On Monday, I read a story in the Chicago Tribune that was both horrifying and heartbreaking. 60 years ago, two sisters moved to a new town. They were 12 and 10 years old. As the “new kids” they found themselves completely isolated. They were bullied by the entire student population throughout their years of junior high and high school. No one would speak to them. Children would avoid all contact. They could not join clubs or participate in sports. They were never invited to parties. These sisters suffered terribly and carried this hurt for 60 years.
The news story also shared the saga of one of their tormenters. It seems that for almost as long, he carried guilt with him for the role he played as one of the bullies who terrorized these girls. At the urging of his wife, he found the two sisters, arranged a meeting and sought forgiveness through sincere apology. Redemption came through hearts open enough to allow for the words of apology to take hold and the generosity of spirit that remained ever present even in the midst of great pain.
I, like so many, was deeply moved by their story and it caused me to reflect on this week’s Torah portion, Behar, and the way that we create a just society. Behar begins with laws concerning the Sabbatical year and builds to the laws of the Jubilee year. The Jubilee is proclaimed every 50 years.
At the conclusion of 7 Sabbatical years, the 50th year is a Jubilee year at which time all land reverts to original owners and all slaves are freed. The Jubilee year was a societal reset button. This year was supposed to bring balance back to the community and allow for people to have a fresh start.
Though it took an extra 10 years, I would like to think of this story of the Rhys sisters as an example of the redemption possible when the community functions as a just community. Indeed the 50-year Jubilee was a fail-safe mechanism to ensure that if other measures of justice, ethics and morality ceased to protect the vulnerable, the Jubilee would set things right.
When William Penn created Pennsylvania’s government in 1682, he allowed citizens to take part in making laws and gave them the right to choose the religion they wanted. The colonists were proud of the freedom Penn gave them. In 1751, the speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly ordered a new bell for the State House. He asked that a Bible verse be placed on the bell, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This verse is from our Torah portion, Leviticus 25:10. Liberty is the way Yovel, Jubilee, is translated. The bell rang many times, (not every 50 years), for public announcements. Most famously, it rang on July 8, 1776 to announce the public reading of the
Declaration of Independence.
The Liberty Bell is a powerful symbol of the ideal. Liberty must be proclaimed throughout the land in each and every moment. We can ring that bell each time we stand up against injustice, each time we take a step in creating a just community, each time we care for the most vulnerable.
May this Shabbat find us all ringing the bell of freedom throughout this land.
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., D.D.
- Shabbat Devarim - July 18, 2018
- Shabbat Sh’lach - June 4, 2018
- Shabbat Behar - May 2, 2018
- Shabbat Vayikra - March 13, 2018
- Shabbat T’rumah - February 13, 2018
- Shabbat Mikeitz - December 12, 2017
- Shabbat Chayei Sarah - November 8, 2017
- Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot - October 3, 2017
- Take Action to Protect DACA Applicants - September 5, 2017
- Shabbat Ki Teitzei - August 30, 2017