This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Behar contains the commandments of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years: “Count for yourself seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times…and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year.” Every seventh year is a Sabbatical year; the fiftieth is a Jubilee. Then the cycle begins anew.
Concerning the Jubilee year the Torah states, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” According to the Talmud, this means that there can only be a Jubilee year “when all its inhabitants” are living in the land. Thus, “When the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half of Menashe were exiled, the Jubilee was abolished.”
Nonetheless, the Talmud relates that in the times of the Second Holy Temple the fiftieth year was still officially sanctified, even though the mitzva of the Jubilee was no longer in effect. This was done to maintain the same cycle as before, i.e., with the counting commencing again in the fifty-first year.
After the Second Temple was destroyed (and during the Babylonian exile), the fiftieth year ceased to be sanctified. The cycle of counting Sabbatical years began on the fiftieth year itself.
Thus, there have been three ways of relating to the Jubilee.
Chasidic philosophy explains that the Sabbatical and Jubilee years are symbolic of spiritual levels in a Jew’s service of G-d:
The Sabbatical year relates to the negation of the sense of self. The person perceives himself as an individual, yet willingly nullifies himself before G-d.
The Jubilee year relates to a higher level, of freedom from all limitations, a level that will be realized in the Messianic era.
This also explains why the Sabbatical year applies today, whereas the mitzva of the Jubilee was only fully observed during the First Temple period. The very highest level of spirituality could only be attained at a time when the Divine Presence was manifested in the world so strongly.
The Second Temple period was somewhere in the middle. G-dly revelation illuminated the world, but in a less obvious manner. The Jubilee was therefore counted and sanctified but not observed.
The lowest level occurred after the Destruction, when it was no longer possible to even comprehend the intense spirituality of the Jubilee and it ceased to be counted.
Today, our service consists of “only” accepting the yoke of heaven and nullifying the ego, but in a sense this gives us the greatest advantage, as it enables us to access the soul’s essence. It also helps us prepare for the Sabbatical of the Messianic era, may it commence at once. Moshiach NOW!!!