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Parshat Mishpatim: Eved Ivri - A Hebrew Slave

כִּ֤י תִקְנֶה֙ עֶ֣בֶד עִבְרִ֔י שֵׁ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים יַֽעֲבֹ֑ד וּבַ֨שְּׁבִעִ֔ת יֵצֵ֥א לַֽחָפְשִׁ֖י חִנָּֽם:

Parshat Mishpatim opens with a discussion of the laws of owning a slave. Unlike classic forced slavery that exists throughout the world, a Hebrew slave is limited to a 6 year term. This unique system gives the salve the opportunity to earn his freedom after the 6 year term.

The reason for this system was to provide a way for those who were in financial difficulties to regain their independence and support themselves. The individual would sell himself into slavery for a set period of time, during which he would work off his debt and save enough money to start a new life. At the end of the six years, the slave was set free and given enough resources to support himself

Rashi offers an explanation for the requirement that a Hebrew slave be set free in the seventh year. He writes that the purpose of this law was to teach the master to treat the slave with compassion and to recognize that the slave is a human being with inherent worth and dignity. By requiring the slave to be freed after six years, the master was forced to confront the reality that the slave was not a permanent possession, but rather a temporary laborer who deserved to be treated with respect and given the opportunity to reclaim his freedom

In essence, the system of Hebrew slavery was designed to provide a safety net for those in need while promoting fairness and equality. It was a unique and innovative approach to the issue of poverty and debt, and its principles continue to have relevance and impact today

אמרו חז׳׳ל: "כל הקונה עבד עברי כקונה אדון לעצמו"‏ קדושין כ"ב

Whoever acquires a Hebrew slave acquires a master upon himself (Kiddushin 22)

The above quote from the Gemara in Kiddushin, is a powerful statement about the nature of slavery and the responsibilities of the slave owner. The Gemara is emphasizing that when one buys a Hebrew slave, they are not merely acquiring a worker or a possession, but they are also taking on a significant responsibility. By becoming a slave owner, the master is essentially becoming the slave's master and is responsible for the well-being and treatment of the slave.

This idea has several implications for the slave owner and for society as a whole. First, it underscores the importance of treating the slave with dignity and respect, as the master is essentially taking on the role of a "master" to the slave. Second, it highlights the responsibility of the master to ensure that the slave is not oppressed or mistreated, and to provide the slave with the resources and support necessary to lead a fulfilling life.

The relevance of this quote is that it speaks to the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with ownership and power. In the context of slavery, the quote serves as a reminder that the master must not view the slave as mere property, but as a fellow human being deserving of dignity and respect. This principle applies not just to the issue of slavery, but to any situation where one person has power over another. Whether in the workplace, in the home, or in society as a whole, those in positions of power must always strive to treat others with compassion, respect, and fairness.

The Gemara in Kiddushin serves as a reminder of the obligations that come with power and ownership, and provides an important perspective on the importance of treating others with dignity and respect, regardless of their status or circumstances



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