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24 Shevat 5762 - February 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Servants of Hashem -- True Liberty

by Yisroel Spiegel

It is a very thin line that divides liberty and bondage, a free man from a slave, and that is the knowledge of to whom one must be bound, whom one must serve. The sign of true freedom is when the possessed recognizes his master. One who deludes himself out of foolishness into thinking that he is a liberated man is in reality a slave, for he is shackled to the impulses of his evil inclination and the desires of his heart.

A Jew is commanded to be a servant of Hashem, for only in this manner can he give full expression to his liberty. By subserving himself to the Torah, he is exercising the utmost and ultimate in the power of free choice which the Creator granted him. "There is no man as free as one who is immersed in Torah" (Pirkei Ovos 6:2). The converse is equally true: one who chooses the "freedom" that appeals to him while rejecting servitude towards Hashem, becomes enslaved to every possible enticement, compulsion, and obsession that comes his way.

"If you buy a Jewish slave . . . " The juxtaposition of the portion dealing with the Jewish slave and the previous portion which deals with the giving of the Torah at Sinai is to teach us that freedom was granted to Israel at matan Torah; it protects and prevents us from becoming enslaved to any other thing save Hashem (Sfas Emes, Mishpotim 61b).

And if, notwithstanding, a Jew is sold to pay back his theft or out of poverty, he bears the title of a "Hebrew slave" (eved ivri), which is a temporary state. The Ohr HaChaim notes that the word "ivri" actually designates his transitory state as something passing, oveir, rather than permanent as with the Canaanite slave. Hashem is the Master of all Jewish slaves and He decreed that they be released before the seventh year of their servitude.

Shem MiShmuel explains this in a similar manner: "The name `ivri' denotes `eiver hanohor,' the other side of the river, and it indicates the essence of the Hebrew- Jew who is essentially from the world of the free. Therefore Jewish bondage cannot be forever. Enslavement cannot bind them because they are intrinsically fetterless. And even if a Jew has succumbed to sin and has been forced to sell himself, it is only a temporary state" (Mishpotim 1).

The Jew who thinks that he is free from the yoke of servitude to Hashem and His Torah and thus enjoys a state of "freedom" is sadly mistaken. The very opposite is true. He is regressing to the dark age of history where "In the beginning our ancestors were idol worshippers." He is galloping backwards to the benighted period where mankind was enslaved to false gods, back to Terach and those who preceded him.

And even if he denies this angrily and insists that he is progressive and enlightened, he is mistaken. For a Jew has only two choices: to be a true free man who elects his real freedom out of understanding that his allegiance to Hashem is what liberates him from all other drives and pressures, or to live in the bitter delusion of a spurious freedom where he is enslaved to whatever false god or false ideology is in fashion at that particular period.

"The reason why the Torah uses the term `ivri' and not `your brother' or `Israelite,' or a combination using the word ivri, like `If your Hebrew brother or Hebrew sister shall be sold to you,' is to denote that `all the seed of Avrohom were from the other side (eiver) of the river,' where his ancestors were idol-worshippers. After the Hebrews entered the covenant of the Shechina, they assumed the name `Israel.' This sinner, who was sold to pay back his theft, reverts to the name Ivri since he returns to the practices of those who preceded Avrohom" (Kli Yokor).


There are two stages in the state of Hebrew servitude as taught in this parsha. The first is the act of being sold due to circumstances, where we relate to him accordingly. We find, "Even though he is a slave with regard to marrying a Canaanite maidservant, he is still considered a Hebrew and is obligated with all the mitzvos and you are bound to treat him with mercy and compassion, as you would your Hebrew brother sold to you" (Oznayim LaTorah 201).

Then there is the second stage of "And if the slave shall say to you . . . " If the time has come for a slave to be liberated and he says, "I choose not to leave . . . " then he is designated as a slave and not a Hebrew, and the Torah even refers to him as `THE slave,' ho'evved. He has assumed the slave mentality and is essentially a slave.

At this second stage, he is no longer coerced by circumstances to submit himself to bondage but chooses it of his own free will. In other words, he rejects the servitude of Hashem in exchange for human servitude, and he is duly branded as a slave. Then "His master shall pierce his ear with an awl and he shall serve him le'olom."

Rashi notes, "Why was the ear chosen of all bodily organs [to bear the stigma of servitude]? Said R' Yochonon ben Zakkai: This very ear that heard at Mt. Sinai: Thou shalt not steal, and went and stole -- shall be pierced. And if he became a slave because he was sold out of poverty [we say to him]: This ear that heard at Mt. Sinai that `Israel are slaves unto Me' -- and went and acquired a master for himself -- shall be pierced" (Mechilta).

