Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy

Yericho. The first city the Jews conquered upon entering the Land of Israel. A group of seven kohanim took rams’ horns – “shofros yovlim” – blew on them, the people responded by blasting their own horns, and the city walls crumbled to the ground.

What’s the connection between shofros yovlim and crumbling walls? Why did one cause the other?

This week’s parsha contains the mitzvah of yovel, which every 50 years freed slaves and returned property to its original owner. What exactly does “yovel” mean?

According to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, it means “that which brings men and possessions home to the due place and order to which they really belong.” Thus the word “yevul” (produce), “that which the earth ‘brings home’ to its owner as tevu’ah.” Thus also the word “yaval” (canal, aqueduct), “by which water is brought where it is required.” Thus also the word “yovel” to describe a ram (see Rosh Hashana 26a), as the ram “is the leader of the flock, the one who ‘brings’ them to their pasturage.”

Yericho’s walls fell before the shofros yovlim because the sounds they blasted “were a call to the city, in the name of G-d, to surrender to or, if you like, to come back to its rightful owners” – i.e. the Jewish people.

May we be pious and bold enough to issue such a homecoming call again – to Gaza, Yericho, and every other piece of land in Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.