Freedom vs. Liberty by Yosef Aryeh Kahan


In Parashat BeHar, Hashem commands the Jewish people to count seven years and to make the seventh year a Shemitah year (VaYikra 25:4). The Jews are also commanded that after counting seven cycles of seven years, the fiftieth year should be a Yovel year (25:8). This is very similar to the process of counting the Omer, which is commanded in Parashat Emor (23:15-16), in which seven cycles of seven days must be counted, and the fiftieth day is Shavuot. However, there is one small difference between the Torah’s deliveries of these two commands. When talking about counting Omer, the Torah states, “USefartem Lachem,” “And you shall count for yourselves” (Vayikra 23:15), whereas when talking about Yovel, the Torah states “VeSafarta Lecha,” “And you shall count for yourself” (25:8). Why is it that by one commandment, the Torah refers to the people in the plural, whereas in the other, the Torah refers to the people in the singular?

This is a question Rav Shmuel Goldin tries to answer in his book Unlocking the Torah Text. To understand the reason for this discrepancy between the two counts, one must look at a theme that is expressed in both commandments: freedom. Within “freedom,” there are two types of freedom – Deror and Cheirut. Deror refers to becoming free from a constraint that prevents one from making choices and decisions about one’s life; it can be given to someone by someone else or achieved by an individual’s freeing himself from whatever is constraining him. This is a spiritual freedom, and one must achieve it by himself. When discussing freeing slaves and returning land during Yovel, the Torah states, “UKeratem Deror BaAretz LeChol Yosheveha,” “And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all of the inhabitants thereof” (25:10). The Torah uses the word “Deror” here to describe what is happening – the land is returned, and slaves are freed. Nonetheless, this is merely giving people the freedom to control their lives. This freedom is granted by society to slaves, and so, when referring to the count, the Torah uses the singular “Lecha” to refer to society as a whole. However, the Omer refers to a different kind of freedom: Cheirut. The Omer count leads to Shavuot, when the Jews were given spiritual freedom by receiving the Torah. This idea is emphasized in Pirkei Avot (6:2). According to Shemot (32:16), the Luchot had the word of Hashem “Charut,” engraved, in them. The Mishnah writes that this word should be read as “Cheirut,” because to be truly free, one must study the Torah. This spiritual freedom can be achieved only by an individual. It is a personal quest to achieve this freedom, and therefore when talking about it, the Torah uses the plural “Lachem,” because it is a command to each individual to find freedom.

Yovel and Omer deal with two different types of freedom. Yovel is a reminder to society to grant freedom to the people in the form of Deror. The Omer and Shavuot are reminders to Bnei Yisrael that they must seek freedom in the form of Cheirut,and it is a task which only they can do for themselves.

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