When a Jew chooses slavery, he is betraying his unique inner essence, for the very nature of the liberation from Egypt, from the House of Bondage, was to be removed from bondage forevermore. And here he goes and does the very opposite of what is expected of him: he sells himself as a slave! He justly deserves the shameful stigma of "an eved nirtza."

R' Shimon used to explain this passage homiletically: Why were the door and the doorpost designated for this act of enslavement out of all the parts of the house? Said Hakodosh Boruch Hu: This door and doorpost were the witnesses in Egypt when I passed over the lintels and the two doorposts and I declared: To me are the Children of Israel slaves, they are My slaves and not slaves unto slaves. And this one went and acquired for himself a master - - [his ear] shall be pierced before them" (Rashi, Kiddushin 22b).


"They are My servants, and not servants to servants." These are the two choices facing a Jew at all times. Either to be a servant of Hashem or a slave to slaves. Our diasporan history is rich with examples of Jews swarming to all kinds of "refuges" and illusory havens of freedom and equality, especially in the past two centuries, when a plethora of movements and ideologies mushroomed throughout the world, each promising utopian bliss, and all, inevitably, ending up in a great disappointment, after having physically buried under their debris hundreds of millions of people including a great percentage of Jews who were swept up with the winds of the times, Jews who turned their backs on the everlasting choice that the Torah offers them.

Who can count the numbers of Jews incarcerated under the detritus of the downfall of these false movements, where only a very few managed at the last moment to catch themselves in time and grab hold of the lifeline of Jewish eternity? These few realized that even under the crushing wheels of the compressing tortures and troubles exerted against them by their persecutors and enemies there was far more liberty for a Jew who holds on tightly to his faith in Hashem and keeps His commandments, than there is in all of the splendid palaces of glittering promises offered for human happiness, from those who turned out to be different oppressors and despotic enslavers.

And these, in turn, were no less slaves to their own personal inclinations, to their lust for power; they sought their own good and not the public weal. These were the selfsame slaves to whom the Torah warned Israel not to be become enslaved. "They are My servants, and not slaves to slaves."

This was the core of the message of liberation from the bondage of Egypt, the deliverance from the House of Bondage. And lo, these same Jews are alienating their inner souls by virtually turning themselves about and returning there. For this is the commentary of the verse, "I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the House of Bondage." The fact that I designated My name upon you to be called "your G-d" was the reason why I delivered you from the land of Egypt and the House of Bondage. You were meant to be enslaved for a full four hundred years.

We have Hashem to thank for delivering us both from Egypt and from the House of Bondage. And what was the purpose of our exodus? Not simply to shake off the yoke of slavery but in order to experience the historic event of the Giving of the Torah at Sinai where we accepted upon us the yoke of Heavenly allegiance, to be Hashem's people and to bear the torch of our loyalty to Him forevermore.

For without this, there is no purpose in our having left Egypt. Anyone who intends to become enslaved to anything other than to Hashem forfeits his name as a Jew because this is diametrically opposed to the essence and basis of our people. "If you shall buy a Hebrew slave . . . " He is called "Hebrew" because the Torah was loathe to couple the term "slave" with "Israelite" and preferred to say "Hebrew" (Ohr HaChaim).


The exile and bondage that was visited upon the Jewish people through Divine decree, the very exile we are living through until the eagerly awaited Redemption comes, is one matter. The exile of the spirit and the mind which, to our regret, is visited upon Jews by their own folly as they flock to subjugate themselves to all kinds of follies of the times -- is another.

The first pains us and we pray to Hashem to redeem us from it. We pray that the designated "six years indenture" pass already and that we enjoy the liberation of the "seventh year," as is alluded to in a holy work that "the seventh, which is internal, restores the world of freedom to its source and place" (see Shem MiShmuel, Mishpotim 1).

The second type of servitude however, which is a product of a person's choice, is also a punishment in the same manner as the Jewish slave who wishes to remain with his master is punished, as we see, "And if he verily says: I love my master . . . " -- he is branded with a pierced ear.

It can be asked why he isn't maimed immediately after he is sold by beis din or he sells himself? The answer is that a person is not judged and punished on two accounts. If a thief is obliged to pay double and he has the means to do so, he accepts his sentence and is absolved of further punishment. If he was sold by beis din to pay for his theft, his punishment is servitude. And if he was sold out of dire poverty, this is beyond his control; it is the necessity of circumstances.

