitzvos which depend upon the land, which is obvious, but rather for all the other mitzvos as well. The true spiritual potential of a mitvah – any mitzvah – is reached only in Eretz Yisrael.  Indeed, Chazal said that anyone who keeps the mitzvos outside of Eretz Yisrael is like one who serves idols in purity, and one who worships the stars (Ksubos 110b).

We see this teaching in the words of Dovid Hamelech who had to flee outside of Eretz Yisrael when he was pursued by Sha’ul. In his outcry of anguish he said, “they said to me, go serve idols” (Shmuel A: 26). Did Saul or his associates ever tell David to worship idols??

In the simple sense the answer is obviously “no”. But they forced him to leave Eretz Yisrael, and this IS telling him to go worship idols, because outside of Eretz Yisrael one is in the world of “natural” cause and effect. Other lands are under the providence of impure angels who represent and control them, and therefore life seems “natural”. Eretz Yisrael, however, is the land of the Shchinah. Only in Eretz Yisrael is Hashem’s personal intervention in our lives so closely seen and felt, only there is there direct Divine control. One can serve Hashem outside of Eretz Yisrael as well, one can even be without sin, “serving Hashem in purity”, but only in Eretz Yisrael can one be directly and fully connected to Hashem.

Furthermore, only in Eretz Yisrael are the entire Jewish People united. True, they were united at Har Sinai, and it was this unity that enabled them to receive the Torah. But this was only a temporary condition; the holiness of Har Sinai was not enduring, and neither was the unity. The ultimate goal was to keep the Torah as one unit in Eretz Yisrael.

But what about the non Jews? Dovid Hamelech said, “Hashem is good to all, and His mercy is on all His creations” (Tehillim 145:9). By what merit can non Jews gain a share in the after life? And if liberty and equality are goals of the redemption then why does the prophet tell us that the highest officials amongst the gentiles will serve us (Yeshayahu 49:10)? Will there still be slavery in the times of Moshiach?

Those gentiles who oppressed the Jews or did other forms of great evil will certainly be punished very severely for their sins. But those who did not, and who are willing to take upon themselves the seven mitzvos that apply to them, will show overwhelming respect to the Jewish people who are Hashem’s children, and then they will merit to learn from Moshiach himself!

And they will earn their share in the after life by helping the Jews. This is not what we associate with slavery. It is a voluntary servitude that will give them humongous benefits, for those who serve Jews will merit ru’ach hakodesh, and will be able to accompany those Jews to the world to come. This can be compared to the situation of a girl who wanted more than anything else to see the world. One day she saw an ad from a family that was planning a trip around the world and needed a baby sitter. The girl applied and got the job. While caring for the family’s two children, the baby sitter stayed in the best hotels, went on luxurious cruises, and most importantly to her, she got to see the most exotic foreign countries in her trip around the world. She considered herself extremely fortunate.

Jews are required to have mesiras nefesh to serve Hashem, even to the point of sacrificing their very lives. Gentiles are not. Therefore only Jews reach the highest level of connection to Hashem. And those who did not accept the Torah, cannot enter the fiftieth level of binah. But through attaching themselves to the Jews, by helping and serving them, others, too, can enjoy some level of the afterlife.

This explains why only Jewish slaves went free after six years of servitude, or at the Yovel (whichever came first). In early articles we explained that had the non Jewish slaves “gone free” they would not have gained true freedom at all. Instead they would have become the worst form of slave, the slave to the yetzer hara. Now we also see that apparent freedom would have caused non Jewish slaves to lose their connection with Hashem and their chance for olam habo. Only in a case where the master saw that a Can’anite slave could do well on his own, would he be morally called upon to free the slave, as Avraham freed Elizer when he saw that he could independently overcome the yetzer hara (seen in Sfas Emes, parshas Chayei Sarah).

But now that the world is preparing for the coming of Moshiach we have entered an era of equality and freedom, which was truly meant to be. The “slavery” that will exist in the era of Moshiach will not be the painful slavery that existed previously. It will be a voluntary servitude, of those happy and eager to earn merit for their souls by serving those who served Hashem.

May we all merit the day when we will hear the great shofar that will bring us back to Eretz Yisrael, and that will proclaim the coming of the Yovel, may it be very, very soon.  And may all those who live in Eretz Yisrael truly accept upon themselves to keep the Torah in its entirety – the prerequisite to the ge’ula (Dvarim 30:1-10). Only then can we merit the words of the Torah – וקראתם דרור בארץ !

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