March 17, 2018 ~ Shabbat VAYIQRA. Maqam RAST.

Shabbat Mishpatim

The Hebrew Slave

כי תקנה עבד עברי - Soon after being freed from slavery, the Covenant Code (Exodus 21-23) begins with the laws of a Hebrew slave. Rather than attempt to completely abolish slavery, the Torah recognizes this institution as a practical means to provide the poor with a safety net (clothing, food, shelter) in exchange for their labor. The focus here is not whether one owned slaves, but rather how they treated them. The slave typically works in order to repay a debt and biblical guidelines mandate that he is set free on the seventh year. One should not make the mistake of equating the humane treatment of the Hebrew slave with the slavery practiced in other societies. A high level of kindness and dignity is expected from the master, and the master is responsible for the slave's physical well-being. The Talmud states that "One who purchases a Hebrew slave is acquiring for himself a master (TB Qiddushin 22a)." Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/25/17.

"Do Now, Accept Later"

כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע - When people would approach my great grandfather, Matouk Gemal (~1880-1967), with critical questions about religious observance, he would respond to them "just do it now and you will understand later." This simple statement of trust in God in a way summarizes the covenant that Israel enters in Exodus 24. When Moses writes the words of God and reads them to the nation, they respond "all that God says we will do and accept" (Exodus 24:7). Acceptance implies having an understanding about what is being performed. Notice that the word "do" (נעשה) is placed before "accept" (נשמע). Shouldn't we only do something once we accept what we are doing? The lesson that I learn from the words of Matouk Gemal is that whereas we recognize the importance of having a understanding of the Torah, this cannot be the prerequisite to observance. In our relationship with the Almighty, we must do now and accept later. Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/10/18.