The inscription on the Liberty Bell is a verse from Leviticus, which is part of this week’s Torah portion: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.” (Leviticus 25:10)
(The Liberty Bell only has the words in bold, but I included the entire verse.)
If you take just the words that are on the bell, they say that we should proclaim liberty for all people. But that is not their original meaning. Freedom for all people is certainly a laudable thing, and something we should work toward.
But the original context of the verse was the commandment to free the slaves at the jubilee (yovail) year. This was a special commandment in which we are told to let our slaves go free. They belong to G-d, not to us.
Just as on Sabbath, we cease from changing the status of the world and acknowledge that the entire world belongs to G-d, so too do we cease to do farm work during every seventh and every 50th year. Just as during the sabbatical, we cease from planting and realize that we are merely “sharecroppers” who have permission to farm the owner’s land, but it is his, so too, during the jubilee year, the land returns to the original owners and the slaves are set free. This is meant to bring home the fact that we are all servants of the Holy One blessed be He, and no one else.
We think our livelihoods depend on our efforts. We believe the more we work, the better will be the results. Our tradition tells us otherwise. We succeed when we put our trust in G-d, the Source of all blessing.
Our mission is to acknowledge that the entire world belongs to Hashem. Once we recognize that crucial fact and behave accordingly, He will bless us with more than enough for our needs.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)