Even though it does not seem that way, Parshas Mishpatim is really a continuation of last week’s parshah. While last week was more of an introduction to the Torah with the Ten Commandments, this week’s parshah deals with the more nitty-gritty ideas. While not as dramatic, these are the laws which make up the day-to-day problems Rabbanim have to deal with.
The first topic of this week’s parshah, however, does not fit in this category. We start off by discussing the sale, purchase, and treatment of a Jewish slave by another Jew. There are two instances where a person is sold as a slave, either where a person steals and has no money to pay back, in that case Beis Din sells him to pay back his debt, or he is destitute and sells himself to support his family. In both of these cases, the sale is valid for six years after which he is free to go home. During his time as a slave, his owner must provide for him and his family, and cannot pleasure himself with anything which the slave does not have as well. The owner has the benefit of giving the slave a gentile slave to marry and the owner keeps any offspring.
If after six years the slave decides he enjoys his comfortable life in slavery with his master and his gentile wife and children, he is able to stay as a slave until the next Yovel (50 year cycle). However, this is not what we prefer. If he decides to stay a slave, we take him to Beis Din and by the doorpost, pierce his ear. Rashi explains the reason for this in perek 21 pasuk 6, “ומה ראה אזן להרצע מכל שאר אברים שבגוף, אמר רבי יוחנן בן זכאי (קדושין כב ע"ב) אזן זאת ששמעה על הר סיני לא תגנוב, והלך וגנב, תרצע. ואם מוכר עצמו, אזן ששמעה על הר סיני (ויקרא כה נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים, והלך וקנה אדון לעצמו, תרצע” “Why do we pierce the ear as opposed to any other body part? Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai says, this ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘Do not steal’, and stole, pierce it. This ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘For the Bnei Yisrael are servants to me (and not other humans)’, and went and bought himself another master, pierce it.”
The Maharal in his sefer on Rashi, Gur Aryeh, makes sense this difficult explanation in Rashi. First off, if the reason for our piercing him is because of his becoming a slave, how come we pierce his ear at the end of his servitude? Shouldn’t we pierce it right after he is sold? He says a chiddush that the slave is not considered to have acquired another master until he has decided to remain a slave. While he has a time limit of six years, it is not considered as that he has a second master besides for Hashem. After he becomes a slave till Yovel, however, it is considered as if he has a second master since a period of fifty years is considered “forever” in halachah and now he will forever have two masters. Therefore, he is not punished until after the six years.
Another question on this Rashi is that if the piercing is done because he stole, what is more significant about stealing that we pierce his ear for it more than any other sin? He answers simply that you will only be punished with piercing for sins that lead to slavery. This leads into his last and biggest question which is that at the end of the day, what is the connection between his theft and this piercing? Even if you say that theft potentially leads to slavery, that is only the first six years! He is pierced for staying a slave afterwards! So really his punishment should only be for “ואם מוכר עצמו, אזן ששמעה על הר סיני (ויקרא כה נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים, והלך וקנה אדון לעצמו, תרצע” “This ear which heard by Har Sinai ‘For the Bnei Yisrael are servants to me (and not other humans)’, and went and bought himself another master, pierce it.”, and have nothing to do with the fact that he stole?
The Gur Aryeh explains with another chiddush. The gemarah in Kiddushin explains based on the pasuk here (See 21:6) that in order for a slave to be able to stay longer in slavery, and as a result have his ear pierced, he must love his master and his gentile wife and children provided to him by his master (the gemarah explains that he does not get pierced if his master did not give him a wife). The Gur Aryeh says that it is a given to us that even before he starts his servitude, that he will love all of these people. Therefore, the real reason why he is still a slave is his theft which led him to this point. So when Rashi explains that he has his ear pierced because of his act of stealing, even though it is his decision after six years to stay a slave that results in his piercing, the real cause is his theft six years earlier which put him in this situation.Shabbat Shalom!