For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"Should you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work [for]six years, and in the seventh [year], he shall go out to freedom without charge." (Ex. 21:2)

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi:"Should you buy a Hebrew slave"
A slave who is himself a Hebrew. Or perhaps it means only a slave of a Hebrew, a Canaanite [servant] whom you bought from a Hebrew. And concerning him, he [the Torah] says, "he shall work [for] six years." How [then] can I apply the [law in the following] verse, "and you shall bequeath them"? (Lev. 25:46) [Does this verse apply] concerning one [a servant] purchased from a non-Jew, but one [a servant] purchased from an Israelite goes free after six years? Therefore, the Torah states: "Should your brother, a Hebrew man be sold to you, [he shall serve you for six years]". (Deut. 15:12) [This is the clarification that] I [God] said this only regarding your brother.

"Should you buy"
from the hand of the court, who sold him [into servitude] because of his theft, as it is said: "If he has no [money], he shall be sold for his theft". (Ex. 22:2) Or perhaps it refers only to one who sold oneself [into servitude] because of poverty, but if the court sold him, he does not go free after six [years]? When he [the Torah] says: "And if your brother becomes impoverished beside you and is sold to you", (Ex. 25:39) one who sells oneself because of poverty is mentioned [here]. So [to avoid repetition] how do I apply "Should you buy"? [By understanding that this is] concerning one sold by the court.

Remez (hinted meaning):

There is no Baal HaTurim on this verse.

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Targum Yonatan: If you buy a son of Israel, on account of his theft, six years he shall serve, and at the incoming of the seventh he shall go out free without price.

...the liberation of a servant in the 7th year has a remembrance of the leaving from Egypt...

Ramban: "if you buy a Hebrew servant"
G‑d began the first judgment with a Hebrew servant because the liberation of a servant in the 7th year has a remembrance of the leaving from Egypt mentioned in the 1st Commandment. It also has a remembrance of the creation just as Shabbat does, for the 7th year signals a complete rest from the work of the master. Too "seventh" is among the years a Jubilee, for the 7th is the most chosen of days to be Shabbat, and of the years to be a Shemita (Sabbatical Year), and of the 7 Shemita's to be Jubilee, and they all point to one subject, to the secret of the days of this world from "Bereishit bara" to "Vayachulu". (Gen. 1:1-2:3) So that is why this commandment is mentioned first because of its extreme importance alluding to the great things in the process of creation. 1

Ohr HaChayim: Perhaps it means that "when you are about to buy a slave, buy a Jewish one". Don't buy a non-Jew because you know you can keep him indefinitely. The reason why the Torah refers to the slave as a Hebrew instead of a Israelite is that the Torah is sensitive about combining the words "slave" and "Israelite." The Torah wants us to know that the term "slave" is only used for a Jew for a temporary status only, since Jews are all G‑d's permanent slaves. This is one of the reasons why such a Jewish servant must leave his master in the 7th year.

Maggid Mesharim: Since the Shemita year does not free him, why does it say that he goes free in the 7th year? The secret is what our Sages said that one who goes about the desert and does not know when the Shabbat is counts 6 days and rests, and so it is forever because every 7th day is Shabbat, for all the sefirot are Shabbat. Similarly with this matter. Too, it hints that man should work 6 years in this world. That is 60 years he should exist and in the 7th decade "he shall go out" free with charge as it says "naked I went out of my mother's womb" (Job 1:21)

This parasha hints that one should follow his Acquirer, that a Jewish servant refers to the spirit that is certainly subjugated within the body. As the Holy One blessed is He said to the body, "when you purchase a Jewish servant" that is spirit, you should not permit him to go after the pleasures of the body. For the existence of a body in this world in only 6 years, that is 6 decades of years. "And in the 7th" when he reaches 70 years old, he will go out of the world free without anything.

R. Yechiel Michal MeZlotchov: It takes a tremendous amount of work "to acquire" the qualities of being a Jewish servant to G‑d. (Peninei HaChassidut)

R. Yitzchak of Neshchiz: One can practice Shabbat/the Seventh" in such a way that one can become free, liberating the self from compulsive servitude to rhythms of addiction. One can escape the capture of the yetzer — the habitual inclination.

R. Reuven of Zhernovitch: Once one sees that the security and rewards granted by the imbalanced self are so small that you really are getting nothing for your life and time; that you are giving up everything "freely", then you can begin to seize your liberty.

