The Mitzvah of Yovel

We truly live in a 24/7 world. Whether we are in pursuit of a social connection, doing a work task, or seeking entertainment, one could stay busy all day and night. Yet, as a great sage once quipped, “Do we work to live or live to work?” That is the question. Parshat Bahar introduces the mitzvah of Yovel, the Jubilee Year, which serves as an antidote to the work-life balance pursuit and helps us keep our lives in perspective. 

In Leviticus 25:10 the Torah reads as follows:

וְקִדַּשְׁתֶּ֗ם אֵ֣ת שְׁנַ֤ת הַחֲמִשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ לְכׇל־יֹשְׁבֶ֑יהָ יוֹבֵ֥ל הִוא֙ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֔ם וְשַׁבְתֶּ֗ם אִ֚ישׁ אֶל־אֲחֻזָּת֔וֹ וְאִ֥ישׁ אֶל־מִשְׁפַּחְתּ֖וֹ תָּשֻֽׁבוּ׃
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release* throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee* for you: each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family.

We know what “The Shabbat” or “The Sabbath” is, and we may even know what Shemittah, “The Sabbatical Year” is (every seven years the Land of Israel is to lie fallow), but what is this Yovel- Jubilee year? Many only associate the word Jubilee with cherries.

As the verse above spells out, every fifty years—after the seventh Sabbatical year—a special ceremony takes place on Yom Kippur. Someone sounds the Shofar in the Jerusalem Central Courts and all indentured servants are set free. Additionally, all real estate returns to its original owners from the time of the distribution of the land at the time of Joshua.

The lesson embedded within this law is found in a different verse: 25:23:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי׃
But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but temporary residents with Me.

This Mitzvah reminds us that all of our lives and everything therein is simply on loan from G-d. Our “real estate” goes away every fifty years. This reminds us that life in general is temporary, and a gift for as long as we live it.

There are two powerful teachings we may glean from this commandment:

  1. Humility: all that we are and all that we have is truly G-d’s. If we live with this in mind, there is less hubris, arrogance, and “one upmanship” in our world. 
  2. Living life to the fullest: when we reckon that our time here is limited, we try harder to make the best use of the time we have. 

At the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey we aim to assist our brothers and sisters in the region and abroad to live life as fully and productively as possible. Whether through financial and food assistance or providing positive social experiences in the community, your Federation is there to help make it happen.

Since Temple Times the Jewish people have not been able to fulfill the mitzvah of Yovel, however the lessons of Yovel live on in our hearts, minds, and lives to enrich our thinking and attitudes in the years we are granted here on earth. We also get to think of this mitzvah whenever we eat Cherries Jubilee.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence