The first topic in the parsha is the halacha of the eved ivri (Jewish slave). An eved ivri is a person who stole and cannot afford to pay back his debt. He is sold for six years as a slave to a fellow Jew, and in the seventh year he goes free. There is a mind-boggling halacha associated with an eved ivri, which is that the master is allowed to give him a shifcha Cananis (a gentile maidservant) as a wife. As part of his servitude, he would father children with this shifcha Cananis, who would themselves become slaves to the master.
The pasuk teaches, “If he comes in single, he goes out single” (Im B’Gapo yavo b’Gapo Yeitzei) [Shemos 21:3]. Rashi teaches, based on the Mechilta, that the eved ivri can only be given a shifcha Cananis as a wife if he is already married when he begins his period of slavery. If he enters slavery as a bachelor, the halacha does not allow the master to give him a shifcha Cananis by which to father children.
If we had to write this halacha about the master giving his eved ivri a shifcha Cananis, and we were told that it only applies in one situation—either for a single person or a married person—what would we say makes more sense? Most people would assume, “Okay, if the fellow is single then we can understand that the master gives him a shifcha Cananis. However, if he has a family already – then would we think that his master can give him a shifcha Cananis? This must not do a lot for the Shalom Bayis (domestic tranquility) of this eved ivri!
The Torah legislates just the opposite of what we would have thought to be logical!
I saw in the name of Rav Moshe Shternbach, shlit”a, that the rationale behind this is the following: If a person is married then he knows what marriage is about. He knows that what he is doing with this Shifcha is just a matter of cohabitation for the purpose of fathering children. He fully understands “this is not a wife!” He knows what a wife is. He knows what marriage is. He knows what real family life is about. After six years, when he is given the option – are you going to stay with her (and remain in slavery until the Jubilee year) or are you going to go back to your family, chances are the person would say, “I am going back home. I know what a wife is. I know what a Jewish family is. I know what children are all about.”
On the other hand, if an eved ivri who was not married was given a shifcha Cananis to live with he would assume: “Oh, this is what the male female relationship is all about! This is what it is!” We do not want the person to say “I love my master, my wife, and my children. I will not go out free.” [Shemos 21:5]. We do not want that to happen! The chances of it NOT happening are increased when the person knows what a wife is supposed to be and what the relationship between a husband and wife is supposed to be. Then, the person will hopefully say, “after six years of this, I am out of here!”
The Ear That Heard at Sinai
The halacha is that if the eved ivri in fact says “I love my master, my wife, and my children—I do not want to go out free” then the master brings him to the doorpost and pierces his ear with an awl and he becomes a slave “in perpetuity.” Rashi famously comments in the name of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai, “the ear that heard at Sinai ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and went ahead and stole gets pierced with an awl!” This explains why it is the ear rather than the arm, the toe, or any other body part that pays the price, so to speak, in this process of the master making the eved ivri, whose term of service was six years, remain a slave until the Jubilee year.
The Sefas Emes asks – Is it the ear’s fault? The ear is merely a receptacle that hears. The problem is not with the ear. The problem is with the heart or with the brain that processes the message heard by the ear! Why pick on the ear?
Of course, we can say simply that it is not possible to pierce the heart or the brain and have the slave remain alive. That is true. Perhaps we could get around that problem, but certainly piercing the ear seems to be a very superficial choice of an organ to pay the price for this Jew’s act of theft!
The Sefas Emes answers that the message here is that the word of G-d, “Do not steal” entered the ear, but it stayed in the ear. That is as far as it went. Or, to use a colloquial expression “It went in one ear and went out the other.” People can hear something that remains nothing more than sound waves that penetrate the ear but do not travel to the heart, to the brain, to the soul. That is not what a human being is supposed to do with the message of G-d.
In Yiddish, if you want to ask “Do you understand?” you say “ihr hert?” (do you hear?). Among Yeshiva students, many times someone asks someone else “Do you hear what I am saying?” Try that in the secular world! In the world at large, if you tell someone “I hear” he will assume you are telling him that you are not deaf. In Yiddish “herrin” means “ich farshtei” (I understand). Shmia does not mean the physical act of hearing. It means understanding!
In the famous pasuk “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.” the translation, “Hear oh Israel…” is a misinterpretation. It really means “listen oh Israel.” There is a difference in English between “you hear” and “you listen.” The problem of “ozen she’shama b’Sinai” is that it just heard “Thou shalt not steal” but it did not listen!
The Sefas Emes points to the pasuk at the beginning of last week’s parsha – “Vayishma Yisro….” What does “Vayishma Yisro” mean? It means more than just that he heard. He understood what was happening over here. That is the difference between Yisro and Iyov. The Gemara says that three parties heard Pharaoh’s infamous scheme (oso eitzah): Yisro, Bilaam and Iyov. Bilaam suggested the plan and his end was that he was killed by the sword. Iyov, who kept quiet, wound up being plagued with punishments. Yisro fled. Why did he flee? It is because he was a Shomea. That does not mean he was a “hearer”. It means he was a listener. He understood what was happening here, and it made an impression upon him. It made an impression upon him that propelled him on his path that eventually brought him to Judaism.
When someone hears but it does not penetrate, it is an example of “Ozen she’shama b’Sinai” – it only remained within the ear!
How Was This Rosh Yeshiva Different From All Other Roshei Yeshiva?
