FREE AT LAST
Rabbi Binyomin Friedman
The Chassidic Torah commentators are fond of uncovering central themes that reappear in different guises throughout the Torah. A classic exposition of this approach may be found in the book Shem Mishmuel by the Rebbe of Sochatshov, a 19th-century Chassidic rabbi.
The Chassidic Torah commentators are fond of uncovering central themes that reappear in different guises throughout the Torah. A classic exposition of this approach may be found in the book Shem Mishmuel by the Rebbe of Sochatshov, a 19th-century Chassidic rabbi. Concerning this week's Torah portion, the Shem Mishmuel explains that the laws governing a Jewish servant allude to a central theme of the Torah.
In Exodus 21:2-6, the Torah states, "When you will acquire a Jewish servant, for six years he shall work and on the seventh year he shall go free. . . .And if he will say I love my wife and children; I will not go free. . . .His master shall draw him to the doorpost. . .and he shall serve him forever (until the Jubilee year)." A Jew sells himself into slavery if he has stolen and is unable to make restitution. Servitude is indicative of the criminal activity that the servant is trying to atone for. How strange it is, then, that a servant would want to remain in servitude. The Shem Mishmuel notes that the servant wants to remain enslaved because he loves his wife and children. A clear reading of the verses shows that this wife was a maidservant to whom he was matched. She, as well as their children, belongs to the owner. Instead of trying to regain his freedom, the servant has come to identify with his loss of freedom as his natural state.
The Shem Mishmuel understands that the entire section in the Torah dealing with the laws regarding the Jewish servant is really symbolic of our life challenges. Due to our sins, we have enslaved ourselves. As the Torah states in Genesis 3:19, "By the sweat of your brow will you eat bread." (See Shem Mishmuel Parshat Mishpatim 5671 for a discussion regarding the sin which causes us to labor). However, this servitude does not last more than six days. On the seventh day, when Shabbat arrives, we are freed from our personal enslavement in order to serve Hashem. Just as the freedom of the seventh year is available only to those who want it, the freedom of Shabbat is available only to those who wish to be purified by it. Oftentimes we don't appreciate this freedom. We don't notice the internal purity of Shabbat because we identify with the externals of the servitude as though they are our real wife and children. We forget that the enslaved state is our embarrassment.
Slavery continues when we are deceived by externals, thinking that they are truly our wife and children. This state, however, is not permanent. Ultimately, the day of Jubilee will come when we will be exposed to the internal workings of the world. At that point, we will see the superficialities of the world and reject them. Then, we will reject our servitude and experience the day that is eternal rest. Happy is the man who seizes his freedom when it is offered on the seventh year and doesn't wait until it is thrust upon him in the Jubilee.
Rabbi Binyomin Friedman is the rabbi of Congregation Ariel and a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.
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