In Parashat Behar, we read about the Shemita (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years that Israelite farmers and landowners were commanded to observe. Every seventh year, crops could not be planted and the land was allowed to rest. Every 50th year, land was returned to its original owner. Some rabbinic sages have taught that the purpose of the Shemita was to demonstrate to people that the earth belongs to God and is only entrusted to human beings. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Israel before 1948, taught that the purpose of the Jubilee Year was to bring about unity among people by restoring self-respect among the poor and closing the gap between the rich and the poor.
In the passage describing the Jubilee Year, we read: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). These words may be familiar because they were inscribed on the Liberty Bell, commissioned in 1752, and rung in the public square when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud. Scholars and sages have discussed what the word “liberty” means in the Torah verse. The Hebrew says d’ror, meaning release, and could be related to the word dar, meaning to dwell. Thus, the verse could mean that all people should be free to live wherever they wish.
But what does it mean to “proclaim” liberty? It could literally mean to shout out what we believe, or it could mean to live in such a way that we uphold freedom. That is how I understand this famous verse. We are all summoned to live in such a way that freedom for all people is upheld and protected.
We are nearing the end of the pandemic, a time of difficulty and restrained freedom for so many of us over the past 18 months. We are all on the threshold of a certain kind of freedom, ready to resume the fullness of our lives. In a sense, we are all summoned to “proclaim liberty” as we slowly move from confinement to freedom. For those of us returning to Ramah, we resume this freedom with great care, enormous happiness, tremendous hope and deep humility. We understand the enormous responsibility of creating a safe and secure dwelling for children and young adults. And, as we gather together as a kehilla, we understand that this new freedom is not only personal but also communal. It is up to us to work together to rebuild and strengthen our home- creating a place where we live by Jewish values, inspire one another, lead by example and consider what true liberty can mean. Let’s start our journey.
Amy Skopp Cooper is the National Ramah Associate Director and former Director of Ramah Nyack with decades of camp leadership experience. We are thrilled that Amy will be spending the summer at Ramah Galim, joining Rabbi Sarah and Alli as a visiting Camp Director.