• Prof. Yonatan Grossman

Parshat HaShavua
Yeshivat Har Etzion


By Rav Yonatan Grossman

This week, I would like to continue with the theme of our previous lessons on the book of Devarim, exploring again the relationship between Moshe's words here, versus the initial narratives as they appear in the earlier books of the Chumash.

In our earlier shiurim, we compared and contrasted various events, such as the appointment of judges, the sin of the spies, and the revelation at Sinai. This time, we shall focus on a topic associated with biblical law, commandments and obligations.

When Moshe recounts a particular incident in the history of the Jewish people, we expect his retelling to be a precise and accurate description. When this fails to be the case, such as with respect to the Aseret Ha-Dibrot where significant differences exist, we are forced to search for an explanation. In contrast to events, Moshe's repetition of various laws is surprising in and of itself, over and above the specifics of the law which may be presented differently. Why does Moshe repeat certain commandments, when at first glance the repetitions seem to contribute nothing significant to the general tone of his words? On the other hand, when it comes to the repetition on of the mitzvot, we would be more surprised if no differences where noted! Here, the existence of differences would explain why Moshe repeats the Divine command, since he comes to explain that which was not stated earlier.

Let us clarify the topic by exploring a particular mitzva which occurs towards the end of this weeks parasha, namely the sending forth of the Hebrew servant (eved ivri).

The obligation to send forth servants after six years of service (15:12-18) has already been stated at the beginning of parashat Mishpatim (Shemot 21:2-1). A cursory reading reveals significant differences between the two versions: 1. Parashat Mishpatim tells us that if the servant entered servitude alone, then he leaves alone; if he arrived married, then his wife goes out with him. This detail is entirely lacking in our parasha. 2. Our parasha presents us with an additional mitzva when setting the servant free, - the mitzva of "ha'anaka" (severance grant). " When you send him forth free, do not send him forth empty handed. Provide him with gifts of your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Provide him from the blessings which God has bestowed upon you." 3. Our parasha offers no distinctions between the laws of the male servant and the laws of the female servant. The opening of the section is "If your fellow Jew or Jewess be sold to you." With respect to other details, it later states "and concerning your female servant you should do likewise." In parashat Mishpatim, by contrast, we find specific laws which clearly differentiate between the female servant and the male.

Rashi in his commentary here notes the differences between our parasha and parashat Mishpatim.

Has the Torah not already stated 'and when you buy a Hebrew servant' Rather, the repetition here adds two new details. Firstly, that the female servant also goes forth after six years, and secondly, that the parting servant is to be provided with gifts.

The obvious question is: Is there a fundamental distinction which would explain all of these specific differences?

It seems to me that the central issue which we explored two weeks ago in parashat Va'etchanan is also relevant here. Moshe sees before his eyes the generation which is poised to enter the land; his entire address is nothing but preparation for the covenant at the plains of Moav which is so integrally connected with initiating the people's entry into the land. Moshe sees the people of Israel who are about to become owners of houses and fields and his words are directed to them.

This point becomes more lucid when we note two textual distinctions in addition to the differences in content noted earlier. Firstly, throughout the entire section in our parasha, the root "SHILUACH" - to send forth - is used: "In the seventh year you shall SEND HIM FORTH free. When you SEND HIM FORTH free, do not SEND HIM FORTH empty handed ....let it not be difficult for you to SEND HIM FORTH free ..." This term does not occur in the parallel passage in Mishpatim. There the matching root is that of "YETZIA" - going out. "In the seventh year he shall go out free. If he entered alone he shall go out alone; if he was married his wife shall go out with him ... and he shall go out alone ... I shall not go forth free ... if these three things are not performed for her, she shall go out free without owing."

Secondly, in addition to this linguistic contrast, we note an additional grammatical difference. In parashat Mishpatim the text refers to the master in third person: "If his master shall provide him with a wife ... his master shall draw him near ..." In contrast, Moshe in our parasha addresses the master directly in second person: "When you send him forth free ... you shall provide him ... you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt," etc.

