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49http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2011/05/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---05_13_2011
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 05_13_2011
05/13/2011 08:30 AM Posted by:

From the Desk
May 13, 2011

                In Leviticus 25, we find one of the most famous verses in the Hebrew Bible. Strangely, we don't know it from the Bible as much as we do from American history. Our founding fathers identified Leviticus 25:10, as the emblematic phrase of the future of America, and inscribed it on the Liberty Bell. You know it, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

                To students of American history, the bell was rung to mark the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. For new Americans, the Biblical verse was more than a memorable passage. The fathers were learned men and knowledgeable of their Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, as they would have called them. Their translation used the word “liberty” and it meant freedom from the tyranny of England, or any king or despot, forever. Their freedom began with the Bible's promise of liberty fulfilled in a new land, a Promised Land.

                To students of Jewish history, the Biblical phrase chosen for the Liberty Bell is important for two reasons. First, there is a certain satisfaction to be had for the choice of a Torah verse on such an iconic American fixture. Second, any student of Biblical Hebrew will tell you that the translation of the text does not give us “liberty” but rather “release”. In the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation, the verse is rendered, “You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” The significance of this translation is found in the latter part of Lev. 25:10, where we read, “It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family.” It was a period of release when all slaves were set free, and all debts forgiven. The chapter ends, “For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants; they are My servants, whom I freed from the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.”

                The Liberty Bell sits in Philadelphia. Its purpose still resonates with us as Jews and as Americans. Every effort to defeat terrorism and every trial in the name of freedom and democracy is a small echo of the bell's symbolism. Our commitment to be servants to no one but God, is satisfied for many people, but not for most people for whom there is no echo of any liberty bell. This week, at the Holocaust Museum Houston's gala fundraiser, which raised $1.1 million, Mia Farrow, actress and human rights activist, spoke movingly and genuinely about her role in Darfur. She emphasized that the rampant destruction of life there compelled her to try in whatever way she could to call attention to the genocide of a people. She is making a difference. Her lesson for us is an extension of what Holocaust Museum Houston tries to teach everybody about tolerance and humanity following the atrocities of the Shoah. I listened attentively to her words, and understood why she was chosen to receive the Moral Courage Award from the Museum.

                  For us, Jews and Americans, we have been reared on freedom and liberty. We have learned in the best schools and been taught how to be great Americans. We wave our flags, we pay our taxes, and we thank God we live in the greatest country that ever was in all of history. But, being an American is not simply a reward for being fortunate enough to have been born here or to have arrived here. It is a privilege to protect and defend so that others who strive to be free may also find their way here and build our nation with us, hand in hand. As we read Torah on the Liberty Bell, let's also read the words of Emma Lazarus, a Jewish woman, whose poem is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

                   From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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