The Torah tells us early in this week’s reading to proclaim liberty, “d’ror”, for everyone who inhabits the land (Lev. 25:10).
“D’ror” is a very strange word to use for liberty. The Targum Onkelos renders it as “cherut”, a more usual word for freedom. The sages offer various linguistic analogies, such as a connection with “ladur”, “to dwell”, since a person with liberty can chose how and where to dwell. Another rabbinic view links it with a noun, “d’ror”, a swallow, a bird which sings when it is free but not otherwise.
If we take it that the word has a three-letter root, “d-r-r”, there is an underlying meaning of “to stream, to flow” – which enables us to see the word in our verse as indicating being unhampered, unhindered, unrestrained.
A person or nation blessed with “d’ror” in this sense is master of their own destiny.
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN
The name of the sidra means “On the mountain”. That mountain is Sinai, and the topic spoken of is “Sh’mittah”, the sabbatical year (Lev. 25:2).
Rashi asks what connection there is between the place and the message. He tells us that just as the sabbatical year was proclaimed at Sinai, so were all the commandments.
If we look for an ideological link between Sh’mittah and Sinai, it may be that Shabbat figures prominently in the Decalogue given at Sinai, and an extension of the weekly Shabbat is the 7th-year Sh’mittah.
If we look further, we find that taking off one day in seven and devoting it to God’s purposes, and devoting one year in seven to the Almighty, tell us that ultimately everything we have and do is due to the Creator. The person who enjoys blessings from life owes his/her good fortune to God. The person who suffers from problems not only knows that in God he/she has someone to argue against, but since evil as well as good emanates from the same Creator there must be some purpose in whatever befalls a person.
We are probably too small in the scheme of things to understand the details of God’s designs, but there is a comfort in knowing that God is in charge.
RULES FOR EMPLOYERS
We learn a great deal about labour law from the principle of the “sh’mittah”, the seventh year, and the “yovel”, the jubilee year. Every seven years the land shall lie fallow as “a sabbath to the Lord”, and after seven times seven years, there is to be a jubilee year when
“you shall proclaim freedom in the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10).
The P’nei Y’hoshua remarks that the verse says, “to all its inhabitants”, not merely “to all its workers”, because the freedom is not for employees alone but for employers too. But surely the employers need no release from work? Surely an employer can live in luxury without lifting a finger to do any physical labour!
One answer might be to point to the example of Boaz in the Book of Ruth. His workers were busy bringing in the harvest, and one might have thought he could have sat comfortably at home, leaving it all to them. But this is not what he did: he came to the field; he greeted them with the words,
“The Lord be with you!”
and they responded,
“The Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4).
He may not physically have worked with them, but he knew, respected and appreciated them, and his presence uplifted their morale and made them feel that they and their work were important. In such circumstances it is unlikely that they had industrial disputes and inconceivable that labour and management would feel they were on opposite sides.
The P’nei Y’hoshua gives a somewhat different but parallel explanation of the use of the words “to all its inhabitants”. The employers felt a sense of freedom by means of giving freedom to their workers. The rabbis say, “He who acquires a servant acquires a master over himself” (Kidd. 20a). This could be taken cynically, since having a labour force can add to a person’s headaches. But understood charitably, as it surely can be, it suggests that a good employer is like Boaz and is concerned with his workers’ and their families’ well-being and not simply his own.
Naturally, not every employer is such a tzaddik. Many will say,
“I’m a businessperson, not a philanthropic society. I’m in it to make money and to put bread on my own family’s table.”
There is no problem with management looking after its own interests, but it also entails responsibility.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.