Vol 16.28 - Mishpatim 2             Spanish French Audio  Video

Hebrew Text:

Page 251   Page252   Page253   Page254   Page255   Page256   Page257



(5738) Rashi (Ex 21:2) "If you buy a Hebrew slave": The reason that the beginning of "And these are the laws" deals with the laws of a Hebrew slave.  



The Jewish Indentured Servant

The Torah portion Mishpatim immediately follows Yisro , the section that describes G-d’s giving of the Torah, which took place shortly after the Exodus and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. It follows that G-d would relate in Mishpatim the commands that were most germane to the Jewish people at that time.

In fulfillment of His promise to Avraham that the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth,16 G-d saw to it that the former slaves left that country laden with gold and silver.17 Then, at the crossing of the sea, the Jews received even more booty;18 each and every Jew was rich.

Nevertheless, Mishpatim begins19 with the laws of an indentured servant — a Jew whose impoverished state obliges him to sell himself into servitude,20 or one who lacks the means to make restitution for a theft and is therefore sold into slavery by the court.21

Why does the portion begin with these laws when all Jews were then wealthy?

The indentured slave was to serve for only six years, or until the Sabbatical year, at which time he was to be freed. But “If the servant declares, ‘I love my master… I do not want to go free’… his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and the servant shall serve until the Jubilee Year.”22

Our Sages comment:23 “Why was the ear chosen for piercing rather than another organ? Because it was the ear that heard on Mt. Sinai, ‘For unto Me are the Children of Israel servants, they are My servants,’24 yet it threw off the heavenly yoke and replaced it with the yoke of man, so the verse says: ‘let the ear be pierced, for it did not comply with what it heard.’ ”

With other commandments, we do not find any stress put on the connection between the reward for observance and the manner of that observance. For example, honoring one’s parents is rewarded with longevity.25 There is no obvious connection between the reward and the fulfillment of that command.

The same is true with regard to the punishments for sin — lashes, excision and the like. The nature of the punishments has no obvious connection to the sins which beget them.

With regard to the indentured servant, however, our Sages clearly indicate how the punishment is in keeping with the crime — the ear heard from Mt. Sinai and did not comply, therefore it is pierced.

The reason why the portion which follows the giving of the Torah describes the law of the indentured servant is thus readily understandable, for the punishment of piercing the ear is directly connected to what the ear heard on Sinai.

The connection becomes even more apparent in light of the fact that the entire purpose of giving the Torah was to purify and elevate the physical world through the performance of mitzvos. Therefore, the first commandment in Mishpatim clearly demonstrates how Torah affects the physical world.

This is particularly true according to the Chassidic explanation of the phrase “Jewish indentured servant,” viz., one who transforms “servitude” to his animal soul and physical desires into “Jewish” spiritual service.

Such a transformation demonstrates the effect of Torah in this world — to so change one’s animalistic tendencies and the world at large that they are able to enter the domain of holiness.

Practiced by every Jew in every walk of life, such transformations will become so widespread that the individual and everything related to him will become a veritable dwelling for G-d.

(From http://schneersoncenter.org/mobile/page.asp?pageID=%7B7B8E06AF-8BCD-4CE4-8071-EC60E7D46BE6%7D&displayAll=1. Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 251-257)


1. On the verse (Ex. 21:2) “Should you buy an Eved Ivri (Hebrew Slave) etc., Rashi cites the heading: “Should you buy an Eved Ivri (כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי)” and explains:

“A slave who is himself a Hebrew. Or perhaps it means only a slave of a Hebrew, a Canaanite (servant) whom you bought from a Hebrew. And concerning him, he (the Torah) says, “He shall work for six years.”

How (then) can I apply the (law in the following) verse, “and you shall bequeath them” (Lev. 25:46)

(Note: i.e. bequeath the slaves as an inheritance which would contradict the law that he goes free after six years!)?

 (I would answer that it refers to a gentile slave) who was bought from the gentiles, but if bought from a Jew he shall go free after six years.

