11. The Jubilee, Repentance, and Freedom

Repentance frees a person from the chains that bind him, allowing his soul to express itself freely. For repentance is a striving for divine freedom and liberation that is free from any enslavement (Orot Ha-teshuva 5:5 and 7:4).

In the natural way of things, a person follows his evil inclinations – pursuing lust and arrogance, anger and jealousy, sloth and fame – because they offer him quick gratification. Once he starts being drawn to them, he becomes enslaved to them. True, his inner self still longs for truth and goodness, but it is very difficult for him to actualize them, because he is already addicted to fulfilling his urges. His soul is chained and made to suffer.

By repenting, one is liberated, one can express his true desires. The soul is freed from the bonds of the evil inclination and begins to illuminate his path. His life force is strengthened. This is what our Sages mean when they say, “The only free person is one who studies Torah” (Avot 6:2). For the Torah guides a person on the true and right path. Through it, one can actualize all his positive aspirations: the divine ideals for which his soul longs.

Thus, Yom Kippur is also a day of freedom, as we see from the mitzva of the Jubilee (Yovel). In the natural course of events, sometimes people are forced to sell their land, whether due to laziness, lust, or other troubles. Sometimes they are even forced to sell themselves into slavery. The Torah teaches people to be industrious and not allow themselves to give in to their desires and become enslaved to debt. Nevertheless, some people are overcome by their urges. They mortgage their future for a fleeting present, and ultimately, they sell their fields and enslave themselves. God has pity on them and even more so on their families, so He gave us the mitzva of the Jubilee, the fiftieth year, when all Jewish slaves go free and all fields return to their original owners. We read:

You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall blast the shofar loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall sound the shofar throughout your land, and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family…. In this year of Jubilee, you shall return, each to his estate. (Vayikra 25:8-13)

The day that the Torah sets for slaves to go free and for fields to return to their ancestral owners is Yom Kippur, as we read, “Then you shall blast the shofar loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month.” Rambam codifies this:

In the period between Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur, slaves did not yet go home, nor were they enslaved to their owners, nor did the fields return to their owners. Rather, slaves ate and drank and rejoiced while wearing crowns (of freedom). Once Yom Kippur arrived and the beit din blew the shofar, slaves were sent home and fields were returned to their owners. (MT, Laws of Shemita and Yovel 10:14)

As a commemoration of the shofar-blasts of the Jubilee, the custom in every Jewish community is to blow the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur (R. Hai Gaon). For each year, on Yom Kippur, Israel experiences liberation, as on the Jubilee. Our freedom from enslavement to evil urges is akin to the freedom of emancipated slaves. The return of the body to the soul is like the return of a field to its owner. When a person gives in to his urges, the body disconnects from the soul, enslaves itself to foreign desires, and squanders its strength on alien transgressions. But through the repentance of Yom Kippur, the body is restored to the soul, and they can rejoice together in the joy of a mitzva as they reveal God’s word in the world. Through this, a person attains a good and blessed life.

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