It seems to me that this distinction again highlights the essential difference between the two passages. Here, in our parasha, Moshe addresses the master who possesses the servant and he commands him to set his servant free after six years of service. In Mishpatim, however, the Torah is concerned with the legal status of servitude from the perspective of the servant, his rights and obligations; the central right, of course, being, his emancipation after six years. In our parasha, the master is legally obligated to free his servant. In parashat Mishpatim, the servant has a right to be free.

Just as we stated when we compared the Shabbat of parashat Yitro with that of Va'etchanan, we note that in the book of Devarim, Moshe is addressing the owners of houses, fields, and servants, and stressing the moral obligation demanded of them. Here as well, Moshe is addressing the master of the servant. In the Shabbat of parashat Yitro which stresses the resting of man as a function of God's resting on the seventh day, the focus is also from the servant's perspective; he stops working and rests on Shabbat. So too, in the seventh year, he leaves his service. In Devarim, where the mitzva of Shabbat revolves around the landowner's responsibility to allow his workers to rest from field work, the description of the servant's freedom in the seventh year is also stated from the point of view of the owner. He is commanded to release his servant to rest, and he is commanded to release him in the seventh year. These parallels are not accidental. Just as all Jews may labor for six days but have the right to rest on the seventh, so too the servant who labors for six years achieves freedom and rest in the seventh.

Let us now evaluate the differences that we noted earlier between the parshiot in light of this fundamental distinction.

1) In the parasha of Mishpatim where the text presents the perspective of the servant and his legal rights, a discussion of the servant's wife is entirely appropriate. If he enters service in a state of marriage, his wife goes free with him; if his master provides him with a Canaanite maidservant, she remains behind. If the servant so desires, he may exercise his right to remain indentured. "If the servant shall say 'I love my master, my wife and children and so I desire not to go free', then his master shall bring him to the court, pierce his servant's ear at the door post and he shall remain in his master's service forever." Here, the Torah raises important considerations that may cause the servant to reconsider exercising his right to go free, namely his Canaanite wife and children who will remain behind. In contrast, when Moshe recounts the law from the perspective of the master and his obligation to set the servant free, a discussion of the servant's wife is superfluous. The issue of a wife belongs to the servant's sphere of concerns, but is not part the master's obligations. Therefore, in our parasha, when the servant expresses his desire not to go, the text speaks of his love for his master and his master's household, these being the only relevant criteria insofar as the master is concerned.
2) With respect to the provision of ha'anaka, a similar argument applies. From a legal standpoint, the servant has no right to demand these gifts at the time of his release. Thus, this provision is omitted from parashat Mishpatim, which speaks of the servant's rights and obligations. Parashat Re'eh, on the other hand, which details the Torah's expectations of the master, includes the demand that the master fulfill his moral obligation of providing his freed servant with gifts.
3) The unique status of the female servant as detailed in parashat Mishpatim is also now clear. When we examine her legal standing, we discover that it differs markedly from that of the man. She only enters servitude as a means of initiating a possible relationship of marriage, and she is thus unlike a Canaanite maidservant. These details are meaningful when we approach the matter from the female servant's frame of reference. Insofar, as the master is concerned, however, his moral obligation is to free her after six years and to provide her with parting gifts, just as with a male servant.

Parashat Re'eh offers strongly-worded encouragement to the master to fulfill the injunction of the Torah: "Let it not be difficult in your eyes to send your servant free ..." This is appropriate, since here again, the Torah addresses itself to the master and his moral responsibilities.

Dr. D. Henshkeh dealt with these two sections about ten years ago (see "Shiluach Avadim Ve-Hilkhot Bekhor" in Megadim 4) and demonstrated that our Sages were sensitive to both perspectives which the two passages provide. According to the tradition of our Sages, when the servant goes free after six years, the master is required to say to him "Go forth" (see Mekhilta DeRashbi to Shemot ch. 21). If this pronouncement is not made, the servant is nevertheless free, but the master has failed to fulfill his obligation. According to our analysis above, this tradition combines both aspects. On the one hand, the servant goes free after six years by right, irrespective of the master's wishes. On the other hand, the master has a parallel moral obligation to free his servant at the conclusion of the six years, and this he fulfills by pronouncing the formula "Go forth."