Our sedra of Behar concerns the Shmittah year; a year in which fields are to be left fallow and loans cancelled (conditions apply). The culmination of the Shmittah cycle is the fiftieth year; the Yovel - which is a ‘Shmittah rollover’ of sorts. The Yovel shares halachos with Shmittah vis-à-vis not working the land, but has the added dimension of the fact that when the Yovel comes along, slaves go free and land returns to its original owners (again, conditions apply; read the small print!). We are told (25:9) that on Yom Kippur of the Yovel year, a shofar is to be blown throughout the land, and this shofar-blowing even is allowed to take place on Shabbos (Rashi 25:9). Given that there is a specific mitzvah to blow the shofar in the Yovel year, one would assume that there is a connection between the shofar and the Yovel. Indeed, Rashi[1] tells us that the Yovel actually derives its name from the blowing of a shofar. A name defines a concept or object, so it would be fair to assume that the shofar is something integral within and essential to the concept of the Yovel year. What exactly is the connection between the shofar and the Yovel? The Sefer Hachinuch[2] explains what the ‘reason’ for the mitzvah of blowing shofar in the Yovel year is. He begins by saying that a Shofar stirs a person’s heart/emotions [it is a sound without a voice; a ‘scream’ which does not need words to convey a message]; hence its use in preparing the people for battle. And one would expect the Sefer Hachinuch to continue with something along the line of ‘the shofar is the vehicle through which we are moved and inspired to return to our roots, just like slaves return to freedom and land returns to its previous owners on the Yovel year.’ Had he said this, I could understand why Yovel is defined by the shofar; because the two concepts share complementary messages of return/repentance.
However, the Sefer Hachinuch does not say anything like this whatsoever. He specifically says that the blowing of the shofar on the Yovel has nothing to do with the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah each year; the latter is to remind ourselves of the akeidah, and instil within us love of and commitment to HaShem like Yitzchak Avinu had. And the former; what’s the idea of shofar on Yovel? Says the Sefer Hachinuch that it is to publicise the fact that each Jewish slave goes free (for free). Later, he defines the role of the shofar more clearly. He writes that it is not an easy task for people to free their slaves just like that; people find this difficult. Therefore, the shofar blast tells the people that everyone is in the same boat; everyone must free their slaves. It is the fact that everyone is faced with this same ‘hardship’ that comforts people and makes it easier to fulfil the mitzvah of allowing one’s slave to go free in the Yovel year. As the Sefer Hachinuch writes, ‘there is nothing that provides comfort and impetus to the hearts of man like the fact that many [other] people are in the same situation as him.’ Now, this is a beautiful and pragmatic approach to the shofar-blowing of the Yovel year. And the depth of understanding of human’s emotions is also far-reaching and significant; what the Sefer Hachinuch is essentially saying is that there are two parts to every personal problem: a) the problem, and b) the fact that you are the only one with that problem (I.e the feeling of loneliness and incapability of tackling the problem). Solving the latter makes the problem itself easier to cope with and to solve. However, it does not help us with our main question, namely what do Yovel and shofar have to do with each other that Yovel should get its name from the blowing of the shofar? If anything, the Sefer Hachinuch makes the question more difficult, because according to his explanation of the Yovel shofar-blowing, there seems to be no deep connection between the two; the shofar is just a pragmatic step to facilitate the people fulfilling the mitzvah of freeing their slaves on Yovel. So why does the Yovel derive its name from the shofar if there is really no apparent [deep] connection between the two?
The truth is that one could dodge the question somewhat if one takes on that the Sefer Hachinuch holds like the Ramban,[3] who argues with Rashi and holds that the word ‘Yovel’ does not refer to the shofar, but rather connotes ‘freeing.’ Thus, it refers to the freeing of the slaves. However, I would like to give another approach, which would align the Sefer Hachinuch even with Rashi’s opinion. This begins with an introduction.
Different mitzvos span different lengths of time. For example, the fast of Gedaliah is evidently shorter than Yom Kippur or Tisha B’av, and people find it easier as a result. On one level, the shorter the duration of a mitzvah, the easier the mitzvah is to fulfil, because the quicker it is ‘over and done with.’ And the converse is true too; the longer (or more frequent) the mitzvah is, the harder it can be to observe, the more essential it tends to be, and the more commitment is shown when one observes it. Other than mitzvos based in the mind (e.g. emunah, yiras HaShem, etc.) which are constant, Shmittah and Yovel are the longest continuous mitzvos we have; they each last for a whole year. Not only this, but they comprise of major shows of emunah and bitachon too; for someone to refrain from working their field for a year, relying on the promise that HaShem will ‘cover the costs,’ shows a serious amount of trust in HaShem. Indeed, their essential natures are reflected by that fact that Shmittah is the only mitzvah singled out as a cause of the curses (I.e. if we do not observe Shmittah) in parshas Bechukosai (26:43).[4] Therefore, a part of these mitzvos of Shmittah and Yovel is the fact that they are not so easy to observe; their length and concept means that it is a challenge for us to observe them. And as the mishna in Avos[5] tells us ‘according to the pain [in performing the mitzvah] is the reward;’ we receive greater reward for those mitzvos which are more difficult to perform. This is the key to answering our question. Taking the above points into account, one can suggest that even according to the Sefer Hachinuch, the concept of the shofar is essential to the Yovel year, and merit’s the Yovel to derive its name from the shofar. The reason is that the shofar being blown on the Yovel (as the Sefer Hachinuch explained) is as a result of the realisation that the laws of Yovel are a challenge; it is not easy to release slaves for free, or to refrain from working the land upon HaShem’s Command. And it is this notion of challenge and difficulty that is part of the essential nature of the mitzvah of the Yovel year. In short, the concept which connects shofar and Yovel is that fact that they revolve around the fact that this mitzvah is a challenge for us to perform. And, of course, we get more reward as a result of rising up to this challenge successfully.
One message to take out of this is the fact that HaShem realises that mitzvos can be a challenge for us. Indeed, mitzvos were designed to be challenging; growth comes about as a result of successfully standing up to challenges. But, there is a known concept that ‘the Torah was not given to angels,’ which means that HaShem does not give us tasks (mitzvos) which are impossible to fulfil. They might be hard, or require some effort, but they are never impossible. And the harder they are, the bigger the reward. Have a great Shabbos, [1] Rashi Vayikra 25:10 ‘yovel’ [2] Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 331 [3] Ramban Vayikra 25:10 [4] The Nesivas Shalom points this out [5] Pirkei Avos 5:26

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