In today’s Torah reading we are told about the SHNAT HAYOVEL, the Jubilee Year. One of the commands states: UKRATEM DROR BA’ARETZ LECHOL YOSHVE’HA, “…and you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants…” (Lev. 25,10) This is a directive to free all Jewish slaves.
Slavery was permitted by the Torah because this was the normal practice of the time. We are told, however, that there were many restrictions upon the master. Elsewhere the Torah says if the master uses physical force and causes permanent damage, e.g. he knocks out the slave’s eye or tooth, he must set him free. This applies to Jewish and non-Jewish slaves equally. In the Jubilee year all Jewish slaves are to be set free, regardless of how many years they served.
If the Torah decrees that slaves should be set free, why does it state “you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants”? It should state, “you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all the slaves”. Why does it say “for all its inhabitants”?
In light of what was said above, that many restrictions were placed on the master, freeing the servant was also freeing the master from his many obligations. The Talmud tells us: KOL HAKONEH EVED IVRI KEKONEH ADON LE’ATZMO, “whoever buys a Hebrew slave is like buying a master for himself”. (Ked. 22a) Chazal explain, you should not eat white bread and he black bread; you drink old wine (which is better) and he new wine; you sleep on a feather bed and he on straw.
Hence the Torah uses the expression “for all its inhabitants”, because when the slave goes free the master is freed from all his responsibilities and commitments.
Another explanation may be given. When all the slaves are freed it changes the entire composition of the society. All Jews who were slaves and separated from their families and communities now go back and resume their lives. This has an impact on all of their family members, their friends and their society. It is a complete overhaul in the land of “all its inhabitants”.