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Parshas Mishpatim - Even our Challenges Exemplify Hashem's Ultimate Kindness

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 02/06/18

One of the Torah’s fundamental principles, cited in Parshas Mishpatim, is the concept of eyen tachas eyen, shayn tachas sheyn – that the Torah ascribes punishments on a mida k’neged midah basis.  Nevertheless, within this framework, we understand that the Torah does not literally call for blinding one who blinds or cutting off the arm of one who steals, rather monetary damages are paid to the victim of a crime by the perpetrator.  This doctrine is consistent with the Torah’s approach to the Eved Ivri.  (21:2) There are two ways in which a person can become an Eved Ivri.  Either, one chooses to sell himself so as to eliminate the burden of supporting himself for a period of time or Bais Din may sell someone into avdus if they steal and are unable to payback.  


What seems completely inconsistent with this approach is what happens to the eved if after six years he says ahafti es adoni - I love my master and do not want to go free.   In such a situation, the Torah prescribes that we drill a hole through his ear at the doorpost.  (21:6).  Rashi deals with this seemingly literal and draconian punishment by quoting R’Yochanan Ben Zacai who stated we drill his ear for having heard at Har Sinai “Thou shalt not steal” or he heard “Bnei Yisroel are avadim to me”.  We drill his ear for not obeying the commandments that his ear heard.  This explanation leaves two puzzling questions.  Why, in this unique circumstance, does the Torah abandon its policy of monetary payments for damages and second why is this “drilling” done now?  The eved violated these commandments six years ago when he was first sold.  We should have drilled his ear at that time.


In answering these questions we need to understand that the Torah’s concept of onesh is primarily to provide a kaparah for the baal aveira and secondarily to compensate the victim.  (Gemarah, Meseches Yoma 86a)  In each case of the eved, the Torah initially prescribes an onesh which accomplishes both – by selling a thief into avdus the victim is repaid and in either case of one who is sold, the embarrassment of being an eved is a kaparah for the aveira.  However, if at the end of six years the eved says ahafti es adoni, then we see that the onesh was no onesh at all!! He enjoyed his punishment.   In such a case, it is clear that the Torah’s preferred method of onesh did not work – there has been no suffering to endure if on balance he would rather stay an eved.   Since the primary purpose is to achieve kaparah we must resort to a more literal punishment. 


This is but one more example of the measure of love Hashem has for each one of us.  Even at times of aveira it is the ratzon Hashem that we have a kaparah and cleanse our neshama from the blemish which a chet leaves behind.  May we all be zocheh to appreciate the love that Hashem has for all of us and be more careful in keeping all of his Mitzvos so we need not constantly take advantage of his great love and leniency.


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It is a curiosity why according to Reb Yochanan ben Zakai we would not give Malkus at this time – the traditional punishment for violating a negative prohibition in the Torah.  Perhaps Malkus is only appropriately given at the time of the offense.