In our last two editions of S.A.L.T., we addressed the question as to the nature of the ha’anaka obligation, which requires a master to give his servant generous gifts at the time of his release from his state of servitude. As we saw yesterday, the Meshekh Chokhma, commenting to Parashat Re’ei (15:14), asserts on the basis of the Gemara’s discussion (Kiddushin 17b) that the obligation of ha’anaka actually consists of two separate requirements. First, the master must give the servant a minimum sum as a kind of mandatory charitable donation, to assist him as he starts his new life. Additionally, if the master benefited financially from the services provided by the servant, he owes the servant a portion of his profits as type of “salary.” The difference between these two payments is that if the servant dies before receiving his ha’anaka, the master does not have to pay the first sum to the inheritors, but the second sum, which is owed as the servant’s wages, must be given to the inheritors.
It is worth reflecting on the broader implications of this two-tiered obligation that a master has towards his servant. According to the Meshekh Chokhma, the master has two separate, unrelated responsibilities to his servant: to help the servant even if he had derived no benefit from him, and to repay him if he did receive benefit from him. Symbolically, these two obligations represent the distinct responsibilities we all have to each other. We are bound to offer assistance to those in need even if they had done nothing for us, simply by virtue of the fact that they require help. Compassion and sensitivity to people facing hardship is unrelated to any benefit we have received or hope to receive from them. Conversely, we owe a debt of gratitude and appreciation to those who have helped us, who have enriched or enhanced our lives, who have brought us blessing and joy, or who have brought us any type of benefit, irrespective of their specific needs. Even if we are not in a position to fulfill any need that they have, we owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have benefitted us in any way.
The law of ha’anaka thus teaches us about both kindness and gratitude, requiring us to be sensitive to people in need and offer them assistance, and also to not take for granted the benefits we receive from the people in our lives, and to express sincere gratitude and appreciation.