In this week’s Torah portion, we learn a powerful lesson from the Biblical laws pertaining to slavery.
This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim, meaning “Civil Laws” (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18).
One of the laws discussed in Mishpatim relates to slavery. Although thankfully we don’t practice slavery nowadays, there still may be a few things we can learn from it. As a general rule, the longest a person could be held as a slave was six years. At the end of six years, slaves were set free.
But get this: What if the Jewish slave didn’t want to go free? Indeed, a Jewish master is obligated to treat his slave with extreme kindness. The slave gets it good. Good food. Good accommodations. He wants to stay! In the words of the Torah, the slave says, “I love my master…I do not want to go free!”
No problem. Well not a big one, at least.
A slave who wants to remain under the authority of his master at the end of his “term” is taken to court, where he declares his intention to remain under the authority of his master. His ear is then pierced as a form of punishment for his legitimate, albeit unbecoming, decision. As the Talmud says: “The ear that heard on Mount Sinai ‘you are to be slaves to Me’ and nevertheless chose to sell himself into slavery and then chose to remain in servitude when he had the opportunity to go free is deserving of punishment.”
Now here’s the Torah thought I want to share with you.
Not everything in life is black and white. Not everything is binding, not everything is absolute.
I think we can learn something from the episode of the slave-who-will-not-go-free. The Torah contains much wisdom and philosophy for us to choose from. In this case, the Torah wants the slave to go free, but surprisingly, offers a contingency plan if he should choose not to. Isn’t that remarkable? What the Torah is essentially doing is saying: “You have to do X! But if you choose not to, well, we can negotiate.”
Huh? What’s going on here?
The Torah is full of paths that we can choose for ourselves. The Torah will often prod us in the right direction, but it’s up to us to make the right choice. Although some choices are wrong, it doesn’t mean that they are bad. The lesson: Not everything in life is spelled out in the Torah. When it comes to decisions that are “gray” or “between the lines” we must stop and think about what God expects from us. Yes, sometimes we’ll be faced with an “ear piercing,” but that’s what God wants sometimes. A small dose of discomfort might make the next “six years” a little bit better.
To read more of Rabbi Enkin’s insights into each week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.