Yovel on Yom Kippur – Alarm to Freedom

BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN

Every year, stories of trepidation and anticipation for salvation overwhelm us as we approach Yom Kippur following forty days of introspection and repentance. Since the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War fifty years ago, these sentiments have only deepened. Still flashing before our eyes while we pray are images of young men with tallit-covered heads racing out of shuls throughout the country to respond to military alarms. This year’s commemoration of fifty years since the Yom Kippur War resonates personally as I was born just a few months before the war’s outbreak. 

How appropriate it is to commemorate the Yovel anniversary of the Yom Kippur War on the day when we traditionally pronounce the beginning of the Yovel – i.e., on Yom Kippur! “You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – so that the seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded throughout your Land.” (Vayikra 25:8–9). Seven cycles of counting shemitta years sensitize us to recognize Hashem as the owner of the Land, preparing ourselves for rebirth in the jubilee year. Shofar blasts herald the fiftieth year that will transform the status quo. Ancestral lands that have been sold are returned to their initial owners, and all servants are set free. The blowing of the shofar on Yom Kippur does not merely proclaim a fleeting message to indentured slaves but rejuvenates “all the inhabitants of the Land” for an entire year of deror – liberty, as we return to our national, religious and societal roots.

The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 3:5) and Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 33b) compare and contrast the various instruments and sounds of the shofarot of Tishrei. Most Rishonim maintain that on Rosh Hashanah there is a mitzvah to hear the shofar blasts as a call to teshuva which bring the prayers of the nation to Hashem. The Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, #137) notes that the mitzvah of shofar on Yom Kippur of a Yovel year, however, is a mitzvah of blowing, incumbent upon every individual: It is well-known that this shofar blowing for the jubilee is only to publicize the emancipation, and is part of the proclamation mandated by the verse: ‘And you shall proclaim liberty in the Land.’ It is not like the shofar blowing of Rosh Hashanah, which is ‘a remembrance before G-d,’ but rather designates the freeing of servants…

Regarding Yovel, the Torah mentions the blowing of the shofar twice, first in the singular and then in the plural. The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 9b) rules that there is a double obligation; first the court blows the shofar, then each individual. The Chinuch (Mitzvah 331) explains that while the court’s shofar blowing on Yom Kippur of a Yovel year notifies the public, each master must also blow the shofar individually as a reminder to release his servants. The courts blow the shofar first to recognize and proclaim the communal message and then each individual master must realize his limitations and allegiance to G-d and release his servants. These messages resonate loudly as we commemorate the Yovel of the Yom Kippur War. We are reminded of the sirens of fifty years ago, which like the shofar blasts of Yovel, humbled us after the hubris of the Six-Day War, recognizing our vulnerabilities and dependence on Hashem for our personal and national freedom.

The Chinuch further highlights the role of peer pressure as a powerful motivator; when masters hear the shofar blasts of many people, they are called to do the same as they emancipate their slaves. The cacophonous sounds of the numerous shofarot echo the dissonance they feel and force them to reevaluate their personal values as social disruption ensues. Every Yovel year, and particularly this one, awakens us to the sounds of our surroundings, beckoning us to redefine our national experiences and respond with humility. This message, explains Rav Hirsch (Vaykira 25:9) is apparent in the two shofar sounds blown to herald Yovel – the staccato teruah and the unwavering tekiah: “This call is sounded in the Name of G-d by the Great Court, which represents the nation as a whole; it is then continued by every one of the people and spreads throughout the Land. For it is a call from G-d into the midst of the country. It calls everyone and everything to the Master of all. Its purpose is to release the shackles of social bondage, in which everything is bound, teruah. And it restores everything to pristine social conditions, tekiah.”

May this Yovel of the Yom Kippur War awaken, restore and revive brotherhood, unity and humility!

 

Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educators’ Program. 

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