There is a pasuk in this week’s parsha that talks about how careful we need to be with widows and orphans. “You shall not persecute any widow or orphan. If you will persecute them, for if they will cry out to Me, I shall surely hear their cry.” [Shemos 22:21-22] In the past, We have said a famous vort from the Kotzker Rebbe that the threefold redundant appearance of verb forms in this pasuk (Aneh/Sa’aneh; Tza’ok/Yitzak; Shamoa/Eshma) indicates that any feeling of hurt that a widow or orphan senses is always compounded. They always feel “If my father/husband would still be alive, this would not be happening to me.” Therefore, the pain anyone inflicts on them is doubled. As a result, Hashem will “hear their cries” and impose a double punishment on the perpetrators.
I would just like to share an incident I heard involving Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l. It has been a long time since the passing of a Rabbinic personage had made such a great impression on Klal Yisrael as that of the passing of the late spiritual head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem (November 2011). The number of Hespedim that were offered in Yeshivas and Jewish communities all over the world for Rav Nosson Tzvi was unprecedented. That is because he was a person who had an incredible impact on Klal Yisrael. The reaction of the loss that people felt, and still feel, to his death was mind-boggling.
One on his Talmidim gave a eulogy for him in a certain yeshiva. In relating the incredible acts of kindness that Rav Nosson Tzvi engaged in, he told over the following story:
There was a student of the Mir—a man who was already married and had a family—who passed away at a relatively young age, leaving over a widow and orphans. Rav Nosson Tzvi was very close to this man and decided that he would try, in effect, to adopt this man’s sons. He invited them to treat him (Rav Nosson Tzvi) like they would treat a father. This was a family that lived in America, but Rav Nosson Tzvi told the boys that they should write to him—not only their Torah thoughts, but they should correspond with him and keep him abreast of all their personal affairs and activities. When the boys got older, they came to Eretz Yisrael and Rav Nosson Tzvi found each one an appropriate Yeshiva. Over many years, he developed a strong relationship with these orphans and tried to act as a long-distance father to them.
This is what this former student of the Mir told over in his eulogy for the Mir Rosh Yeshiva. After he spoke, a young man from the audience came over to him and told him “The story you related is correct. I can verify the facts. However, that is not the entire story. The rest of the story is that the man who passed away had four sons and he also had a daughter—a little girl at the time of her father’s death. She was the youngest member of the family. She felt left out. She was not going to write a “shtickle Torah” to Rav Nosson Tzvi. What can a young little girl discuss with a great Rosh Yeshiva? She felt neglected.
Rav Nosson Tzvi heard about this and he sent her a letter. But he did not merely send her a generic letter. He had someone draw a heart and, in the heart, he wrote her a note. The person told the Rav who was eulogizing the Mir Rosh Yeshiva: “How do I know this story? It is because that little girl is now my wife.” This heart shaped message from Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel gave that young girl such inspiration and such a positive feeling that it rejuvenated her spirit.
Do you know another Rosh Yeshiva on the face of this earth who would send a message inscribed in a heart to a little girl? It is incredible! One of the biggest Rosh Yeshivas in the world sends a heart to a little girl! I have heard dozens of stories about Rav Nosson Tzvi over the past several months, but to me, that story tops them all. To cheer up a little orphan daughter of a close student of his—there was no question of his own honor, proper protocol, or what might people say. He had the ability to rejuvenate the dispirited, which is the power to be mechayei meisim! It is a beautiful story.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Mishpatim is provided below:
- # 043 Malpractice
- # 086 Withholding Medical Treatment
- # 134 Hashovas Aveida: Returning Lost Objects
- # 181 Medicine, Shabbos, and the Non-Jew
- # 227 Taking Medication on Shabbos
- # 271 Experimental Medical Treatment
- # 317 Wrecking a Borrowed Car
- # 361 Bankruptcy
- # 405 Litigating in Secular Courts
- # 449 Is Gambling Permitted
- # 493 Bitul B’rov
- # 537 Losing Your Coat at a Coat Check
- # 581 Lending Without Witnesses
- # 625 The Kesuba
- # 669 Rabbinical Contracts
- # 713 Adam Hamazik & Liability Insurance
- # 757 Midvar Sheker Tirchak: True or False?
- # 801 Oy! My Wallet Went Over Niagara Falls
- # 845 Is Hunting a Jewish Sport?
- # 889 The Neighbor Who Forgot To Turn Off The Fire
- # 933 The Mitzvah of Lending Money
- # 976 Will Any Doctor Do?
- # 1020 The Potato Baked in a Fleishig Pan – With Butter or Margarine?
- # 1064 The Doctor That Erred
- # 1107 5772 or 2012 What Should It Be?
- # 1150 Taking State Farm To Beis Din
- # 1193 “Dayan, If You Know What’s Good For You, Rule In My Favor”
- # 1237 The Case of the Sefer That Was Borrowed and Never Returned
- # 1282 Treating Ebola Patients; The Har Nof Massacre and Kidney Donations
- # 1325 Finding a $20 Bill in Shul / Finding A Comb in a Mikvah: Can You Keep It?
- # 1369 Lending Money Without Receiving an IOU Slip – Is It Mutar?
- # 1413 Reinstituting the Sanhedrin in Our Day and Age?
- # 1457 My Neighbor’s Son Threw a Ball Through My Front Window – Who Pays?
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