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Behar–Bechukkotai

"And you shall proclaim release [dror] throughout the land for all its inhabitants" Leviticus 25:10

    The change that takes place in biblical Hebrew from one generation to another is a fascinating process. Words like "Israel", "holy" and even "God" have gone through a metamorphosis. Battles have been fought. Life and death have often revolved around the change in meaning. An example of this is the word dror (release), which occurs at the beginning of this week's Torah portion.

    It reappears millennia later on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as "liberty" in "Proclaim Liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants." The American Declaration of Independence is the product of the biblical mindset: human freedom is more than a hope, it can be achieved.

    In Yiddish this is known as Mashiach tzet, the messianic age. According to the Midrash and theTalmud, we are now in the messianic era. So why has the Messiah not come? The rabbis are unequivocal: because of our sins, all the years which should have been precursors to the messianic event have been lost. We have only ourselves to blame. Dror is still a dream but we have to wait for its fulfilment.

    Others would say that Messiah cannot be a person but a time. The messianic age can be brought about by our own efforts. All we have to do is work together.

    Others see the Messiah neither as a person nor as a time but as a place. The state of Israel, according to one view, is reshit tzimichat geulatenu, the "first flowering of our redemption". Some regard Israel as its fulfilment.

    However one enters this debate about the Zionist vision, we still come back to the meaning of dror. The Shabbat song Dror Yikra goes: "God calls freedom to every boy and girl." Is dror to be release in the sabbatical year or freedom for everyone everywhere? Or both?

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