5756 - #17




U'kratem dror ba'aretz, "and liberty shall be proclaimed throughout the land" (Vayikra 25:10). These words are generally understood to refer to the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves that is an inherent part of yovel, the fiftieth year of the halachic agricultural cycle. In fact, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah includes the word slaves in his translation of this passage.[1] It furthermore does seem from T.B. Rosh Hashanah 9b that this phrase applies specifically to the emancipation of slaves.[2] Contextually, though, this verse seems to be more connected with the return of property, that is also a mark of yovel, than with the emancipation of the slaves.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Vayikra 25:10 recognizes this problem and, as such, in an effort to explain the tie to the return of property, embarks on an investigation of the essential meaning of the word dror. He concludes that "the fundamental underlying idea of dror would be 'to follow a natural trend'...According to this the dror of our point of law here would be: allowing persons and property to revert to where they naturally tend to belong, persons to the natural nature of a family, property to the natural order of the right to possess land." Dror, indeed, is an appropriate word to use contextually within a description of yovel's effect on property. The difficulty now is this word's connection to the emancipation of slaves.

Rabbi Hirsch, recognizing that dror must also be an appropriate word for describing the release of the slaves, introduces a most interesting perspective on the freeing of the slaves. The essential energy of yovel's emancipation is not simply, what we would term, freedom but rather the return to one's essential being - the slave returns to his family, to "the rights and the dignity" of a person. The implication is that we free the slaves, not in order to simply give them freedom but in order to allow them to return to their roots: to their ancestral property, to their family, to themselves. In that the Talmud, though, declares that all authorities agree that dror is a language of cherut, freedom, this return cannot simply be perceived as parallel to freedom but must be of freedom's essence.

Indeed, there are clear indications of a link between freedom and the return to one's roots. Black America's battle for civil rights, for example, has been connected with an investigation and re-awakening of its African heritage. The reason for this, though, may be straightforward. The essence of a slave is that his/her will is completely subject to the will of the master. As a slave is freed, the slave must now determine his/her own will, separate from the demands of this other; the slave must make his/her own decisions. Heritage, as such, provides an anchor, a frame-of-reference, as one attempts to make decisions, to approach the world and determine a method by which to relate to it. Far-be-it for the slave to adopt the frame of reference of the master; to allow the servitude to continue in some small respect as the master's voice still has some influence in this new freedom of decision-making. The emancipated slave, thus, returns to his/her frame-of-reference before servitude, to the heritage that was part of his/her own ancestry and is part of his/her own self. But this explanation really only explains why a return to one's heritage may accompany a process of liberation, but it does not explain why a return to one's roots is an essential part of freedom.

The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah, in fact, in its very explanation of the word dror, seems to imply that freedom includes the freedom not to be bound to one's ancestry. The Talmud states that dror means the right to dwell wherever one wishes.[3] This would seem to include the right not to live within the confines of the ancestral homeland. Yovel, though, with its demanded return of property inherently limits this right as one would have to return land to its familial owner. Simply, the Talmud indicates that freedom as marked by the word dror includes not being bound to ancestral land and, by implication, ancestral heritage. Rabbi Hirsch, and the very nature of yovel, though, implies that freedom, specifically as marked by the word dror, includes these bonds.

The Talmud's actual full explanation of the word dror is the ability to live where one wishes and to do business where one wishes throughout the country. This latter statement about business is significant. What is the unique importance of this right to do business anywhere throughout the country? If it means that one should have the right to earn a livelihood in a specific locale because one wishes to live in a certain locale, would this not be part of the essential right to dwell in any place. The language of the Talmud actually points to the ability to do business throughout the whole land. Dror is the freedom to dwell where one wishes and to do business beyond, throughout the entire country. Dror is not simply the freedom to do what one wishes but the ultimate freedom to be - to expand, to develop, to go beyond. It is the freedom to start at a point - a point that one chooses for oneself - and from there to reach out. It is the freedom to truly be human.

But one only gains that freedom from a knowledge of self - and a knowledge of self only arises from knowing from where one came. Dror is the freedom to go forward but only because it also demands a connection to the past.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail




[1] He translates u'kratem dror as "declaring emancipation [of slaves]." The brackets are his.

[2] In this Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Yehuda, through the application of this passage, declares the release of slaves an inherent part of yovel. As such, he states that a fiftieth year without the liberation of slaves loses its halachic status as a yovel. The agricultural prohibitions associated with yovel would thus not apply. See Rashi.

[3] See Rashi, Rosh Hashanah 9b, d.h. kemedayer and Torah Temima, Vayikra 25:10, note 52. Rashi's use, though, of the word malon, generally translated as hotel, is most interesting. Could it be that Rashi, to maintain consistency, is limiting dror to the freedom to sojourn briefly in different places while maintaining a permanent ancestral homestead? The Torah Temima clearly, though, presents the Talmudic understanding of dror as the right to live where one wishes.

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