But after his six year term, he has been removed from those circumstances and can be a free man again. But if he is determined to remain in this servitude, regardless of the reason that forced him into it, it is a matter of choice. He is removing the yoke of Hashem upon him as a free man and opting for the yoke of the slave. In any event, that ear of his deserves a stigma for not having listened to the message at Sinai and preferring servitude over the freedom of serving Hashem independently" (Kli Yokor).

The State of Israel has been carrying on a campaign of "independence" ever since it achieved statehood in 1948. And that independence has not yet been achieved for it is based on the heretical premise of the founders of Zionism who sought to liberate the Jewish people by rebelling against its bondage to the yoke of Heaven. This built-in contradiction, this denial of true freedom which was acquired by our exodus from the House of Slavery in order to become servants of Hashem, and the attempt to bring about the ultimate redemption by literal force, cannot possibly come to fruition.

Heads of government rise and fall with lightning speed, along with the herd of their foolish followers, alternately cheering or groaning in commiseration, seesawing to positions of power in a rising rate of change -- all because they refuse to bend an ear to the rebuke of the prophet, "Thus says Hashem: cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm and whose heart departs from Hashem" (Yirmiyohu 17:5). The Malbim translates those words as following: "The arm is the part that activates the hand. In reality, that hand does not move through the power of the flesh but by the might of Hashem. Hashem is the arm, as it were, whilst man thinks that the flesh is the arm, in other words, he thinks that motion is a natural process . . . "


Let us give credit to the tribe of Levi of modern times, the growing, burgeoning corps of Torah scholars, shomrei mitzvos with adherence and exactitude. For even in this generation of gross materialism, they prefer the eternal spiritual world of Torah over servitude to the vanities of this world. They forego luxuries and comforts and are prepared to live a life of material deprivation and choosing the wealth of spirituality. They willingly espouse the truth of "There is no man as free as one who is involved in Torah study." It is they who are blazing the way for the imminent Redemption.

One of the ills and evils of this suffering generation is an enslavement to keeping up a "standard of living" which is anchored in self love, albeit misguided, where one imagines that for the personal benefit of himself and his family, one must toil arduously in order to attain the maximum of comforts and luxuries in life. Any lesser degree is falling short of one's obligation. Such enslavement also deserves the stigma of the pierced ear, as is brought by the Kli Yokor in this parsha.

"Herein lies a hidden message to all those blind ones in the Hebrew camp who assume throughout their lives the burden of all kinds of enslavement upon their shoulders, toil and pain for the sake of increased material acquisition. These people sell their very souls for life in order to obtain more and more, all the while declaring that they are forced to earn more and more for the upkeep of wife and children. Everything is only for their sake and such a person sees himself continuing to toil to the end of his days. He is, in effect, repeating the words of the Hebrew slave who wishes to remain in bondage after the completion of the six years: `I love my wife and my children; I shall not go free.'

"He is enslaved to them and their welfare and will never rest until he has used up all of his strength and wasted his whole life in the pursuit of their security. He is in constant feverish activity, rushing along for the sake of his family. But they will accompany him only as far as the grave, and then will take their leave. This is also coupled in the statement that `his master shall bring him to the judges,' which also denotes the Final Judgment.

"Each person will have to defend his actions during his lifetime. At this juncture, he will not be able to claim that he `loved his wife and children.' They did not love him enough to accompany him past the grave and to his final judgment. They leave him at the door, so to speak, where sin lurks in waiting. They will not pass through the gateway in order to defend him. Here sin will appear and plead its case of condemnation. This idea is very profound and is an integral part of the mystic Torah."

"You are My servants." The servants of Hashem, and this is a prime secret of our exalted life.

It is told that the Sfas Emes of Ger zy'a once addressed his followers on Succos and told them that if they concentrate deeply on the words "Onno Hashem" during Hallel, they would be able to accomplish anything and everything. On the following day, the congregation of chassidim verily roared -- half of them cried aloud the first half of the verse, "Onno Hashem hoshi'oh noh [Hashem, save us]" while the rest vent their might upon the second half, "Onno Hashem hatzlichoh noh [Hashem, grant us success]."

At this occasion, his son, the Imrei Emes, remarked, "I think that my father really had another Onno Hashem in mind: `Onno Hashem ki ani avdecho -- I plead with You, Hashem, [to hearken unto me] for I am Your servant . . . ' "

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