Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mishpatim. The First Civil Law- How to Treat an Eved.

Parshas Mishpatim introduces the Torah's laws of money matters.  The first subject is the involuntary servitude of a thief.  A thief that cannot make restitution is sold, and the proceeds of the sale are given to the victim of his theft (See Rambam 2 Avadim 2-3, Tanna Kamma in Kiddushin 14b.) The main focus of this section is on the rights of the servant- that despite the moral degradation that led to his  ignoble servility, while he is under your control you must treat him with respect, and his term of servitude cannot exceed six years, and when he leaves after six years you must give him a parting gift.

Why is this the first of the civil laws to be taught?  Is there something fundamental about this particular law?

The most straightforward answer is that a society is not judged on the basis of how it treats it's most honored members.  It is judged on the basis of how it treats the weak and the despised, the humble and the humiliated.  The Torah is telling us to remember that no matter what stratum of society a person occupies, he is entitled to respect and protection.

There are three other answers I found very interesting;  The first two reveal something about people, and the third is an interesting thought about the Ribono shel Olam's Hashgacha.

Here are the first two.
Rav Sorotzkin in his Aznaim LaTorah says (from one of his sons) that it was vital that we be taught to be kind to avadim at this specific moment.  History (the Workers' Revolution, the French Revolution) shows that freed slaves, liberated serfs, those that manage to push the cruel boot of oppression off their necks, become the most vicious masters.  They remember how they suffered and they say "I suffered terribly for years, I still remember how I froze and I starved and I worked like an animal, and nobody cared, and now you can suffer."  It was at the moment they were leaving servitude that Hashem had to tell them "No!  When you become masters, show kindness and sympathy.  Leave behind the resentment and anger, and learn what a Jewish master is supposed to be."

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the Maharil Diskin.  The Maharil Diskin says that that they were taught this law davka at this point because having suffered so terribly, they were completely receptive to the lesson that they should be kind to their slaves.  They deeply understood and appreciated this lesson because it resonated with their own feelings.  They naturally felt that if they ever were in the position of being masters, that they would be different than the Egyptians, their wicked oppressors.  This, the first lesson of civil law, struck a chord of harmony with their feelings, and they understood it very emotionally and deeply.

Chaim B. sent in that Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz takes the same approach in 5731:4.  It's hard for the master to free his slave after six years because he loses sight of the slave's humanity, he is blind to the slave's desire for freedom and views him only as a revenue-producing commodity whose loss is a hit to the balance sheet. Therefore, the Torah used the moment when Bnei Yisrael had the greatest appreciation for the meaning of freedom to give them this mitzvah - the roshem of leaving avdus would stay with them forever and help them keep the proper perspective.

Please note that these two answers are diametrically opposed.  Rav Sorotzkin says that a freed slave will be predisposed to tyranny, and they had to be warned not to give in to this base instinct.  Rav Diskin says that a freed slave will naturally understand how right and good it would be to be kind to others when the tables are turned, and they received this lesson with joy and understanding.  Opposite answers!  Completely incompatible!  Upon reading these two pshatim, one is tempted to saw that if one is true, the other must be false, that one of these is מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה!

Giving in to this temptation would obscure a fascinating insight.  The fact is that both phenomena exist, and both interpretations are true.  People react differently to personal suffering.  Some people suffer, and they come out like angels.  Some suffer, and it turns them into devils.  The Torah is written for everyone, and speaks to both groups with one halacha.  The "angels" are told to nurture their empathy, and the "devils" are warned that they need to fight their tendency to act out their resentment for their suffering.

When you read the two answers, I would wager that one answer seemed right to you and the other seemed forced.  Now you know which group you would probably be in.  

great Unknown sent in a nice variation on this idea:
"There is no dispute among the pshotim. Rav Sorotzkin [Jr] points out that the tendency to cruelty is buried in the former slave's psyche. It is a potential for evil that will be manifested in the future - despite [as he writes] the person's current certainty that he would never be as cruel as his former masters. This had to be headed off.
But how to ingrain the lesson into the deepest level of the Jewish psyche? Do this, Rav Diskin answers, by explicitly formalizing and emphasizing their current generous emotions. Thus, those feelings would enter into the depths of their nefoshos, to combat the natural evil tendency discussed by Rav Sorotzkin. 
This is the thrust of the Sichos Mussar."

