Headlines »

June 8, 2024 – 11:29 pm | Comments Off on The Ultra Orthodox Draft41 views

Amid Israel’s war in Gaza, there is talk of drafting yeshivah students into the army to bolster its ranks. On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah, so I want to write about the role of Torah in war. The Torah is not just a dusty old book …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » B'Har, Coming of Age, Family Life

Personal Liberation

Submitted by on May 15, 2022 – 5:25 pmNo Comment | 829 views

Personal liberation from insecurity, worry, fear, doubt, or obsession, have been on my mind lately because I recently turned fifty. I am not usually one to dwell on birthdays, but this benchmark is not easily dismissed. Not because fifty seems old. It stopped seeming old a long time ago. But because fifty is a critical milestone on our life journey of spiritual growth.

It is a stage more than an age. If one doesn’t turn the corner and enter the new stage, what is the point of reaching this age? So, together with my many classmates who turn fifty this year, I have been contemplating and exploring its meaning.

I have come up with many angles, but I only have space for one of them in this essay. So, here goes.

The Jubilee Year
This week, the Torah portion discusses the jubilee. Turning fifty is a personal jubilee. And if one shares it with one’s community, it can be a communal jubilee.  The Torah tells us many things about the Jubilee, I want to focus on two of them: the personal liberation of all slaves, and consecrating property to G-d.

In Biblical law, a Jew is not permitted to sell himself into slavery. However, in cases of dire economic need, a Jew may sell himself into servitude for a period of six years. If at the end of six years, the slave wishes to remain in servitude, he may commit himself to service in perpetuity. However, forever is never forever. The Torah tells us that even this slave goes free on the jubilee year.

“You shall declare freedom in the land for all its inhabitants.”[1] Though the Jew committed himself forever, Jubilee spells the end of forever. A Jew cannot be enslaved to a fellow Jew because we are all enslaved to G-d. “For you are my slaves, and you may not be enslaved to slaves.”[2]

This tells us that no matter how permanently we might have enslaved ourselves, no matter how long term the terms of our servitude might be, jubilee spells the end of it. It is a year of personal liberation.

In life, we enslave ourselves to all manner of things. To our fears, insecurities, inner doubts, passions, cravings, obsessions, lust, greed, honor, and the like. We devote stores of energy to these masters who rule us with an iron fist. The jubilee year renders us free. No longer need we be enslaved to these gratuitous masters. We are free to be ourselves. Personal liberation.

But we have merely substituted one master for another. Rather than serving our fellow, we are enslaved to G-d. Is this true freedom? The answer is yes, if we define freedom correctly.

Here we look to the other dimension of the jubilee that I mentioned above—consecration of property to G-d. If a Jew donated a field to the maintenance fund of the holy Temple, it was possible to buy it back. However, this license was only extended until the coming jubilee. Once jubilee arrived, the field could no longer be returned to its original owner. It now belonged to G-d.

Loss or Gain
The question that we must ask ourselves at this point is whether this represents a loss or a gain. Now that I can no longer retrieve the field, have I lost it, or did I gain a field because G-d consented to make my field His own? Is this a step up for me or a step down?

Until we turn fifty, this can legitimately be viewed as a step down—a net loss for the donor. Once we turn fifty, we turn a corner and begin a new stage. We reach beyond ourselves and discover G-d. We realize that if G-d is willing to make my field His—to absorb my infinitesimal ownership in His grand, infinite grasp, then we are fortunate and privileged. We did not lose a field. We gained a connection with G-d.

It is said that Moses Montefiore was once asked how much he was worth. He named a sum that was clearly below his net worth. When he was challenged on the number, he explained that he was not asked how many assets he owned, he was asked how much he was worth. My value does not come from the assets I own. It comes from the charity I gave. I told you how much charity I gave during in my lifetime.

The same is true of the field that G-d consents to take. It is not a loss of a financial asset. It is a benefit of admission into the vast expanse and infinite embrace of a loving G-d willing to make my asset His own.

The Leap of Personal Liberation
Forty-nine represents the expanse of the human reach.  When our ancestors emerged from Egypt, G-d told them that they would receive the Torah at Mount Sinai in forty-nine days. Prepare yourselves, said G-d, for forty-nine days. When you have reached the apex of your achievement, I will descend from above and grant you my Torah. Fifty represents G-d’s gift from above that is beyond our reach.

Imagine yourself climbing a ladder for forty-nine years. It is the ladder of emotional maturity, the ladder of human growth and human achievement. You reach the top rung, and you stand tall swaying in the wind. At this point, you have no railing to grasp. Your hands flail about seeking purchase, but there is nothing to grasp. No firm ground or support system. You are vulnerable. You have reached your zenith and you can’t climb any higher.

At this point your only choice is to reach up, extend your arms heavenwards, look up and call out to G-d. I have reached my precipice. I have reached my top. Can you lift me higher? Take me G-d. Lift me out of my limitations and let me be part of you. How much courage would it take to close your eyes and leap upward? Letting go of the top rung is a point of supreme vulnerability. But it is also a point of complete trust. Take me G-d. Lift me up.

You can’t explore new horizons if you don’t have the courage to leave sight of shore. Fifty represents a quantum leap upwards letting go and trusting fully in G-d. Until this age, we move forward sedately, step by step, we are progress slowly but inexorably. Every step is calculated. What is my first move, how does it lead to my next move, and what is my ultimate goal?

How will it enhance my reputation, how will it fit into my life’s plan, how well does it fit with my chosen trajectory. At fifty, it is time to enter a new stage. A time of personal liberation from the need to be in control. It is time to say, I don’t need to be in charge of the direction, G-d lead me in the direction that you know is best. It is scary, it is vulnerable, but it is also thrilling, and most important, real.

It is the deepest and most moving relationship with G-d that we can possibly have. It is also the deepest and most moving relationship with our own core that we can possibly have. Ironically, when we surrender control, we discover our true selves. Our true core, the essence, where one touches one. Where all is G-d and G-d is all because nothing is outside of G-d including myself.

G-d, my is no longer my field, it is now your field. Take it and do with it as you will. G-d it is no longer my life, it is your life, direct it where you will. This is the secret of turning fifty. This is the secret of the jubilee year. It is the secret of personal liberation and ultimate consecration. Rather than being apart from G-d, we become a part of G-d. And this is true freedom.

[1] Leviticus 25:10.

[2] Talmud, Baba Metzia 10a based on Leviticus 25:55.