Upon hearing the words, "presidential election," many of us respond with a sigh. November still seems a long way off, but it reminds us that this particular campaign has been long and drawn-out. Voting may seem to be simply a means to an end - something we long to do to end the protracted campaign. But while acknowledging election fatigue, it is also important to remember what an amazing privilege it is (and will be in November) to vote. When we travel to our polling place, we do not fear bloodshed or loss of life, as so many do in countries around the world. We have access to exhaustive information prior to the election, whereas in so many nations, elections are simply an illusion of liberty and democracy.
Voting is a tangible reminder of the liberty we enjoy as Americans. And as Jews, we are reminded of the intersection between the Torah and American values by an excerpt from Leviticus 25:10, "You shall proclaim liberty throughout the Land to all the inhabitants thereof."
This excerpted verse was selected by the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly to be inscribed on the Liberty Bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges. Penn's charter, Pennsylvania's original Constitution, speaks of the rights and freedoms valued by people the world over. By reading this verse in its entirety, we see why our forefathers chose this verse for the bell:
"And you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holdings and each of you shall return to his family."
Because it was the jubilee year of the Charter of Privileges, it made sense to choose a verse that connected to both the anniversary of the Charter and the values exemplified in it.
The translation of this verse is from the New Standard Revised Version (NSRV), a Christian translation. It is fascinating to note the difference between the NSRV translation of the verse and the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation, "You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants." What is the difference between liberty and release?
By returning to the context of the entire verse, we see that the word, "jubilee" frames the heart of the verse. Jubilee is a Biblical concept that makes sense in the context of slavery. Therefore, the translation, "release," (related to the Hebrew root meaning to dwell) relates more directly to the context of slavery. Slaves are released and permitted to live where they wish. Rashi the medieval French commentator reminds of us this in his commentary on this verse.
However, many of us consider freedom without considering the context of how that freedom came about. But our ancient narrative of redemption from slavery in Egypt and the modern narrative of the founding of the State of Israel remind us how important it is to keep this idea of "release" front and center in our hearts and minds.
As we approach the final months of this presidential campaign, and we anticipate exercising our privilege to vote, may we keep alive the core idea of these narratives - that our freedom could not be possible without others having been "released" from slavery and oppression.