Another commenter anonymously sent in pretty much the same thing as gU.  
"The moment of emancipation always fills the liberated people with warm feelings of relief and happiness and love for all the others that also have suffered.  With the passage of time, the euphoria wears off, and after the person faces the inevitable challenges of adjusting to his new reality, these feelings might fade and be replaced with a bitterness and a resentment towards others.  So the Ribono shel Olam seized that initial moment of happiness to teach us about how to treat avadim.  At that moment, Klal Yisrael was fully receptive, and the lesson was absorbed emotionally and intellectually so deeply that it lasted even after the return to the hardships of reality that might otherwise have twisted the positive emotions into their opposite."

Another very nice enhancement was added by another anonymous commenter.  He said out that one does not need to say that these are two different groups of people (or even that it is the same people at different times).  The truth is that every human being has within him both of these traits, but one of them is dominant.  The Torah is talking to the two sides of the human personality simultaneously, along the lines of בשני יצריך.  The Ribono shel Olam created us with both, and the Torah addresses both.

The answers we discussed above revolve around one basic thought: that the Jews were ending two hundred years during which their primary identity was "Avadim."  The moment had come when they were liberated and reborn as a free people.  The most appropriate law to teach them was how to treat a fellow Jew who becomes an Eved.

The next answer is categorically different.  Instead of focusing on human nature, it teaches a profound lesson in hashkafa- on the dynamics of Hashem's relationship with Klal Yisrael, and Klal Yisrael's relationship with their environment.

The Satmarer in his Vayoeil Moshe here brings from the Yerushalmi in Rosh Hashanna 3:5 that not only was this parsha the first of the monetary laws that is taught in the Torah, but it was actually taught to the Jews while they were still in Egypt.  (Eli points out that this is more than a Yerushalmi, it was said in our haftara by Yirmiahu Hanavi!   אנכי כרתי ברית את אבותיכם ביום הוצאי אותם מארץ מצרים מבית עבדים לאמר מקץ שבע שנים תשלחו)   He explains that Parsha of Avadim begins with the law that a slave sold involuntarily must be freed after no longer than six years.  The reason this law was so important was because this parsha served as a stimulus:  without the stimulus of "the law of freeing slaves" being taught to Klal Yisrael, Yetzias Mitzrayim could not have taken place  In order for the Geula to take place, in order to prime the teva for the nissim of Yetzias Mitzrayim, Klal Yisrael had to have the portion of the Torah that spoke of Shichrur Avadim.  It is only the zechus of the Torah that enables such a great miracle.  Specifically, it had to be the portion of the Torah that imparts to the world the kedusha and ruchnius of how to treat an eved.  The catalyst for Yetzias Mitzrayim was learning the parsha of Shilu'ach Avadim.

(Another commenter, unfortunately anonymous, tells us that "The Meshech Chochma, Shmos 6:13 [taryag] goes one step beyond the Va'yo'el Moshe and says that the halacha was noge'ah l'ma'aseh even in mitzrayim. Also note that according to this, shiluach avadim was given to klal yisroel before hachodesh hazeh lachem.")