 (Note: In other words: both the verse here and the one in Vayikra deal with a gentile slave. The difference in their total years of servitude depends on who the seller is. A gentile slave bought from a Jew serves six years (this verse), whereas one bought from a gentile, serves forever (the verse in Vayikra). This explanation is proved false by what now follows.)

Therefore, the Torah states (תלמוד לומר): “Should your brother, a Hebrew man… be sold to you, (he shall serve you for six years)” (Deut. 15:12). (This is the clarification that) I (G-d) said this only regarding your brother.”

One must understand:

1.       The explanation surrounds the words “Eved Ivri“. Why does Rashi cite in the heading “Should you buy an Eved Ivri” (כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי)?

One cannot say that Rashi cites the words because (if the heading would just be ‘Eved Ivri”) one could conclude from it that it refers to a “A slave who is himself a Hebrew” as Rashi writes in the second commentary that “Should you buy” must speak of situation where “the court sold him (into servitude because of his theft) which only applies to a “A slave who is himself a Hebrew”,

Because –

A.      This proof from Rashi (that it speaks of situation where “the court sold him”) is not from the words “Should you buy” (כִּי תִקְנֶה), but rather from the repetition of the verse (יתורא דקרא) (in Lev. 25:39): “And if your brother becomes impoverished beside you and is sold to you”.

B.      On the contrary, even this proof

(That it refers to a situation where “the court sold him” because of the verse “And if your brother becomes impoverished beside you and is sold to you”)

is only applicable after we have a previous proof that it speaks of a “slave who is himself a Hebrew” and not “a gentile slave of a Hebrew” – which is apparent also from the order of the commentaries in Rashi. (who prefaces the (albeit – primary) commentary of “Eved Ivri” before the (second) commentary: “Should you buy” (כִּי תִקְנֶה).

2.       How could one possibly think that the translation of “Eved Ivri (עֶבֶד עִבְרִי)” means “a slave of a Hebrew (עבדו של עברי)? Seemingly, it is more straightforward to say that it refers to a “slave who is himself a Hebrew” as we find in many places in Torah.

(For example regarding Yosef, it states that he was a “Na’ar Ivri (Hebrew lad -נַעַר עִבְרִי)” and “Sheshan had an Eved Mitzri (עֶבֶד מִצְרִי) which means that he had an Egyptian slave).

 And this also, on the other hand, is proven from the wording of the verse in Shmuel I (30:13) that states: “Eved l’Ish Amaleki” (עֶבֶד לְאִישׁ עֲמָלֵקִי)” – meaning that when the verse refers to a “a slave of an Amalekite man” it does not use the term “Eved Amaleki” (עֶבֶד עֲמָלֵקִי)”, but rather “Eved l’Ish Amaleki” (עֶבֶד לְאִישׁ עֲמָלֵקִי)” – slave of an Amalekite man.

The commentators say that the supposition (הוה אמינא) that it refers to “a slave of a Hebrew (עבדו של עברי)” is from the precise wording “Should you buy a Hebrew slave - an Eved Ivri (כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי)” which implies that he bought someone who was already a slave – therefore it is logical to explain that it refers to “a slave of a Hebrew (עבדו של עברי)”.

This explanation however is not sufficient because if, from the wording of the verse,

i.e. from the simple understanding of the verse –

it is more apparent that it is indeed speaking of a “a slave of a Hebrew” – then Rashi should have begun his commentary with the words

(for example with) “Perhaps it means only a slave of a Hebrew” –

and then negate it with the words “Therefore, the Torah states (תלמוד לומר) etc.” which is a proof that it must mean that it refers to a “slave who is himself a Hebrew (עבד שהוא עברי).

However, since Rashi immediately begins with “a slave who is himself a Hebrew (עבד שהוא עברי), this proves that this is the first opinion of how to translate the verse – and only later is there some doubt that “perhaps it means only a slave of a Hebrew”.

3.       Why must Rashi forewarn, here, “How (then) can I apply the (law) ‘and you shall bequeath them’ – for this question only becomes problematic when we reach that verse – which is near the conclusion of the book of Vayikra!

