The winter here is turning rapidly (but not necessarily permanently) into spring, and I have a strong desire to discard the computer and go out to the forest, but I will Be Good.
The Zohar compares your mind to a wild horse, that can’t be totally tamed. As soon as I wrote the above sentence, I found myself thinking about being enslaved to routine, which makes sense. Then the wild horse, my mind, took me much further than I had intended to go. Then I began to think about what actual slavery is about, which took me back to reality and from there to this week’s Parshah.
It’s rather surprising that the very first laws to be taught in detail are ones concerning slaves. Rav Hirsch’s take on this is that the way you treat people who have no options is to a large degree the strongest indication of who you really are. In fact, he points out, that the entire contractual side of marriage is stated in regard to a young girl who was sold as a bondswoman. She had to be a girl under 12 or pre-puberty, whose father’s poverty forced him to sell her to someone as a bondswoman for six years (or until she reaches the age of 12 or puberty, whichever comes first). Her father betrayed her in many ways (although it’s not necessarily his fault that he became so desperately poor). The Torah tells you that she must receive full support, have all of her needs met including conjugal rights just like any other woman, it is telling you more about the kind of society that Hashem wants us to develop than what it is telling you about the fate of a young girl.
I was more interested (when I went out of my reverie about the slave girl and back to the computer) about what it was like to be an actual slave. As many of you know, if a man stole and couldn’t pay his target back, the court was empowered to sell him for six years, and to use the money to repay his victim. If he was married, his new master had to undertake supporting his family (who were not slaves). He also had to treat the slave as almost an equal in regard to his living conditions. Although I understand how a pre-industrial agricultural society was dependent on this sort of labor, I still couldn’t figure out why discussing all of the detailed laws has to be number one. There is a far deeper perspective, and I want to share it with you.
When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, his future generations inherited the limitations that he generated just as absolutely as we inherited his body and his soul’s potentials. Towards the end of the Parshah, it says, “My soul shall not resonate within man because he is flesh”. The speaker is G-d. He is voicing a reality that defined the era. People had mad such really awful choices that they could only relate to life physically. They were deaf to Hashem’s presence inside them. Sound familiar?
The next step was that robbery and “grabbing” defined the pre-flood world. Robbery means what you think it does, but grabbing means taking what you want and leaving money for it even though your victim didn’t necessarily want to sell it. This reflects how much that they lived only for themselves. Working towards any goal beyond themselves was outside of their range of choices. The result was Hashem renewing His covenant with His creation after the flood made it possible to begin again. The Zohar on today’s parshah tells you what happened to the souls of the people who died in the flood. They had not rectified themselves. There was no pre-flood teshuvah movement. In fact they were hostile towards Noach and mocked his mission. Hashem brought them back to this world as the Jewish people. He redefined the rules of the game by creating an entire nation whose role would be to present the rest of the world with a living picture of what humanity is meant to be. In order for us to assume this role there were many lessons to assimilate. One of them was complete dedication to a task whether or not it gives your personal satisfaction. The Jews had to experience slavery in Egypt before they were ready to submit themselves honestly to a framework in which they define themselves as Hashem’s servants. For this reason, one of the first laws they had to learn was the laws concerning slavery. Here are a few insights.
1-Stealing from G-d can also take place. It means making use, or having pleasure from the world without using it as a bond to its creator. There is a premise that the world’s “calendar” lists 6,000 years of work towards moving beyond this form of “stealing” as our goal. IF we don’t make the right choices, we will ultimately become so disillusioned that we return to Hashem. Finally at the end of that period, moshiach will come bringing the world and everyone in it to real freedom. You will no longer enslaved to base desires, status seeking, and all of the other nonsense that you and I deal with on a daily basis. Imagine what it feels like to be really free!
2-A slave serves 6 years. The days of the workweek are ones that parallel his term of labor. Shabbos gives you a taste of the freedom you will have when you finally grow up!
This is the week of shovavim in which you can become freer, not by accepting the Torah’s laws that free you from the worst kind of slavery that there is; slavery to yourself, your routine, your desires, your love of validation.
Yours as ever,