We have just been given the Torah at Har Sinai. Now it’s time to get down to the fine details…
Interestingly, the Torah begins by discussing, of all things, the laws of owning a Jewish slave.
Why did the Torah feel it important enough to begin discussing its laws with this?
The answer, as explained by Rabbi Leibel Eiger (a grandson of the famous Rabbi Akiva Eiger), is a guideline in priorities.
The first mitzvah in the Torah is to recognise that ‘I am Hashem, your G-D’. That recognition is a prerequisite to fulfilling the Torah. Similarly, the principals of the laws of an ‘Eved Ivri’ are based on the premise that Hashem considers us to be ‘slaves to me’ and not to others. By discussing the laws of Eved Ivri at this introductory stage, the point is brought home again: to be able to accept the Torah, one must first know with Whom his first commitments lie.
As Rabbi Eiger explains, while the laws of Eved Ivri do not apply to our generation, everything in the Torah is eternal. He writes that we are to free ourselves from all types of slavery. Moreover, just as an Eved Ivri goes free in the seventh year, a Jew who finds himself enslaved goes free on the 7th day, i.e. Shabbos.
Rabbi Eiger wrote this in 19th century Poland. Yet anyone could think that he was writing it in 21st Century America. We all know the distractions that distract us from our priorities. Technology, work, addictions. When we think of servitude to G-D, we think of the common mitzvos (commandments) that are done ‘Bein Adam LaMakom’- ‘Between man and G-D’. Commandments like Teffilin, prayer, Shabbos, keeping kosher. However, let’s not forget that servitude of Hashem also means loyalty and commitment to our nearest and dearest.
Hard work is important. Technology is wonderful. But our challenge is to keep things like these under our control, establishing them as our servants rather than our masters. We have other people to answer to. Especially our own Master.
(Based on the thoughts of Rabbi Elimelech Biderman)