And even though the source for the entire commentary of Rashi is from the Mechilta- it is known (as has been discussed many times) that everything Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah is because it is necessary (in order to understand) the simple understanding of the verses that is in question here (or – in conjunction to that which was previously learned). And this is specifically problematic here since Rashi does not cite that the source of his commentary is from the Mechilta.

Therefore it is understood that the entire explanation of Rashi is necessary here because of the simple understanding of the verse.

2. The explanation of this is:

It states previously in the verse that when leaving Egypt, the Israelites took with them many articles of silver and gold etc. and later on they acquired even more silver and gold etc. from the spoils of the Splitting of the Red Sea as Rashi explains there, on the verse (Ex 15:22) “Moshe led “ - that (after the Splitting of the Red Sea):

“He made them travel against their will. For the Egyptians adorned their horses with gold and silver ornaments and precious stones and the Israelites kept finding them in the sea (to the point that) the booty of the sea was greater than the booty (taken out) of Egypt”.

This means that the promise that the Israelites would have “great wealth” was fulfilled for all the Yidden.

From this it is understood simply, that in a condition of such great wealth of Yidden – that the concept of a Jew becoming a slave was inconceivable (since this comes about through poverty and lack of funds).

And since the Parsha “And these are the Mishpatim” comes immediately after Matan Torah, a short while after leaving Egypt and the Splitting of the Red Sea, it is logical that G-d would, at the outset, tell the Yidden about the laws and commands concerning things that are relevant and existent to their present time and situation –

like the command: “You shall not make (images of anything that is) with Me, gods of silver or gods of gold . . An altar of earth you shall make for Me. . Make for Me an altar of stones” – and not (or- not necessarily) an altar of silver and gold - even though each one of them had an abundance of silver and gold.

Therefore, after Rashi prefaces (the translation) a “slave who is himself a Hebrew (עבד שהוא עברי) meaning that the phrase “Eved Ivri” (עבד עברי) means a “slave who is himself a Hebrew (עבד שהוא עברי) he must forewarn “Or perhaps it means only a slave of a Hebrew”.

For from the flow and order of the verses, logic dictates that it is speaking of a “slave of a Hebrew” - a “Canaanite (servant) whom you bought from a Yisroel” since every Jew had, at that time (immediately after taking the spoils of Egypt and the spoils of the Sea, as aforementioned) - “Great wealth” and they also had manservants and maidservants - as it states immediately before this in the Ten Commandments: “Your manservants and maidservants “.

3. A five year old learning Chumash (בן תמש למקרא), however, could ask:

We previously leaned that Avraham Avinu had a servant Eliezer, whom he possessed even before the Covenant between the Parts, and he remained “Avraham’s servant (עבד אברהם) even many years later as it states concerning the mission to find a wife for Yitzchak Avinu. And since Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah even before it was given (as Rashi has already explained) – how is it that Avraham Avinu kept a Canaanite slave (Eliezer) for so many years, and did not fulfill the command of Torah here that “he shall work (for) six years, and in the seventh (year), he shall go out to freedom without charge” (if this means “the slave of a Hebrew”)?

Therefore Rashi must forewarn, in our Parsha, this very question. But instead of (asking the question from the perspective of) the puzzlement concerning the conduct of Avraham Avinu – Rashi brings the (very same) contradiction, with greater force – from the verse and explicit Mitzvah of the Torah - “How then can I apply the law: ‘and you shall bequeath them’” - (and he answers that) “it refers to a gentile slave who was bought from the gentiles” (and this also was the situation by Eliezer – the servant of Avraham Avinu).

4. According to the aforementioned it is understood why Rashi cites in the heading “Should you buy an Eved Ivri” (כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי) for this strengthens the explanation that it refers to a “slave who is himself a Hebrew (עבד שהוא עברי) –

The preface of the verse “Should you buy” is seemingly, superfluous - it could have begun with the actual law: “An Eved Ivri shall work for six years etc. “(as we find in many places in the Torah.

For example, as in our Parsha: “One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” –

The wording “Should you buy” refers to a future act - but, at present, the deed has not been done. Moreover, in our case – it is completely not applicable, at the present time – since they had the spoils of Egypt and the Sea, as aforementioned.