A very similar thought can be found in the Ohr Hachaim.  The Ohr Hachaim in Breishis 21:1, discusses the story of Avimelech and his household being afflicted after Avimelech took Sarah, and Avraham and Sarah praying that they be cured.  After this episode, the Torah says that Hashem remembered Sara as He had promised, and she became pregnant.  Chazal say that if a person who needs an answer from Hashem prays for another who needs the same thing, the need of the one who prays is answered first.  Here, too, since the house of Avimelech was cursed with the inability to have children, when Avraham and Sara prayed for him they were answered first.  The Ohr Hachaim says the following:  Of course Hashem would have remembered His promise to Sara with or without Avimelech.  But Hashem's promise was that He would arrange for Avraham and Sara to have a mitzva whose Segula was that Sara become pregnant: הזמין לו מצוה שסגולתה שיפקד ובזה נתקיימה הבטחתו.  Again:   it wasn't a simple promise "I will do X and Y."  The promise was that when the time comes, "I will arrange that a mitzva whose metaphysical effect is the fulfillment of the promise will present itself."  If you take advantage of the mitzva, good.  If not, tough.

This Ohr Hachaim is similar to what the Satmarer said.  Hashem promises.  But the promise is that you will have the opportunity to earn what He promised.  Also, it echoes the idea that Rav Feivelsohn said, as I wrote about here, that even a bracha that Hashem fulfills requires that you be mispallel so that the bracha will actualize.

The Vilner Gaon uses this hashkafa-concept in one of his classic pshatim.  I enjoy the Yiddish, so I'm putting the whole thing here in Yiddish, but the relevant part of the Gaon's vort is at the end in simple Hebrew.   (I got it from here.) 
מסכת בבא קמא (דף ל”ז ע”א): שור של ישראל שנגח לשור של כנעני פטור. און דאס איז דערפאר ווייל מיר דרשנען שור רעהו ולא שור של עכו”ם.

שטעלט זיך א קשיא פון די וואכעדיקע סדרה, ווען דער אויבערשטער זאגט צו משה רבינו: “דבר נא באזני העם וישאלו איש מאת רעהו”, וואס דא מיינט דאך “רעהו” די מצריים, זעהט מען דאך אז רעהו קען מיינען אויך עכו”ם?

איז דא א געוואלדיקער חידוש פונעם ווילנער גאון, צו ערשט איז ער מקדים צוויי אנדערע קשיות אין די פסוקים, קודם כל פארוואס האט די אויבערשטער געדארפט אנזאגן דבר נא באזני העם אין נא אלא לשון בקשה, פארוואס דארף מען בעטן מיט א לשון בקשה, ווער וואלט נישט מסכים געווען צו בארגן כלי כסף וכלי זהב, און נאך א קשיא אויפן פסוק ובני ישראל עשו כדבר משה וישאלו ממצרים כלי כסף וכלי זהב וגו’ שרייבט רש”י כדבר משה שאמר להם וישאלו איש מאת רעהו, וואס האט דא רש”י צוגעלייגט וואָס שטייט נישט אין פסוק?

זאגט דער הייליקער ווילנער גאון א מוראדיקער דערהער בזה הלשון:

ויש לומר דלא היה ביכולתם לעשות כזאת, אם לא אשר מקודם יכופו את יצרם לעשות חסד איש עם רעהו ואזי עולם חסד יבנה, וישפיעו מדת החסד בעולם, גם על המצריים, ועל ידי זה ויתן ה’ את חן העם בעיני מצרים וגו’, ולפי זה מה שנאמר ‘רעהו’ הכונה לישראל, ושפיר שייך בזה לשון בקשה, לפי זה מיושבים היטב דברי רש”י, דכתיב ובני ישראל עשו כדבר משה במה שאמר להם במצרים וישאלו איש מאת רעהו, דהיינו כי בני ישראל עשו חסד זה לזה על ידי שאלה, ועל ידי זה וישאלו ממצרים כלי כסף וגו’ וה’ נתן את חן העם בעיני מצרים וישאלום.

The point is that the request of וישאלו איש מאת רעהו was not that they initially borrow from the Mitzrim.  There was no way on Earth the Egyptians would have been willing the lend them anything bederech hateva, and the word רעהו would not have been used to to Klal Yisrael to describe their Egyptian neighbors.  The Mitzva was that the Jews should borrow from each other.  Once they did this chesed, once they put into the briyah the kiyum of the mitzva of lending and chesed, it engendered the midda of chesed in the world and elicited similar feelings from the Mitzrim, and they became willing to lend the Jews with an open hand.

