HOME FREE, FOR ALL
Volume 3 Issue 34
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
It is probably the most famous Biblical verse in American History. Each
year thousands of people come to see its bold raised lettering prominently
encircling the rim of the revered icon of our country's independence. Many
visitors hardly notice the verse. Instead, their gaze is transfixed upon
another, much less divine symbol, that bears the painful message of that
sacred verse. But the large crack they come to see has no inherent meaning.
It is only the result of the constant resounding of the words that are
sacredly enshrined on its oxidized metal. Those words are from this week's
portion, "proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all its inhabitants
thereof" (Leviticus 25:10).
Truth be told, however, those words refer not to a revolution or liberation,
they refer to the mitzvah of Yovel -- Jubilee. Every 50 years, all Jewish
servants, whether employed for only a six-year period or on an extended
docket, and even those who desire to remain as servants to their masters,
are freed. They return home to their families, and their careers of
indenturage are over.
But the verse is confusing. It says, "proclaim liberty throughout the land
and to all its inhabitants thereof." Isn't the Torah referring to the
freedom of slaves and the servants. Isn't that a proclamation of freedom
for only a select few? Why would the Torah use the words "and to all its
inhabitants," when only some of its inhabitants are going free? The masters
and employers were never slaves. They are not going free. Or are they?
In the first volume of his prolific Maggid series Rabbi Paysach Krohn
relates the following story.
It was a cold and blustery day and Rabbi Isser Zalman Melzer, the dean of
the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was returning home from a long day in
the Yeshiva. Accompanied by his nephew, Reb Dovid Finkel, who normally
walked him home, Rabbi Melzer began to ascend the steps to his Jerusalem
apartment. Suddenly, Reb Isser Zalman stopped and retreated down the old
staircase as if he had forgotten something. As he reached the street, he
began to wander aimlessly back and forth, in thought. His nephew began to
question the strange actions of the Torah sage. "Did Reb Isser Zalman
forget something?" "Why didn't he enter the home."
The winds began to blow, and despite the chill Reb Isser Zalman walked back
and forth outside his home. About 15 minutes passed and once again, Rabbi
Melzer walked slowly up the stairs, waited, and then headed back down.
His nephew could not contain himself, "Please, Rebbe," he pleaded. "What's
the matter?" Reb Isser Zalman just shrugged and said, "just wait a few more
"But, uncle, it's getting cold. Please answer me. What are you waiting for?"
Rabbi Melzer realized that he could no longer keep his motivations to
himself. "I'll explain. As I walked up the steps I heard the young woman
who comes once a week to help with the housework in the kitchen. She was
mopping the floor and singing while she mopped. I knew that if I were to
walk in she would have become embarrassed and stopped her singing. The
singing helps her through her work, and I did not want to make her work any
bit harder, let alone deny her the joy of her singing. Despite the cold, I
decided to wait outside until she finishes her work and her song. Then I'll
The Torah uses a very significant expression this week that synopsizes the
true meaning of ownership and servitude. "Proclaim liberty throughout the
land and to all its inhabitants thereof." When one employs he is also
indebted to his employee. In addition to the paycheck he is responsible for
the workers feelings, working conditions and welfare. He is responsible to
provide a safe environment, suitable provisions, and above all
mentchlechkeit. And when Yovel arrives and the workers and servants return
home, they are not the only ones going free. A great burden is lifted from
the shoulders of the master. Freedom is declared for all the inhabitants of
the land. The servants are not the only ones who are "home free." As we
used to say in the heat of the game of ring-o-lee-vio, we are, "home free --
Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion
which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation