Friday, July 6, 2007

MISHPATIM - LOVE SLAVE

by Rabbi baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


This week's parsha Mishpatim follows on the heels of the Decalogue and immediately we read about the Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave/servant). The plain meaning, of course, is that it refers to the Hebrew slave who refuses manumission in the seventh year. That's very sweet but it's not at all clear why it davka follows the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments. A seemingly pedestrian legal ruling appears in the Torah immediately after the most awesome, literally earth shaking event in human history!

But the deepest understanding of the Hebrew Slave (eved ivri), is that he really is each and every one of us who chooses to remain with his ultimate Master, Hashem, and more poignantly, that Hashem reciprocates by choosing to remain with us. We are each one of us an eved (servant) of Hashem, and Hashem therefore will never abandon us as we vow not to abandon Him.

Sinai was the pledging of eternal love. Now we see that love being tested! Upon insisting he remain with his Master, the eved (servant/slave) makes a declaration saying, AHAVTI ET ADONI VE'ET ISHTI VE'ET BANAI LO ETZEI CHOFSHI. (Ex 21:5) This is usually translated as "I LOVE my master and my wife and My children - I will not go out free." But it is not "I love" in the present. It reads "I loveD"- PAST TENSE! "In the PAST I loved ..." This is not to say that he doesn't love them in the present. Of course he does.

What's important to understand is that the Torah recognizes that the intensity of romantic love necessarily fades over time. The heady impact of standing at Sinai fades over time. The certainty of keeping the Torah that was so clear at the smoking mountain becomes less clear down the long road of time's journeys. Hashem is saying, "You can go free if you really want to. You can be free of your obligations to me, and vice versa." But the eved says "NO." "And although the intensity of the romantic love may have faded, I still want to stay with you forever." He says, "my wife and children are connected to me so deeply. How could I dare live apart from them?"

Hashem was Israel's spouse under the Sinai Chuppah as the mountain was held over their heads, not to crush them if they didn't accept the Torah, but to be the biggest chuppah the world had ever seen!

Hashem, You say, You shall LOVE the L*rd your G*D..." And what if, CV"S, I have lost that loving feeling? Maybe the outer shell has faded, but the inner love core is still there. The Pintele Yid remains forever. Because the root of love in Hebrew Is HAV, which means to give, know that all we have given to each other counts for something.

The six years of servitude represent the six days of Creation. And the six days of the week count for a lot because they lead up to Shabbos. Even if we didn't FEEL the love of Shabbos every day of the week, we wouldn't HAVE Shabbos without those six days leading up to Shabbos! At least in this world.

So Hashem, even as you are my master, you are also my partner, my spouse. I will be loyal to you and to your Torah even after a thousand generations have passed. Even if my/our love for you may have faded over time, know that I pledge to you my eternal fidelity for the sake of all the good we have given each other over the years. Sinai was so long ago, but all through time, all the generations that preceded us felt that special connection, even gave their lives when necessary, no matter how much time had passed.

And so the Master takes his eved's OZEN, his ear, and marks it with a RETZUAH, a strip. when we don our Tefillin's RETZUOT/straps, we are to remember this eternal fidelity. No matter how onerous and burdensome it seems to get up early to phylacterate, we are to be reminded of Hashem's eternal love for us when we don the straps. Because we refused to leave Hashem, Hashem refuses to leave us. And why the ear? Because it says OZNO, which really means "I will give him my sustenance" -MAZON.

The soil and the seed is from Hashem, while the planting itself is from man. This is the eternal partnership of the Covenant of Noah- that seedtime and Harvest shall never cease...(Gen 8:22). Noah's first act was to plant. But he corrupted himself with its fruit, revealing his nakedness publicly, as it were.

But with the new COVENANT with Israel at Sinai, would Hashem be disappointed again? Hence the accent on the sexual morality of the priests, that the altar would be sloped for the sake of modesty. "Do not climb up to my altar with steps, so that your nakedness not be revealed on it (Ex 20:23)." And this verse is sandwiched in between the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Slave narrative!

Wow. It's as if Hashem is saying, "Don't pull a Noah on me! Can I trust you to stay with me this time? Because Israel did not abandon me in the sixth year when he could have, even as the door was left open, I will be there for Israel for all eternity - and beyond."

Good Shabbos!

Copyright 1999-2007

The learnings of Sefer Chabibi are the Chidushim of (Rabbi) Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua (Hakohen Melman).

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When I was young I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.- Abraham Joshua Heschel
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-Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!