Have a Blast!
This coming Sabbath will bid Leviticus farewell, until next year, as smoke trails off the altar into the vast wilderness that is Sinai. The combined Torah portions of ‘B’har-Bechuokotai’ conclude this perplexing book, complete with rules and regulations that defy our modern sensibilities; divine demands that have challenged countless generations to find relevant meaning in a discontinued sacrificial system. Mystics and sages have translated and interpreted Leviticus in ways that attempt to make rhyme or reason, but this week, an important Biblical law becomes the domain of the economists and environmentalists among us – ideologists of sustainable living for planetary survival. The law in question is that of the Jubilee – an often lost- in-translation concept that is one of the most audacious and utopian social reforms to have emerged from the Bible. So audacious in fact that is most likely sci-fi and never really happened. Fact of fiction – it is still a compelling case for healthy living and a great example of biblical translation out on a major limb.
The basics: grounded in the notion that a healthy lifestyle calls for a balance between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ the Bible calls for eternal rhythms revolving in cycles of seven. It starts with the Sabbath – every seventh day is dedicated to rest, expanding to the Sabbatical – every seventh year, in which the earth herself rests, and finally, to the Jubilee – the culmination of seven cycles of seven years– the fiftieth year of complete rest for all. It’s a great concept and is even engraved on the liberty bell in Philadelphia. But where does this word ‘Jubilee’ come from?
Lev. 25:10 ‘And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you’. The Hebrew for Jubilee is YOVEL – and it’s no coincidence that they sound the same. While the Fox translation renders ‘yovel’ as ‘Home-bringing’ and the Greek translation of Torah used the term ‘release’, something gets lost in the primal reality of this ritual. The word Yovel may have meant ‘ram’ as in the animal – and by extension, also meant ‘the ram’s horn’ as in – the Shofar. The Fiftieth year was ushered in on the Day of Atonement to the blast of the ram’s horn, thus lending the entire year its name, both practical and symbolic. So while the ultimate derivation of the word jubilee is disputed, it’s interesting that the very notion of liberty and rest stems from an obscure musical moment. The sound of the Shofar, according to Kabalistic views, is the very sound of the Divine – a hollow carving through time and space. Amazing to think that the original Fiftieth year was known for precisely this concept, now lost in translation. Interesting also to note how this verse made it onto a bell – a modern version of a ram’s horn – a musical ritual intended to announce, celebrate and – Jubilate – another derivative of this word, Jubilee.
While we don’t have the Jubilee concept for global rest in practice, we do have the 50th night of the Seven Week count towards Revelation at Sinai. This coming Shavuot, Lauviticus invites you to ring the bells, blast the horns, and contemplate where in your life is the need and ability to carve out space and time for divine rest – a divine blast.