Torah Portion for Sunday 30th January 2022 called Mishpatim meaning “Judgements” from Exodus chapters 21 – 24:18 2 Kings 12: 1-17 (The restoration of the Temple) Matthew 17:22-27. Paying the Temple tax - upkeep.
Following the revelation at Mount Sinai, this week’s Torah portion fleshes out the details of the predominantly 613 civil laws that were to govern the Israelites: laws relating to slaves and their release, personal injuries and property laws, laws of social responsibility, justice and compassion, and laws relating to Shabbat and the festivals. It ends with a ratification of the covenant, and Moses ascending the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.
This is a fairly laborious Torah portion of the Laws of Moses but I felt led to explore the implications of the first one dealing with “slavery.”
Exodus 21: 2 to 6 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. 5 “But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.
He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his slave for life”.
Now the question is “Why begin these 613 commandments with the issue of slavery?.
The Israelites have just endured 400 years of slavery in Egypt and there must be a reason why because God knew, and he intended it to happen centuries before. He had already told Abraham in Genesis 15: 12 to 13 it reads,
12 “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there”.
So it seems that this was the first necessary step for the Israelites as a nation to legislate rules for keeping slaves. From the very beginning of the human story, the God of Freedom sought freedom for mankind, but one after the other, people abused that freedom.
First Adam and Eve, then Cain, then the generation of the builders of Babel. So God began again, not with all of humanity, but with one man and one woman, Abram and Sarai and their family who would become pioneers of freedom.
But freedom is difficult. We each seek it for ourselves but we deny it to others when their freedom conflicts with our own. So deeply is this true, that within three generations of Abraham's children, Joseph's brothers were already willing to sell him into slavery. A tragedy that didn't end until Judah was prepared to forfeit his own freedom so that his brother Benjamin could go free.
It took the collective experience of the Israelites, their deep intimate, personal, backbreaking, bitter experience of slavery, a memory that they were commanded never to forget, to never turn their brothers and sisters into slaves.
They became a people capable of constructing a free society which is the hardest achievement in the human realm, even today. So, it is no surprise that the first laws they were commanded after Sinai were related to slavery. Now comes the real questions.
“If God doesn't want slavery, if he regards it as an affront to human dignity, why did he not abolish it altogether? Why did he allow it to continue albeit in a restricted and regulated way?
Is it conceivable that God, who can produce water from a rock and manna from heaven and turn the sea into dry land, will not change human behavior? Of course He can, but He will not. He will always give us the ability to choose because He gives us freewill.
Freedom depends on a government not over-legislating with tighter and tighter restrictions and mandates. It means creating space in which people have the right to choose for themselves. But on the other hand, we are not sure people will always make the right choices. Left to ourselves, will we make rational choices without being deeply irrational?
Many psychologists, and Stanley Milgram in particular, showed how much we are influenced by our desire to conform, even when we know it’s not right. Milgram was interested in understanding the factors that lead people to obey the orders given by people in authority.
He designed a study in which he could observe the extent to which a person who presented himself as an authority would be able to produce obedience, even to the extent of leading people to cause harm to others as Hitler did in Germany to the Jewish people.
It is the highest level of psychological warfare where army personnel can be persuaded to take children away from their parents in our nation if the parents are not vaccinated, and it can be seen as a good thing but it is deeply irrational!
How do you stop people doing harmful, irrational things without taking away their freedom?
There are other ways in which you can influence people. You can nudge them to look again at behavioral studies. For example, in a cafeteria, you can put healthy food at eye level and junk food in a more inaccessible and less noticeable place and you can subtly adjust people's choice and that is what God does with regard to slavery.
He doesn't abolish it, He puts it out of reach and constricts it within limits. He sets in motion a process that will foreseeably, even though it will take many centuries, lead people to abolish slavery of their own accord.
The next thing to remember is that a Hebrew slave is not a slave for the rest of his life, he can go free after six years, but if he has grown so used to his condition that he does not want to go free, then he is forced to undergo a stigmatizing ceremony by having his ear pierced with an awl on the doorpost, a visible sign of shame.
Think about it for a minute. The children of Israel were set free from slavery and death in Egypt by the Blood of the Lamb on the doorposts and now the one who chooses to be enslaved again, sheds his own blood by having his ear pierced on the same “doorway of freedom.”
On every Shabbat, slaves are not forced to work as was the custom for every Jewish person. All these stipulations have the effect of turning slavery from a lifelong fate into a temporary condition and one seen to be a humiliation rather than something natural.
It was never meant to be a permanent existence that is indelibly written. People must freely choose to abolish slavery. You cannot force people to be free if they are to be free at all - it's a contradiction in terms. An oxymoron. George Orwell’s book “1984” is an attack on the abuse of power and how the end justifies the means.
In an article by “Socratic” a Literary discussion paper on Communism and a Totalitarian state, I read these words,
I quote, “Freedom = slavery. This oxymoron reflects Stalinist thinking whereby the masses must be guided and controlled by the state. “Freedom = slavery” means that freedom is an illusion. It is, in reality, a con by systems such as democracy. It goes on, “freedom” is really another form of exploitation or slavery. Only the state can provide real freedom.”
You will have nothing and be happy!
It also said this, “Ignorance=strength, that means that the state needs to control information. Ignorance benefits the masses because they know only what they need to know. The state will determine what information is accessible on behalf of the masses.” Sound familiar!
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe reported in Action for Canada this week, by Tanya Gaw “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
I argue that there is no such thing as true "voluntary slavery" and there never has been. Slavery is slavery and it is an abhorrent and utterly immoral practice which would never be sanctioned by a "God of Love."
In Canada, we are all facing the establishment of a totalitarian Government by a dictator who is hell bent on enslaving his people. God cannot change that unless we move and claim back our God given rights and freedoms.
God can change nature, but He will not change human nature. Christianity is built on the principle of human freedom – freedom of choice - not slavery nor human trafficking. God cannot abolish slavery overnight. He could change our choices and nudge us to abolish it in our own time and through our own understanding of the suffering inflicted on these young men, women and children throughout the world.
Praise God for the Exodus and the convoy of the Truckers leading the way to freedom across this land. We must all do something! It took a very long time in America and indeed not without a civil war. It took William Wilberforce his whole life to abolish slavery in England. God will give us a nudge but the rest is up to us.
We choose not to be enslaved again and bound by satan when our freedom was bought at such a high price by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. We choose not to be enslaved and bound by illegal restrictions, mandates, rules and regulations to control the masses by blackmail, coercion and threats, so we support our truckers who are upholding our constitutional rights in a democratic and heartfelt cry for the freedom of our Nation.
Principles of Social Psychology 1st international H5P edition “Obedience, Power and Leadership." Chapter 6 “Influencing and conforming”: (Fiske, 1993; Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003). Ilooked up “Principles of Social Psychology” “Milgram’s Studies on Obedience to Authority” The powerful ability of those in authority to control others was demonstrated in a remarkable set of studies performed by Stanley Milgram (1963).
George Orwell “1984” Socratic.org. Literary discussion paper.
Rabbi Sacks on Mishpatim – Slavery
Chabad Mishpatim in a nutshell.
Action for Canada J.W. von Goethe