Proclaim Liberty for All
Yael Eckstein | May 18, 2022
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. — Leviticus 25:10
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Behar, which means “the mountain,” from Leviticus 25:1–26:2.
Unity is one of the foundational principles upon which the work of The Fellowship is built. My father, Fellowship Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of blessed memory, was driven by his vision to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews. But he also understood that we are all responsible for each other.
If any Jew is persecuted because they are Jewish, then all Jews are under attack. If Christians are persecuted for their faith anywhere in the world, then all Christians are under attack. As people of faith, we must identify with the suffering of others as our own. We cannot celebrate our own freedom unless all people are free, until humanity is free.
I learned this lesson at a young age from my parents. In the 1970s and 1980s, my father was very active in the struggle for the freedom of the persecuted Jews of the Soviet Union. We would include special prayers for them in the synagogue and at our Passover Seder. My father took the needs of anyone who was suffering personally. He saw the needs of others as his own.
Proclaim Liberty for All
We see this lesson in this week’s Torah portion. When describing the jubilee year when all slaves would go free, the Bible says, “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”
But, if this verse is about setting the slaves free, why did God say freedom was to be proclaimed “to all its inhabitants.” Why doesn’t the verse tell us to proclaim liberty for all slaves? After all, everyone else besides the slaves was already free before the jubilee year.
Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, a 19th-century rabbi from Germany, explained that the Torah is teaching us that a society in which some people are free while others are not cannot be called a free society. Freedom is only truly experienced when all are free. So even though only the slaves were technically freed on the jubilee, the entire nation became free along with them. Only then could the people proclaim liberty for all.
Rabbi Falk’s words teach us a powerful lesson. God wants us to feel the pain of those who are suffering at the hands of oppressors. When we take their cause as our own, the sense of urgency we feel drives us to do everything in our power to liberate them. And when they finally breath the fresh air of freedom, so do we.