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Parsha Ponderings – Mishpatim


ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם: כי תקנה עבד עברי וגו’

These are the laws you shall place before them:

If you shall acquire a Hebrew slave etc.

With the Revelation behind them, it was now time for the Israelites to become acquainted with the laws of the Torah they had accepted. And thus, Moshe is instructed to immediately launch into a detailed presentation of rudimentary Torah law.

Beginning with…. slavery.


Is that a topic truly deserving of first place? Is the concept of slavery that central or the practice of slavery that prevalent to warrant its discussion being positioned uber alles?

Obviously, there is more to this.

Under Torah law, we learn as we read on, Hebrew slavery is to last no longer than six years. Unless, that is, a slave chooses to stay on once his original six-year term is up.

“If you shall acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall work for six years, and on the seventh, he shall go free gratis… And if the slave shall say, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I shall not go free’, then his master shall shall bring him to court, and then bring him to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.”

Why? Why can a slave not be sold originally for more than six years? Why must he explain his will to stay on for us to allow him to do so? Why do we pierce his ear on the door before allowing him to remain? Why does any of this make sense?

The human spirit detests subjugation. The human soul cannot bear bondage. As such, the Torah forbids slavery with no visible end in sight, for it is anathema to the human state, and therefore borders on the taking of life itself. Even one who has simply acclimated to slave life cannot be allowed to remain, for making peace with death does not allow one to take his own life. Only one who has come to love every detail of his life as a slave, to the point where he cannot fathom leaving the life he has come to cherish, is allowed to remain indefinitely. To such an individual, his slavery is no longer considered a state of subjugation. To him, there is nothing beyond the life in his master’s home from which he is being held back. Quite the contrary, taking him away from his master would be holding him back from the life he truly loves. Ripping him out of his beloved relationships would be the ultimate subjugation of his soul, the cruelest repression of his deepest passions. He is symbolically “nailed” to his master’s door, for pulling him past that threshold would be like forcibly severing body from ear.

The Jewish nation had just become the ultimate slave. From ear on in, their every move was to be governed by God, their every aspiration subject to His approval.

But how?

How can such absolute subjugation not go against the very grain of our human soul?

The answer is simple. We are to develop a deep love for every aspect of our Torah life, a deep relationship with every one of our Judaic affiliations, a deep affinity for every nuance of our Judaism. We are to become so enamored with all things Torah, that anything sub-Torahnean is to us subterranean.

We are to nail ourselves to God’s doorpost with pounding love, not crucify ourselves upon God’s doors feeling like we’ve been nailed.

Be captivated with Torah, and you will never feel held captive by it.

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