Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Dedicated as a זכות for the רפואה שלמה of שינא צפורה בת גיטל and of צבי הירש בן גיטל.

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“If the slave repeatedly says ….I do not want to go free…then his master should bring him…to the door…and pierce his ear…and then he will be a slave until the Yovel .”[1]

Other societies also marked slaves.

Ancient Romans marked their slaves by tattooing “tax paid” onto slaves’ foreheads.

Ancient Mesopotamians marked their slaves by amputating slaves’ ears.

Nazis tattooed us - their slaves - before murdering us in their camps.

Those societies marked their slaves for the following reasons:

Firstly, these markings were humiliating and these societies wanted to humiliate their slaves.

Secondly, these markings publicized slaves’ identities - which prevented them from escaping.

For these two objectives to be met - for markings to identify and to humiliate –others needed to notice those markings, which explains why Roman, Mesopotamian and Nazi slaves were marked with noticeable tattoos OR amputations.

While we also marked our indentured servants, our markings weren’t at all akin to Roman, Mesopotamian and Nazi markings.

Our markings were small, barely noticeable piercings – which seemingly indicate that we didn’t want other people noticing those markings.

Which raises the question: If only servants knows about their markings then the message of those marking must be meant for the servants.

To understand that message, we must know our Torah’s perspective on indentured servants.

The Torah allowed people to sell themselves into six-year periods of indentured servitude – when the specter of starvation left people with no other option.[2]

After those six years, servants were supposed to start afresh as freemen.

To help with that restart, servants were given severance packages large enough to create bases for independent lives.[3]

Some servants, though, didn’t want to live independently. Those people preferred continuing as insignificant servants whose masters made their decisions.

Why? Probably because they didn’t believe that they could function independently.

The Torah allowed this continuation of dependence because some servants couldn’t branch out on their own. The Torah, though, wanted to warn those servants that they were making a bad choice.[4]

Piercing the ear is that warning.

Ear cartilage abets hearing but that cartilage is still relatively unnecessary. Ears, therefore, symbolize insignificance. Ear piercing, then, focuses the servant on his ear - and on its reminders about insignificance.

This also explains why the piercing occurs near a door.

Homes contain walls, ceilings and doors.

Walls and roofs are integral parts of a home.

Doors, though, aren’t integral to the home because when doors are open, they aren’t “part” of the home. Like ears - insignificant body appendages - doors are insignificant house appendages.

Doors, like ears, warn the servant about the tragedy of choosing insignificance.[5]

This message is relevant in so many areas - one of which is parental support of children.

Our children’s physical lives are, generally, so much easier than their predecessors were in earlier generations.

Go back a few generations and our predecessors were being apprenticed to blacksmiths when they were six-year-olds.

And our children’s ease of life goes far beyond not being apprenticed.

Our children’s ease of life can involve parental support that extends into the teens, the twenties and beyond.

This support is a great blessing and it allows the majority of today’s children to reach levels of development that were generally unseen in previous generations.

That support, though, can also create dependency issues.

Children can grow so accustomed to parental support that - like indentured servants - they neglect their own development.

It’s a blessing to live when we can give so much to our children.

It’s an even greater blessing to have a Torah whose teachings about indentured servitude guide us in preventing our giving from becoming a bane.

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey and is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be mara d’asra at the Hudson Valley Resort for Pesach. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000.

[1] Shemos 21:5-6

[2] Rambam Avadim 1:1

[3] Devarim 15:12-15

[4] Kiddushin 22b

[5] Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Shemos 21:6

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