Therefore, from this it is proof, that it is speaking of the purchase of a slave who is a Hebrew – which is not applicable, at present – and not regarding a Canaanite slave - “The slave of a Hebrew”. For regarding him, the expression “Should you buy” is not fitting (and is superfluous), since due to their great wealth, the Yidden certainly possessed (Canaanite) slaves – and it is simple that one cannot say that this was not a common and timely thing.

5. According to this, however, it is not understood:

In actuality, why does the Torah begin the laws of Mishpatim (immediately after Matan Torah) with the law of an Eved Ivri – a Hebrew slave – which at that time was a completely uncommon thing – and not begin with a thing that was common and timely?

And especially since the law “Should you buy an Eved Ivri” is an outcome of a previous act of theft – where he was required to repay five or four or two times and (only then) “If he has no (money), he shall be sold for his theft.”

The Torah, at the outset, seemingly, should have first previously spoken - the laws regarding the obligation to repay the debt – whether five or four or two times over (the original amount)?

And since this is a difficulty in the simple understanding of the verse, it is not understood why Rashi (who explains all the questions in the simple understanding of the verse) does not answer this in his commentary

(Like other commentators, who indeed, do address this, even though their commentary is not entirely according to the Pshat, as is Rashi).

One (also) cannot say that that, according to the simple understanding of the verse, this is not a question since according to the method of Pshat, there is no necessity to explain the reason for the juxtaposition of the commands of Torah –


(In addition to that which, in the beginning of the Parsha itself, Rashi emphasizes that (the verse) “‘And these (are the ordinances)’ means that it is adding to what has been previously stated. (Thus) just as what has been previously stated (namely the Ten Commandments,) were from Sinai, these too were from Sinai. Now why was the section dealing with laws juxtaposed etc.”).

according to the aforementioned, it is – juxtaposed to the situation of getting the spoils of Egypt and the Sea - the reasoning of the supposition in Rashi‘s commentary that the verse does not speak regarding a “Eved Ivri” but rather of a “Canaanite slave”.

Moreover and primarily - there cannot be “Should you buy an Eved Ivri etc.” before the law of “he shall be sold for his theft.”

6. One could say that Rashi addresses this with his explanation in a subsequent verse in our Parsha (Ex. 21:6):

“Why was the ear chosen to be bored out of all the organs of the body? Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:13) and (then) went and stole, shall be bored.”

The explanation of this is:

Regarding other Mitzvot, we do not find that the Torah emphasizes the relationship between the reward of the Mitzvah to the Mitzvah itself.

For example: Concerning the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents whose reward is “in order that your days be lengthened”, it is

(In addition to that which the reward is not immediately apparent after performing the Mitzvah, but rather after the course of a lengthy time)

not recognizable that there is a specific relationship of the essence of the reward to the Mitzvah itself.

The same is regarding the punishments for transgressions. We do not see in the punishment of lashes, or excommunication (כרת), etc. a special connection to the sins, which incur the punishments.

With an Eved Ivri, however, the Torah binds the punishment with its reason. The punishment of “and his master shall bore .. his ear” is because “The ear that heard on Mount Sinai etc.”

And even though the obligation of “and his master shall bore his earcomes

(not immediately at the occurrences that precipitated that he become a “Eved Ivri”, but)

immediately after he says: “I love my master, my wife, and my children. I will not go free," – the, punishment ,however, is not because he said “I love my master etc.” but rather because “The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not steal ‘and (then) went and stole (shall be bored).”, or, alternatively, because “the ear that heard, ‘For the children of Israel are slaves to Me’ and (then) went and acquired a master for himself, (this ear) shall be bored” - immediately when (he causes and)becomes a “(Hebrew) slave)”.

Therefore it is understood why “Should you buy an Eved Ivri” is the first of the laws the Torah states immediately after Matan Torah at Mount Sinai. For regarding an “Eved Ivri” - one sees (in his punishment) the connection between his “judgment (משפט) “with “Mount Sinai”, in a revealed and recognizable manner (even in his physical body).

