Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

The inscription on the liberty bell reads as follows: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X” The liberty bell “is a familiar symbol of independence within the United States and has been described as an icon of liberty and justice (www.nps.gov).” The Liberty bell became the symbol for the abolitionist in their war against slavery, as the Pasuk does refer to the freeing of slaves during Yovel. Was the abolitionist’s interpretation of this verse correct? What is the Torahs view on slavery? There is no way to deny that the Torah permits slavery, but the slavery that the Torah permits does not come close to what was going on in America, or basically anywhere else in the world where slavery was permitted. Both Jews and Non-Jews can become slaves, and while certain halachos are different, certain rules about slaves stay constant. The obligation to treat your slave humanely applies to both Jewish and non-Jewish slave (See the Rambam Hilchot Avadim 9:8), as does the obligation to make sure they have all necessary comforts; sometimes even at the expense of their master’s own comfort. The Gemara in Kiddushin (20a) says: “The master cannot enjoy food, drink, or sleeping accommodations of higher quality than his slave.
Buying an Eved Ivri is like buying a master!” Basically the Gemara teaches us that if there are not enough pillows for both the master and slaves, the master must provide his slaves with pillows before himself. This was not the attitude anyone else had toward slaves. Slaves are not seen as just property, they are seen as real people in the eyes of the Torah. The Torah does not always explain to us why it says certain things, but on slavery the Torah is clear why we must treat slaves with so much respect. “And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Devarim 5:15)” “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are
My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God. (Vayikra 25:55)” The ways we treat all slaves is modeled on how we treat an eved ivri, a Jewish slave. The Torah reminds us that we were slaves, we should be able to feel there pain, and for this reason we must treat them with respect. The Torah also reminds us that the Jewish people are his servants, and they are not meant to be slaves to man. Man cannot properly serve two masters. This message is for the slave owners to realize that they are not in charge. The Torah allows slavery, but the slave owners must realize that everything must be done with the guidelines in the Torah. The Pasuk we started with says “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof, we have to ask in what way is it considered liberating for “all” of the people if only the slaves go free? We have to realize that by ordering the servants to go free, the Torah is in effect lifting a major burden off of their current owners.
The Torah provides a way for the slave owners to realize they are not in charge, and to make sure they do not become too arrogant, and forget who really is the slave master. I don’t think any of us have a real slave today that we can properly treat, but I don’t think it’s farfetched to say that we should be treating our friends and family, at least as good as we would be commanded to treat our slaves. So this Shabbos let us remember that we are all ovdei Hashem, and that serving Him, requires us to be kind to all of mankind, and that the foundation for our kindness, as all the laws, is in the morals that the Torah has provided us.

Student Studying in SFW