...the sale and servitude of Jewish slaves represents the descent of the soul into the body.

Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Zohar (II 96b) teaches that the sale and servitude of Jewish slaves represents the descent of the soul into the body. Canaanite slaves are the initial stages of man's Divine service when he must overcome the influence of the animal soul that lusts for worldly pleasures. This is accomplished by fear of the Master and acceptance of His yoke. The person coerces his animal soul to conform to the wishes of his Master at least on the practical level.

The Hebrew slave has reached a higher level for in him the Divine attributes of the G‑dly soul illuminate the animal soul and influence it to feel some desire for G‑dliness. Nevertheless the worldly desires of the animal soul have not been completely subdued.

The highest level is the Hebrew maidservant, who may be sold by her father only if the purchaser has an eligible son for a husband for her. So too the soul is sent on an earthly journey into a body with the ultimate goal a total marriage with G‑d. So the Hebrew maidservant represents the person whose desire for worldly pleasures has been completely transformed to desire only G‑dliness. (Likutei Sichot 26:371)

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Behar 108:
This is why, "in the seventh he shall go out free." What is "free"? It means that he pays his master nothing.

We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for nothing" (Num. 11:5), without a blessing, as we did not have a heavenly yoke in Egypt. Come and see: slaves are exempt from the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and so they are exempt from the commandments. What is this the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom? It is like an ox upon which they first place a yoke in order to work with him and draw benefit from him for the world. If he does not accept that yoke he does no work at all. So man must accept upon himself the yoke first, and then he will toil with it all that he needs. However, if he does not accept this yoke upon himself first, he cannot work, and this yoke can not rest upon one who is attached to another, and so slaves are exempt from the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. If they are exempt from this yoke, they are exempt from all other, since other are not placed upon one until this yoke is with him. Therefore, Israelites in Egypt ate without cost.

Here too, "he shall go out free," since he was a slave and whatever he did was without cost, without the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. So even though his deeds were for nothing, "he shall go out," and find rest. After gaining freedom and finding himself at rest, a yoke is placed upon him from that place that brought him freedom. If someone rejected freedom, as the verse reads, "And if the servant shall say, I love my master..." (Ex. 21:5) he certainly has thwarted that place, since he has rejected the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom and accepted the yoke of his master. What does it say of this? "Then his master shall bring him to the judges ('the Elokim'); he shall also bring him to the door..." (21:6) "Then his master shall bring him to the Elokim"; Elokim generally, to that place that he damaged, also referred to as Elokim.

On the contrary, G‑d is in all the details!

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
Sometimes the deepest secrets are found in the strangest places. For the past 17 Torah portions (17 being the gematria of the word Tov/good), we have been following a narrative. Adam to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph to Moses to the Sea of Reeds to Mt. Sinai. Now we start to get details and laws. Lots of them. Well, one might think there is no aggadot/homiletics to be found in all these details. On the contrary, G‑d is in all the details! And this portion in the Zohar is called Sabba Mishpatim--the Old Man of Portion Mishpatim, where he gives over the amazing secrets of reincarnation based on the initial verses of our story. All of these are parables and formulaic expositions of how the soul travels and the work it must do in this world. Like the Zohar's discussion of the word Elokim above. This is a plural noun for G‑d.

Hey, wait one second here! We are supposed to believe in One G‑d, for did we not hear last week, "I am G‑d your G‑d ? There is a face of G‑d that appears in nature, hateva, which happens to be the gematria of Elokim. That is the face of Creation, found in the first verse of the Torah and repeated 32 times in the workings of Creation. It has a plural sense because of its diverse influence amongst all sentient beings and all the details. But there is a oneness which will be reinforced in the next time the Torah's giving is explained in Parshat Va'etchanan, in our twice daily saying: "Shema Yisrael…G‑d is one."

The Zohar above shows that Elokim referred to in the simple sense of judge also means G‑d. That because the Hebrew servant that heard with his ear the Alef of the word Anochi in the Giving of the Torah—where we were made servants of G‑d—has rejected it, he must be brought to the lower Elokim/ judges and get his ear pierced by the door jamb—the place where Shechinah rests, by the Mezuzah [same gematria as the name A-do-noy (65) related to malchut/Shechinah]. What is damaged above can result in effect below. As we go through this portion, take off your left brain thinking caps and open yourself up to the multitude of mystic meanings in the text.

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