“‘Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.’” — Leviticus 25:10

At the very heart of Judaism is the Sabbath — the only ritual ordained in the Ten Commandments. In a world where there are so many distractions, it is imperative to learn about and cherish the one day a week set aside for rest and contemplation, a day Jews call Shabbat. This is one of 12 devotions exploring the many lessons we can learn from this rich observance. For more teaching on the Sabbath, download our complimentary Bible study.

In a 1935 radio address, President Franklin Roosevelt said: “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic ... where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.” Indeed the Bible and the Judeo-Christian ethic have shaped and molded the American country into the mighty nation that it came to be.

This influence is especially evident in the opening line of the nation’s Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These sentiments are captured on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall with a direct quote from today’s verse: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” That liberty and equality are the rights of every human being are ideals that stem from the Bible and are the bedrock of American democracy.

Let’s look at the context of this ideal. This portion of the Bible deals with the occasion known as the Jubilee Year. Every 50th year would be a year of celebration. Slaves would go free. Property would go back to its original owner. People would return to their ancestral territory. Loans would be forgiven. Everyone would return to his or her original state of freedom and equality. The Jubilee Year was the great equalizer. No matter what had happened in the 50 years preceding the Year of Jubilee, it would return to its original state in the 50th year.

What’s the message for today?

On Saturday night, as the Sabbath ends, Jews perform a ritual to end the Sabbath called havdallah. By the light of a candle, we recite blessings over spices, fire, and wine. When we make the blessing over the fire, we turn our palms toward us and curl our fingers down. When our fingers are straight, they all stand at different heights. But when they are bent downward, they are all the same length. We remember this message and take it into our week – that we are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all worthy, wondrous, children of the Most High God.

As we go through this week, let us remember to treat everyone with honor and dignity. We are all equals. No one is below us and no one is above us – besides God. Let us serve as one nation under God indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all!

Learn more about the traditions and meanings of Shabbat in this free issue of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s Bible study series, Limmud (“study” in Hebrew), Shabbat:  A Day of Delight.

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