Freedom is something that we value as Americans and as Jews. As Americans, we take pride that we live in a country that is “the home of the free.” As Jews, we recognize the spiritual, historical and national importance of our journey from slavery to freedom. This week’s parasha, Behar, introduces the concept of the jubilee year. The Torah commands us to “make the fiftieth year holy [and…] proclaim freedom (dror) throughout the land for all of its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10). During the 50th year, slaves are set free and land rights that have been sold return to their original owners. Through the Jubilee, people return to a state of being that is unencumbered by the debts of the past.
Ibn Ezra, the 11th century biblical commentator notes that the word the Torah uses for freedom, dror, is also the word for swallow, a bird species. He suggests that the freedom of the jubilee year is not only about economics, but also about the ideal state of freedom that we learn from the swallow. The swallow, he teaches, sings beautifully in its own natural environment, but when caged inside a home it refrains from singing and eating, eventually dying from starvation. The Torah’s call for us to proclaim freedom, according to Ibn Ezra, includes the moral imperative to ensure that everyone be able to live in a natural state of freedom that is not limited by cages imposed upon them by others.
As Americans and as Jews, the call for freedom continues to ring. We are still working to realize the vision shared by the Torah and the founders of our democracy through which cages of oppression will be replaced by songs of freedom. The choices we make about how we live our day to day lives, how we give of our time and resources to help others, and to whom we give authority to govern our society all influence how far freedom will spread. The week’s parasha reminds us that we have an obligation to pursue this goal. For the sake of humanity and the world in which we live, I pray that we achieve it soon.