This basic Hashkafa concept is the same in the Gaon, the Ohr Hachaim, and the Satmarer Rov.  Sometimes, when the Ribono shel Olam wants to grant us a bracha, Hashem gives us a mitzva to do that is in some way related to the desired event, and the Zechus of doing that Mitzva brings about the Bracha.
When Hashem wanted Sara to have a child, He arranged that Sara have the Mitzva of praying for the afflicted household of Avimelech.  The result of that mitzva was that relief Sarah had sought on behalf of Avimelech was granted to her.  
When Hashem wanted the Egyptians to lend to the Jews, he had the Jews lend to each other, and through that Chesed, the feeling of Chesed came to the world and engendered a miraculous sense of Chesed in the Egyptian neighbors of the Jews.  
When Hashem wanted the Jews to be freed from slavery, He gave them the Parsha of Shilu'ach Avadim to accept and to learn.  The zechus of accepting and learning that Parsha brought about the power of Shichrur of Klal Yisrael, and they themselves were freed from slavery.


  1. "The fact is that both phenomena exist", not for two camps of Jews, the "angels" & the
    "devils", but within each individual:
    "be kind to others when the tables are turned"-- attitude that must be expressed toward
    fellow Jews temporarily enslaved;
    "predisposed to tyranny", "base instinct"-- these will have an outlet with the eved kanani,
    21:21, viewed "as revenue producing property whose loss is a hit to the balance sheet,"
    ki kaspo hu;

    but the story doesn't end there: the tit-for-tat, sanctioned abuse of the eved kanani has an
    implicit* term limit, arba mei'os shana** (Ber. 15:13), & that is why both Temples lasted only
    some 400 years (even though slaves are to be held in perpetuity, Vayikra 25:26, l'olam)--
    some critical mass of Jews from each Temple period were not about to lessen their harsh
    treatment of longheld slavelines, although WE TOO were once slaves, b'Mitzrayim

    * the implicit lesson/mitzva kiyumis that Israel should've learned & taken to heart way back
    ** without talking 210 years, etc etc etc

  2. I don't understand 40% of what you wrote. I do understand 40%, and disagree with it. But I both understand and agree with the first sentence, and I'm going to edit the post to reflect that.

    1. to try to clear up at least some of what may confuse:

      the Torah accomodates the mixed feelings of Israel toward the slave by laying down a 2-track future--
      'Jews temporarily enslaved' -- the eved Ivri (who must be treated, if not
      quite angelically, then at least with numerous special considerations as per
      The First Civil Law);
      'an outlet with the eved kanani" -- tyrannical & base instincts can find expression in the hard treatment OF the eved kanani, who may be beaten
      within an inch of his life if his owner but bears the dent in his labor force;

      'tit-for-tat' -- "I [Jew] suffered terribly for [400] years," "...and now you
      [eved kanani] can suffer" [for what should be no longer than 400 years, after which time all slaveowning families should have any residual, deep-seated bitterness/woundedness/PTSD from Mitzrayim, out of their systems, to everafter treat their kananite slaves with some compassion (while of course some Israelite families/tzadikim had always shown some compassion to their slaves, other families/taskmasters had not and
      would not, not even after 400 years {of lineal slave ownership}, midah k'neged midah, the 'term limit' of oppression that was put to Avraham;
      thus churbans after 400 years, for lack of ripe compassion for multigenerational slave sets)];
      'sanctioned' -- legally permitted
      'WE TOO' -- we too
      */** -- simply disregard the asterisked remarks for ease of understanding

      until the new day dawns (in a matter of not many hours), goodnight

    2. I need to respond, at least so that silence not be mistaken for assent.
      The relationship with an eved knaani is not tyrannical in the usual sense of amoral and vicious exploitation. It is not a relationship of equals, as it would be to a Jewish eved, but it's not an outlet for base instincts. It is the same as the relationship of a King to his subjects. The household was a smaller version of the state, with the head of the household a king to his family and subjects. Moderns don't realize this, and miss the point of the entire parsha of eved.

