Hebrew In Israel | Yovel, Shofar and Freedom- Learn Torah

"...on Yom-Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land; and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you;" Leviticus 25:9.10

Hebrew In Israel | Yovel, Shofar and Freedom- Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

When you try to find a meaning of a word, sometimes the meaning cannot be found in a dictionary, but in a book of a different nature.  I was reading M. Weinfeld’s book on justice in the ancient world and found an interesting interpretation of the word יובל Yovel– Jubilee. 

Word meaning

Usually the word is explained as connected to the word Yuvlah in Aramaic, which is a ram—or to be more precise, a ram’s horn used to sound a blast on Yom Hakippurim to call freedom to the land (Lev 25:9).  We also find in Akkadian the word yabilu with the same meaning.

In a different context we find that the word was used in the ancient near east also as a symbol of freedom, but in a different way.  Another word that uses the same root is Yuval which is a stream of water (Ramban on the verse).  In Akkadian the word is yabilitu(m)-water conduit.  It is worth noting that the words yabilu/yabilitu are basically the same, but one is suffixed creating a different variant word.  The idea expressed in this image is that a free person is like a stream that can flow freely without being stopped.  Freedom was seen as not stopping a person from being who they are and what they want to do.

Whatever the original meaning might be, both are connected to the biblical practice (maybe to mean both), but I personally prefer the second because it touches on the actual meaning of what is being done (freedom), and not the sign that was used (Shofar).

Freedom Ideology

When looking through the bible, we can see that man is free, and that each person is free to live on their land and do as they wish.  The Ten Commandments and the laws of the Torah regulate human interaction, creating a system to allow people to live side by side.  However, the law of Yovel brings people back to their home and land, giving the families the possibility to return to who they are.

This principle is expressed through the idea of Deror as stated “וקראתם דרור בארץ- You will declare freedom in the land”(25:10).  Deror is the Hebrew word used to describe free birds, and expresses the principle of freedom to all people, and that control of others and their land is not the correct way life is to be conducted.  This principle of freedom is expressed in the symbolic acts in the cleansing ceremony of the Metsor’a (Lev 14:1-7).  Controlling land which God did not give you is not only theft, but also rebellion against God.  Nations were given land, and taking land from others, no matter how much time has passed, is against Torah law.

Land grant laws in the ancient world, meaning a land given by a king to a loyal servant, was given with the understood principle that the grant can never be taken away. Hence the land given to the tribes of Israel and their descendants is eternal and unchangeable.  Any control of land not belonging to the original family or person is only a rental of land, and never ownership.

As a result of the above we understand better the promise of the Torah in Lev 26:42-45  that no matter what YHWH will return his people to the land even after several generations.

וְזָכַרְתִּי, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי יַעֲקוֹב; וְאַף אֶת-בְּרִיתִי יִצְחָק וְאַף אֶת-בְּרִיתִי אַבְרָהָם, אֶזְכֹּר–וְהָאָרֶץ אֶזְכֹּר.   וְהָאָרֶץ תֵּעָזֵב מֵהֶם וְתִרֶץ אֶת-שַׁבְּתֹתֶיהָ, בָּהְשַׁמָּה מֵהֶם, וְהֵם, יִרְצוּ אֶת-עֲונָם; יַעַן וּבְיַעַן בְּמִשְׁפָּטַי מָאָסוּ, וְאֶת-חֻקֹּתַי גָּעֲלָה נַפְשָׁם.  וְאַף-גַּם-זֹאת בִּהְיוֹתָם בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם, לֹא-מְאַסְתִּים וְלֹא-גְעַלְתִּים לְכַלֹּתָם לְהָפֵר בְּרִיתִי אִתָּם:  כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיהֶם.   וְזָכַרְתִּי לָהֶם, בְּרִית רִאשֹׁנִים:  אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְעֵינֵי הַגּוֹיִם, לִהְיוֹת לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים, אֲנִי יְהוָה

 “then I will remember my covenant with Ya‘akov, also my covenant with Yitz’chak and my covenant with Avraham; and I will remember the land. For the land will lie abandoned without them, and it will be paid its Shabbats while it lies desolate without them; and they will be paid the punishment for their misdeeds, because they rejected my rulings and loathed my regulations. Yet, in spite of all that, I will not reject them when they are in the lands of their enemies, nor will I loathe them to the point of utterly destroying them and thus break my covenant with them, because I am YHWH their God. Rather, for their sakes, I will remember the covenant of their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt — with the nations watching — so that I might be their God; I am YHWH.’”



בילק אלקנה, דרור, אנציקלופדיה מקראית, ירושלים, 1954

לוינשטאם ש.מ, יובל, אינצקלופדיה מקראית, ירושלים, 1965

קדרי מנחם צבי, מילון העברית המקראית, רמת-גן, 2007

Weinfeld Moshe, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East, Jerusalem, 1995


Originally Published: 27 October 2014

Photo of the Yizrael and Zevulun valleys from Mount Carmel, by Yoel Halevi

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