After six years of servitude, the Torah requires that the Jewish slave be
set free. Additionally, he should not go out empty-handed. Rather, his
master should furnish him with gifts of significant value. What is the
rationale behind obligating a person to give a gift? Clearly, this is not
his compensation, for the Torah requires that the slave be paid in full up
When Avraham returned from Egypt, the Torah records that he went "according
to his travels." Chazal teach that Avraham retraced the path which he had
taken during his descent to Egypt, so that he would be able to lodge at the
same inns where he stayed on his way down. What is the notion of a person
returning to an establishment which he has previously patronized?
If we analyze the modern-day concept of tipping, we can gain some insight to
assist in answering the aforementioned questions. Why is it the accepted
practice to tip for certain services, while for others it is not? For
example, if a person checks in his luggage curbside, he leaves a tip with
the porter. However, if he checks his luggage in at the counter, he does not
tip the attendant. Similarly, one tips a barber, but not a cashier. The
reason is as follows: When someone does a personal service for us, to a
certain extent, he has been demeaned. It is for personal service, therefore,
that we tip. The tip is the means by which we restore dignity to the person
serving us; it shows our appreciation for what he has done for us.
An innkeeper offers round-the-clock personal service to his guests. Avraham
Avinu is teaching us that the most effective way to restore the innkeeper's
dignity is to continue to patronize his establishment. This is the ultimate
show of appreciation. The Torah requires that we give parting gifts to the
Jewish slave, since, for six years he has been at our beck and call, giving
us the highest level of personal service that one Jew can give another. We
are obligated, therefore, to restore his dignity.
It is now apparent why the Torah uses what appears to be a very difficult
verb for the giving of a gift. Instead of the more common verb used for
giving, "titein", the Torah uses "ha'aneik", which is not found anywhere
else in the Torah in that form. Rashi explains that the word comes from the
noun "anaka", which means jewelry worn around the neck. When a person wears
jewelry, he feels elevated. It gives him a sense of dignity. This is the
function of the gift which is given to the Jewish slave. We are attempting
to restore the dignity that was lost by his six years of personal service.
Penniless From Heaven
"for destitute people will not cease from the midst of the land"
The Ramban cites the opinion of the Ibn Ezra which says that
the curse of poverty will always remain with Bnei Yisroel, for they will
never completely rid themselves of sin.. The Ramban takes issue with this
interpretation, arguing that the Torah would never offer a prophesy which
suggests that Bnei Yisroel will never completely adhere to the precepts of
the Torah. Rather, the Ramban postulates, the Torah is stating that there
may be future generations who will be stricken with poverty, but not that it
is a fait accompli that all future generations of Bnei Yisroel will be
doomed to contend with destitution. Other commentaries concur with the
Ibn Ezra, such as the Rashbam who cites the verse in Koheles "ein tzaddik
ba'aretz..." - "there exists no righteous man who accomplishes only good and
does not sin." According to these commentaries, it appears that poverty
is a necessary component in the infrastructure of a society. This notion is
also corroborated with the Talmudic interpretation of the verse which states
that poverty will exist even in Messianic times. Why did Hashem create a
system which cannot rid itself of poverty?
The performance of acts of kindness accomplishes two distinctly different
objectives. The universally accepted notion of performing altruistic acts
stems from our societal obligation to ensure that the basic needs of each
individual are met. Our sense of connection to each and every human being
arouses our compassion to make the needs and anguish of others our own. The
word "kindness" itself reflects this social consciousness, stemming from the
word "kindred" - "of our kind".
However, there is another dimension to the performance of acts of kindness.
The very fact that an omnipotent G-d who has no deficiencies or needs
created a world in which man can live, teaches us that creation itself is
the ultimate act of benevolence. Hashem wishes to make man the beneficiary
of His kindness; this is the meaning of the verse " olam chesed yibaneh" -
"the world is built through kindness". Kindness is therefore the ultimate
manner in which Hashem revealed and continues to reveal Himself to the world.
Emulation is the most effective manner by which we identify and connect to
one another. The premise of the advertising techniques on Madison Avenue is
based upon the creation of an image to which people will want to connect and
emulate; by wearing the clothes or using the products which a famous film
star or sports figure endorse, people feel a closer connection to them.
Consequently, we can connect to Hashem by emulating Him, and the best manner
in which to do so is through the performance of acts of kindness. Therefore,
aside from the kindred spirit we share with our fellow man, we also connect
and identify ourselves with Hashem through acts of kindness.
Poverty is a necessity in every society, for the act of giving is what
elevates a person to become a holy being. Without poverty, we would not be
able to express the G-dliness that we have within ourselves.
1.Ramban 15:11, Ibn Ezra 15:6
2.Rashbam 15:11, Koheles 20:7