      To say that this or any law was intended only for the generation that left Egypt is to give credence to the fundamental Christian belief that most of the laws of the Torah were chas veshalom only intended for the people of that time and place, and no longer pertain.

      Even if the theological implications of what you said were not fundamentally problematic, they would be pure conjecture, with no support in Chazal. Speculation is nice if and only if it comes from a person who knows and is immersed in the whole Torah, including Keinim and Ohalos. I don't know who you are, but I assure you that it excludes me.

    3. "intended only for the generation that left Egypt"

      such demarcation was not meant by the formulation, though one could
      easily read it that way; rather, Jews (after no more than 400 years, & after no more than 400 more, & after no more than any future 400-year period of successively owning slaves) should, despite a 'bdei eved' accomodation of authoritarian instincts, strenuously control the unregulated beating of their perpetuitous(?) slaves; without that
      self-assumed self-restraint, churban;

      there will always be soldiers who, in the midst of violent physical conquest, are overcome by lust for a woman of beautiful form (though it foster a rebellious son); & always, some men will be propelled to abuse
      power in the stress of a moment (or, G-d forbid, chronically), needlessly
      beating slaves dor l'dor (though it bring down a Temple after a time)

      "if and only if..."
      even did one grant that narrow-minded stipulation, the interpretation offered was not just some bright idea from the dark side of the moon, but pertinently altered the one-sided focus of the dynamics under discussion, to see too the eved kanani, who,
      if not altogether dead, makes his unconscious appearance only a few pesukim later

      "He said that one does not need to say that these are two different
      groups" (from the current post itself)

      whittled "to a toothpick", a banality, a straw?! dear Gabai, the comment sought no aliyah to the blogpost proper* to begin with, but was there to share some thoughts your assembled writing had loosed; better such thoughts be left intact in the quarry**, or be martyred into oblivion, alone with the vast, than be whittled to what? a thread, a shoestrap!
      castrate the eved kanani, b'seder (M.T., Avadim 5:4), but the unknown author at your mercy, no

      * smartly authored on its own terms
      ** nonetheless, for your intention of inclusion, praise

  3. I like the idea of being a Gabai.
    You need proof to say that owning an eved is a bedi'eved. As I said, we can extrapolate, we can apply an idea from one place to another. But to create a new perspective on a din Torah requires either powerful evidence or stature in the Torah world. To assert that owning an eved kna'ani is a necessary but lamentable concession to human nature needs proof, more proof than "because I think so." Did you even consider the rule of לעולם בהם תעבודו? Reb Meir Simcha does seem to say that in several places. If you brought Reb Meir Simcha, the discussion would be better grounded. But you or I cannot just make any such assertions, which most likely are products of our times and society, not a Torah perspective.

    Narrow minded? I have many grievous flaws, and I've learned to deal with them. As Shaw said, "If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." Alternatively, I find the combination of alcohol and punitive physical exercise to be therapeutic. Perhaps being narrow minded is one of my flaws. But I think what you call narrow minded could be thought of as discipline in fealty to the Mesora.

    My inclusion of your idea wasn't done to accommodate your needs, it was done to enhance the Dvar Torah.

    As for the Rambam, anyone that thinks the Rambam allowed doing that needs to see a health professional or a makri dardeki. Sirus is an issur de'oraysa on people and animals and even bugs. Any person who did that to his eved intentionally or even arranged that it happen would either be given malkos or imprisoned. The Rambam is talking about a case where it was done accidentally.

  4. My wife constantly tells me that I am impatient and unsympathetic with my students. Online, I try to be less critical. But I don't feel any need to soften my criticism when the correspondent doesn't have a name. Without a name, there is no "you." You exist only as a concept. Even then, unless it's your real name, or people know who you are, finding fault shouldn't matter to you.