This week’s parsha opens with the mitzvah of Eved Ivri. This mitzvah is mentioned in a few places in the Torah and comparison of the different sources paints a very different picture of the Halachot of Eved Ivri. R. Breur has set up a model for learning contradictory texts in the Torah, and it is his methodology that we will follow in this shiur.
If we examine the account of Eved Ivri in Vayikra (25:39-46) we learn that the slave works until Yovel, the jubilee year. This of course is not exactly what we are familiar with after reading both our parsha and the account in Devarim (15:12-18), where we find that the slave works for six years and at that point can make the decision to “sign on” for more time by having his ear pierced. When he has his ear pierced he then continues his servitude “for ever”. This contradiction as to how long a Eved Ivri must work is obvious and was treated by Chazal in the gemara and the Midrash Halacha. Chazal read all the parshiot as one integrated unit yielding the well known solution that the slave must work for six years, as stated in Shmot and Devarim, and at that point he can choose to work more by having his ear pierced, in which case he works until Yovel only, as stated in Vayikra.
This of course solves one problem but yet begs another. Why is it that the Torah choose to give us only part of the story in each place and leave the work of fitting the puzzle pieces together to us? Why not simply put all the Halachot in one unified account?
If we examine the parshiot we find other differences between them.
While in the account in Devarim we are told that the master is obligated to provide the slave with gifts as he is released from his service, no such requirement is mentioned in Vayikra.
In both Devarim and Vayikra the Torah provides us with a rationale for the observance of this mitzvah, however the explanation that the Torah provides is different in each location. In Vayikra the torah says that one must not enslave him forever because “they are My slaves”, Hashem has a claim on all of Am Yisrael and therefore one cannot be enslaved to another for an extended period of time. In Devarim the Torah tells us to make sure that we are providing the slave with his gifts because “you were slave in Egypt and therefore Hashem is commanding you to do these things”. What is the rationale for the mitzvah of Eved Ivri, because Hashem owns us or because we were taken out of Egypt?
Rav Breur explains that the two accounts of Eved Ivri are meant to give us two different perspectives on the issue, that of the owners rights and that of the owners obligations. I other words each parsha is really telling us a separate story.
In Vayikra we are being taught the owner’s rights or rather the limiting of his rights, he is not allowed to mistreat the slave and he must understand that his “purchase” of the slave is not really a long term investment, and can only last until Yovel BECAUSE we all belong to Hashem and therefore no other person can but “rent” us.
In Devarim, however, we are dealing with another issue entirely, the obligations of the owner. I Devarim the slave does not “go free” rather he is “sent out”, it is the master who clearly s the active one here. The master is obligated as well to provide him with gifts in order to make the first p[art of his new journey in life all that much easier. The terms of contract are not “up” rather the master “of his own free will” frees his slave BECAUSE the master was a slave in Egypt and therefore he does these things. If the slave opts not to take advantage of the masters good will, the logical conclusion would be that he remains a slave forever “le’olam” as is stated in both Shmot and Devarim. In this context the freedom due to Yovel is irrelevant.
The way in which R. Breur describes the parshiot leads us to the conclusion that indeed conceptually there is a contradiction between them, however this stems from the fact that they are “asking different questions”. When Chazal learned that the Halachot of one can be applied to the other they were speaking a very profound truth, as the reality is that the owner has both rights and obligations, as does the slave. If we are to skip to the bottom line then we will come up with the combination that Chazal describe in their final analysis. Why then did the Torah choose to split the account? To this R. Breur responds that had we not had the opportunity to see them separately we would have never noticed the intricate distinctions that we can now see.
This idea of R. Breur is a very powerful tool in the learning of Torah. It is not a new concept that there are different versions of many of the stories in the Torah and of many of the Mitzvot as well. The Bible critics base most of their criticism in these discrepancies in order to “prove” that the torah is not a single unified work. R. Breur offers one approach that would seem to refute many of the arguments of the critics. If we are not recognize the discrepancies in the narratives we can then examine them more closely and try to understand the dual messages and complexities that the singular torah is trying to impart to us.
Many of you are familiar with the two accounts of creation in Berashit. In short it can be said that one is based on Din and one on Rachamim. In reality there was one creation that was a combination of the two, however, to simply state that the world is a combination of Din and Rachamim would leave us without a clear understanding of either of the concepts. Only by highlighting each one separately are we able to fully appreciate them and therefore we are now able to appreciate a synthesis of the concepts.