Moshe Kempinski

Torah Insights for Our Day; What should the Israeli Prime Minister do?

The Mechilta teaches that in the first verse of the Torah portion “And these (ve’eileh) are the laws which you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1), the term “and these” (ve’eileh ) teaches that this is but a continuation of the dramatic revelation at Sinai. That is to say that these laws and statutes are also coming from the same authoritative and celestial source. The portion then begins a description of no less than fifty three commandments. This extensive list of statutes and commandments begins with the following;

“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.” ( ibid:2)

Of all the laws statutes and commandments why start with this specific commandment?

The Ramban ( Nachmanides) explains that this commandment is similar to and reminiscent of the people’s own Exodus from Egypt mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments declared at mount Sinai. Secondly he states that it is also a whisper of the “cycles of seven” begun on the first Shabbat at the creation of the world.
Yet when it all comes down to it, this commandment must be at the forefront. Since, in essence, it all begins with freedom from mortal slavery. That freedom is the subtext of G-d’s creation of mankind. It is the lesson that needs to be learned before all else.
It is only out of that freedom that mankind can then choose to serve G-d.
G-d created a universe wherein choice determines the path through which destiny travels. In fact Jewish theology has declared that one of the greatest gifts G-d has given mankind is the power to choose.

“And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, but to fear Hashem your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12)The verb to “ask” pre-supposes the possibility of choice.

Furthermore He says “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, [that] I have set before you, life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19 ).

This verse reiterates that although the choice is free, every decision comes with implications. It is that determined decision to make the right choice that changes history.

But the choice needs to be made!

This is the reason that if the slave decides that he wants to remain in servitude then;

“His master shall bore his ear through with an awl (21:6)

Rashi asks” Why the ear? The ear that heard at Mount Sinai, “For the children of Israel are My servants” (Leviticus 25:55) — yet this person went and acquired a [human] master for himself — that ear should be pierced.”

One may ask what the difference is, then, from being a servant of a mortal master and being a servant (leHavdil) of Hashem? It is a difference of heaven and earth. To be a servant or a slave to a mortal master is to be focused on meeting the needs and satisfying the desires of that mortal master. Being a servant or slave of Hashem is about achieving the highest potentials and purpose of each individual servant.

Yet slavery comes in different guises and continues to proliferate in our very day. Upon asking one of my students one time, which part of the Tzitzit (fringes described in Numbers 15) on the tallit represents true freedom. Most pointed to the strings hanging down freely and avoided the bounded and knotted upper part of the Tzitzit. Yet in fact those free flowing strings are subject to the winds and flow of every societal whim and politically correct current. They are swayed and changed by each breeze. Only if in fact they are tightly bound to their spiritual anchor by the upper section will they be truly representative of spiritual and philosophical freedom.

In our days “political correctness and relativism” have become the new mortal slave masters. Individuals and nations forsake their intellectual curiosity and their cognitive freedom for the sake of adapting their facts to fit the “acceptable norms”. Such slavery is not only debilitating and spiritually crippling but also very dangerous to both the individual and society in general.

There are times in each individual’s life or in the life of a people a courageous stand needs to be taken in order to achieve freedom and enable free choice. The Prime Minister of Israel may be stepping on many political toes and undermining many politically correct ideas about compromise with his visit to the Congress. Yet he has no choice but to take a stand.

When the former British prime minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, concocted the ill-fated peace treaty with Hitler there was no one courageous to stand against “the possibility of peace in our time”. This was true regardless of the ruthless facts that were evident all around. If a member of the pre-state Jewish community in mandate Palestine was invited to speak to the English parliament to present another side, there would have probably been great pressure from Chamberlain’s government to stop them from appearing. There would probably would have been threats of revenge against the pre state Jewish leadership. Yet who could or would have thought then that the stand should not have been taken.

There are times when truth and facts need to be revealed in a world wherein ears and listening have been taken captive by politically correct slave masters.

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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