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ROLE REVERSAL

by Avraham Chaim Feldman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

One of the noteworthy aspects of the Yovel (Jubilee) year described in this week's Torah portion, is that all Jewish slaves automatically go free, regardless of their personal preference to go out on their own or not.

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One of the noteworthy aspects of the Yovel (Jubilee) year described in this week's Torah portion, is that all Jewish slaves automatically go free, regardless of their personal preference to go out on their own or not. This freedom begins with the sounding of the shofar on Yom Kippur. However from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, a surprising practice would be performed. The Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 8b) relates that during these ten days, the slave would become like a king in his master's home, being served delicacies and feasts and rejoicing with a crown upon his head, all the while his former master waiting on him and being at his disposal. Why does the Torah require such a reversal of roles? What benefit could possibly come from it? The former master will obviously be deeply humiliated at having to serve his own slave, and even the slave himself isn't going to get much pleasure out of it; he will most likely feel uncomfortable and awkward in his new position of power. But even more perplexing, why do these ten days of festivity have to be specifically assigned to the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as days of fear and repentance, reserved for solemn introspection, and definitely not the proper time for parties and lightheadedness?

Furthermore, the Torah explicitly states that the purpose of the Yovel year is to remind us that all the land belongs solely to Hashem and that we are merely visitors and residents on His property. By leaving our land uncultivated for a year's time, we acknowledge Hashem's total sovereignty. But how does the freeing of slaves during the Yovel year teach us the supremacy of Hashem? Especially the fact that the masters must dedicate all their time and energy to serve their slaves for ten days, leaving them with less time for the service of their real Master, seems puzzling.

Rabbi Mordechai Miller, a well-known Torah scholar and author in England, answers these questions with a fundamental idea based on the following passage from the Zohar, the basic work of the Kabbalah: "One who is bound to another human being is unable to accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven." This idea is also found at the end of this week's Torah portion, where Hashem declares, "For the Children of Israel are My servants, they are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 25:55). We see clearly from these sources that the subjugation to other human beings detracts from Man's service of Hashem. When someone is required to serve a human master, he can no longer focus on his duty to G-d; he is now subject to commandments from two different sources. The time that this idea must be most clearly understood is the period of ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The theme of Rosh Hashanah is acceptance of Hashem's unlimited power and rulership over His kingdom - the entire universe. This recognition must carry over to the final day of judgment, Yom Kippur.

At the onset of the Yovel year, every slave is freed from the service of his master. Suddenly thrust into the real world with the responsibility to fend for himself, the former slave finds himself in a new state of mind, one to which he is foreign. Ingrained deeply in his soul is the notion that there is a human master who will provide for his needs and who in turn must be served and obeyed.

Uprooting this mindset is the function of the ten day period of feasting and rejoicing at the expense of his master. By doing so, the former servant is ridding himself of the idea that anyone besides Hashem must be served. That same human master who just yesterday was the one to be served is now presented to the slave as a servant. How proper that this transition should occur during those ten days when the drive and focus is the service of Hashem alone.

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Avraham Chaim Feldman, a native Atlantan, is a junior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.

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