Parshas Mishpatim

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Parshas Mishpatim

Down and out on your luck without a penny to spare? There’s an easy solution. Just sell yourself as a slave! Although an uncommon practice nowadays, it was seemingly common many years ago to sells one’s self as a slave in order to live. There were people who had no solution for livelihood other than to sell themselves as slaves (also one who stole and couldn’t afford to repay would also be sold as slave to work off the damage). And although it might seem like a bad gig, the Torah is very explicit on how the master must treat his slave. In some cases, the slave might even want to stay. One of the rules of slavery is that the slave may only stay for six years. After this time period, the slave is free to go back to his old life. However, there are those slaves that desired to remain with their master. For them, the Torah allows an extended six year stay, with a certain condition. In order to remain as a slave for the extra time, the slave must first get his ear pierced by the master.

Rashi brings down a very intriguing Gemorah. The Gemorah brings a question from Rav Yochanon ben Zakai as to why the ear out of all the different limbs was picked to be the one pierced by the master. Rav Yochanon ben Zakai answers that “this ear that heard on Mount Sinai that the Jewish nation are slaves to me (the Almighty) and nevertheless went and acquired for himself a master, pierce it”. At first glance, this seems like a simple and satisfactory answer. But if you take a deeper look into it, it’s not simple at all. Think about it, when did this person acquire for himself a master? Six years earlier! Why wait six years to punch a hole in his ear? Get it over with right away and finished. Why only when this slave decides to stay does the master pierce his ear? Furthermore, if selling one’s self as a slave is such a terrible thing, why is it allowed in the first place? By allowing slavery, it’s almost as if to say that it’s completely ok. So why now does it switch to being not ok?

It seems that the Torah is teaching us an extremely important lesson from this. When this person first sells himself as a slave, it’s out of desperation. We’re dealing with someone down and out, and in need of a livelihood fast. Becoming a slave in such an instance is not a sign of disloyalty to the Almighty, but a desperation move to stay alive. But what about six years later? If this “slave” decides to stay, that is a clear sign that his decision wasn’t merely a way out, but a way of life. By wanting to stay, he is showing that this is my master, and I want to keep it that way. If that’s the case, H-m says pierce his ear and teach him a lesson. One must never lose sight of the fact that our servitude as Jewish people is to the Almighty only, and to no one else. All that a Jew does is out of servitude and loyalty to H-m, without exception. To become a slave to someone else is stating I am no longer under the Almighty’s jurisdiction ch”v. Therefore, this slave needs a good ear pierce, to symbolize not listening to the Almighty’s declaration on Mount Sinai that the Jewish nation are slaves to H-m only. A Jew’s servitude is to the Almighty, even if his broom is to his master!

 

GOOD SHABBOS!

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