Office of the Chief Rabbi

Dvar Torah: Parashat Behar Bechukotai

In this week’s Dvar Torah for Behar Bechukotai, the Chief Rabbi recalls great moments of personal inspiration in 1981 and 2009, not to be repeated again until 2037. 

1981 and 2009 were great years for me.

I’m reminded of the reason why when I contemplate on the ‘yovel’ – the jubilee year about which we are taught in Parashat Behar.

According to Rashi, the derivation of the word ‘Yovel’ is from the word which means a ram’s horn (shofar). Ramban disagrees. He says that surely we wouldn’t name an entire year after the sounding of the shofar which took place on the Yom Kippur during the Jubilee year. Rather, says Ramban, ‘Yovel’ comes from a Hebrew root which means to carry forward over a long distance as is used by the prophet Isiah in Chapter 23: “Yoviluha raglecha”their legs will take them forward over a great distance. And indeed we have in Modern Hebrew: lehovil, hovalah which mean to carry things over a distance.

Ramban’s message is that the sounding of the shofar during the Jubilee year was something a person would only her once every fifty years – so how many times would people hear it in their lives? Twice at the very most? And therefore it’s crucially important, not only to appreciate and enjoy it but also that the inspiration of it, should carry one through their lives.

The closest we can come to this is Birkat Hachama – the special blessing over the sun which we recite at the commencement of the new solar cycle every 28 years. I distinctly remember where I was and the incredible experience I had in 1981and 2009 when reciting that blessing. And may we all be blessed to experience of Birkat Hachama in 2037. For me, that remarkable experience is something that has influenced and inspired me to this day.

One Shabbat when walking home from shul I walked past a tree and saw twenty people standing around it – some with binoculars and others with cameras – they seemed exceptionally excited. I asked one of them, “what’s this all about?”

“We’re members of a birdwatching society,” he said, “there’s an extremely rare bird up there. It has been there for a few hours but it will probably fly away any moment.”

When one member of their society noticed something, they would inform the others and all would gather as quickly as possible to see the phenomenon! It was clear that the thrill of this sighting would stay with them for a long time afterwards. And as for me – I would have simply walked past it, without appreciating something so very special, right in front of me.

So that is the message of the Yovel – the sounding of the shofar on Yom Kippur, during the jubilee year. To provide for us, a very special, rare experience and also one to inspire and guide us for a long time thereafter.

Shabbat Shalom

 


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