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Count on It

By: Rav Aharon E. Wexler

In this week’s parsha we meet the mitzvah of Yovel, the Jubilee year. After seven shmitta cycles, the very next year, number fifty, is to be proclaimed as Yovel on Yom Kippur that year. On that very special Day of Atonement, Shofars would blast proclaiming liberty throughout the land. Prisoners and slaves were released and ancestral lands returned to the ownership of their family legacies. Debt ridden people were absolved of their economic burdens and the entire economy was reset, giving the weaker members of society an opportunity to free themselves from their past and find prosperity. For an additional year to the prior Shmitta, agricultural work was agricultural work ceased.

But what does the word Yovel mean? Onkoles fails to translate it and feels comfortable giving the Aramaic version of the word calling it Yuvla. Rashi on the other hand, did not live in a time and place in which Hebrew or Aramaic were spoken and therefore found the word more foreign to him. Sensitive to the fact that others might want an explanation of the word, Rashi seeks to tie the word Yovel to the word Ram in Hebrew. Rashi believed that the name stemmed from the ram horns trumpeted on Yom Kippur proclaiming the start of the Jubilee year. Ramban on the other hand believes that the word Yovel means freedom as in the freedom that was proclaimed with the Yovel year that allowed everyone to be free to live where they want and leave their masters.

While Shmitta is still observed in Eretz Yisrael today, the mitzvah of Yovel is not. The counting of the Yovel years has been largely forgotten and there are even arguments about how well observed it was even during the times of the Beis HaMikdash. Nevertheless, Rambam calculated the years and came up with an interesting number. According to him, the last Yovel was exactly ten years ago in 5765.

Most Rabbis believe that the mitzvah of Yovel is only when the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael. While we still do not have the majority of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, we did pass a milestone just a couple of years ago when Israel became the largest Jewish population center in the world with over six million Jews living here. If the demographics continue at the same pace, there is no doubt that in just a few years Rov HaAm will be living here with plenty of time to spare before the Ramba”M’s next Yovel four decades from now…

Shabbat Shalom!





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