Just Say No and Respecting Human Dignity

The following text by Reb Zalman is from this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Mishpatim. (Click here for Hebrew/English version). [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:

Positive commandments are time-bound, for with all positive commandments that are dependent on time, the responsibility isn’t fulfilled unless one does it at the particular time specified.  However, with the negative commandments, the observance has greater frequency for they are fulfilled constantly all 365 days of the year on the level of “return to God” and “Don’t do them.”

[NOTE:  When we  “just say no” to something that is disallowed in our Torah, we show the Creator our willingness to be good Jews, an opportunity for all, regardless of on-going traditional discussion on time-bound Mitzvot which they say are required only of males.]

If his master gives him a wife, etc., (Exodus 21:4)… the woman and her childrenand he left alone.

[NOTE: (cf. Rashi).  The text is understood as referring to a Hebrew slave and a non-Hebrew, (i.e., Canaanite), wife also a slave.  When the period of servitude is over, the Hebrew slave goes out by himself, without his wife and children.]

And the Torah spoke thus so that he will not be a lonesome one all those years of his servitude.  

But if the master didn’t consider his feelings, assuming the wife and the children were to remain with the master, i.e., not handing them over to the freed slave, then, when he became free, it was now the master’s responsibility to provide for him, as in, (Deut 15:14) “You shall surely provide for him.

So from this, it now became possible for the freed slave to redeem them also,

[NOTE:  I.e., his wife and children.] 

 (for it may have been that the master was thinking that through this,

[NOTE:  I.e., separating the freed slave’s wife and children from him] 

he would thereby remain indentured to him until the Jubilee).

[NOTE:  On the surface, the text discounts the reality of this inter-marriage and the warm feelings that would have grown in the relationship during years of servitude.  However, the Torah has built a safeguard into the situation, respecting the dignity and humanity of the players.]

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
Parashat Mishpatim,” p. 32

One Response to “Just Say No and Respecting Human Dignity”

  1. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    Having just reread this section in the Torah, what is coming up for me now is the fact that we no longer, as a people, believe in slavery, and so Reb Zalman is showing us ways in which the text is organic and can be shaped over time in order to keep us in touch with the living God, as we understand Hir.

    Thus, the original interpretation, that the master gave the woman to the Hebrew man with the intention of rearing slaves as one would raise livestock, is something which no longer makes sense to us.

    As post-triumphalists, as people who recognize the sacredness of alternate cultures and religions, the only way to read this text now is being shown to us as one in which the husband goes out and then redeems his wife and children. Just as our ancestors came from Europe to America and raised money to bring over their families, so this slave, sold by the court as a punishment for stealing, will take the money provided by his master, and raise what is needed to redeem his family so they can live together in freedom.

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