Accordingly (in the aforementioned Rashi of “The ear that heard”) there is a crucial innovation in the laws of an Eved Ivri – namely, that the

·         Disobeying of the command at “Mount Sinai.” and

·         The law that “he shall be sold for his theft.” (because of the high repayment)

is an external reason – he juxtaposes (סומך) the law of an Eved Ivri to the laws of Mishpatim which “these too were from Sinai”, and he hints of the connection to theft as a detail of “shall bore .. his ear”.

7. According to the aforementioned explanation of Rashi on the verse ““Should you buy (an Eved Ivri)”, there is additional explanation to this:

If the existence of an Eved Ivri, would have then, been a common and timely thing - one could have said that this, itself, is the reason that this law was stated first - because it is an aspect which is relevant immediately after Matan Torah.

Since, however, a Hebrew slave, as aforementioned, was at that time, very much a future concept and rare event (זעלטענער פאל) – therefore one must say that that the reason that the law was stated in the beginning is because of the special aspect of an Eved Ivri – his relationship to “Mount Sinai.”

8. This is further “sweetened” (ויומתק) according to Pnimiyut:

Since the entire intent and purpose of Matan Torah is to accomplish, through Torah and Mitzvot, the refining and polishing of the aspects of the world

(Which was not so by the Torah of the Patriarchs before Matan Torah, which did not effect a change in the physicality of the world),

therefore the first of the laws- Mishpatim after Matan Torah - is a sort of command and law – where one can visibly see how Matan Torah affects even the physicality of the world.

And this is reflected in the three levels of Avodah of an “Eved Ivri” – as Torat HaChassidut explains that the three levels:

  • Canaanite slave (עבד כנעני)
  • Hebrew slave (עבד עברי)
  • Hebrew maidservant (אמה עברי׳)

In Avodat HaShem – are in the soul of a person:

A “Canaanite slave” (עבד כנעני) represents a person whose Animalistic soul (נפש הבהמית) has a powerful hold on him (as it states) “Freedom is an advantage to the slave (עבדא בהפקירא ניחא לי׳)” which translates below to the desires – hefkeirus, of this world. Yet he restrains himself and he is a servant of G-d (עובד ה׳) in actual deed – in turning from evil and doing good because of his acceptance of the yoke and his fear of his Master.

The Avodah of an Hebrew slave - Eved Ivri (עבד עברי) is on a higher level. He causes the Middot of the G-dly soul (נפש האלקית) to illuminate the Animalistic soul (נפש הבהמית), so much so that even the Animalistic soul has a desire toward G-d. He is not yet, however, transformed to holiness, so much that he does not have any desire for the pleasures of this world.

(This is similar to a servant that brings into the house all the necessities, regarding food and drink, for the members of the household. But they are not yet suitable to be eaten – they must first be cooked etc. (but) not changed (געענדערט) from their previous form).

The Avodah of a Hebrew maidservant (אמה עברי׳) is where the desires and characteristics of the Animalistic soul have been transformed to holiness so much so that their desire is only towards G-dliness.

Therefore it is understood, why the beginning of the laws-Mishpatim after Matan Torah, which brings out the effect of Matan Torah in the world – is with the laws of an Eved Ivri. Because this (Eved Ivri) is the beginning of the Avodah of a Jew after Matan Torah - to influence his Animalistic soul and the aspects of the world, in general, that they be changed (נשתנה) and brought into the realm of holiness.

(Whereas the Avodah of a Canaanite slave has not yet effected a true change in his Middot and his portion in the world).

(Note: The Tzemach Tzedek writes that Hebrew maidservant is greater than Eved Ivri, because when it receives from Chochma and Bina it is on a higher level and is called female. When it descends to Beriah and Yetzirah it becomes a Mashpia is called male. It is also associated with Shabbat which is female)

After this comes the continuation of the Parsha - the continuation of the Avodah – one comes to the Avodah of a Hebrew maidservant – that one transforms the characteristics of the of the Animalistic soul and the aspects of the world, in general, that they become an abode for G-d in this world.

m'Sichas Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim 5736

Date Delivered:   Reviewer:       
Date Modified:    Date Reviewed: