In this week’s parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, the first laws the Jews receive after Matan Torah are the laws of an Eved Ivri. Many questions can be asked about this, and one question the Shem Mishmuel asks is why is the word Ivri used? Usually whenever we see a Jew mentioned in the Torah, it describes him as Yisrael, not Ivri. There must be special significance to this word. In Bereishit 14:12, the pasuk calls Avraham, “Avram HaIvri,” and Bereishit Rabbah asks why he is called HaIvri? Avraham was on one side of the world, while the rest of the world was on the side. And we see Ivri meaning this because in Yehoshua 24:2, it says “on the other side (eiver) of the river lived your ancestors from the earliest times…” We can deduce that since eiver and Ivri come from the same root, then Ivri must also mean “the other side.”
The Jews have this middah of standing on one side of the river, while the rest of the world is on the other side. The Jews are free from all the physicality and materialism of the outside world, while they are on the other side trying to achieve more deeper, spiritual goals. And we get this middah from Avraham as he believed in one G-d, while the rest of the world worshipped idols.
Yes, we have the laws of Eved Ivri, but no slave Jewish slave is enslaved to another Jew, we are all only an Eved to Hashem. The Torah gives us many laws on how to treat a slave, and a Jewish slave is not really enslaved to his master since he is not allowed to perform any slave labor work for the master; even though a slave is a slave because of some crime he performed and he working as a slave to be integrated into society after six years, he is essentially free from outside bonds.
The fact that the slave works for six years and then is freed the seventh year shows significant to this middah of being free from any sort of bondage. We see that throughout time and history, the number six represents the physical dimensions of any object, while the number seven represents the purpose and character of an object; we work for six days, but Shabbas, the seventh day, is what gives purpose to those six days. The six years that the slave works for his master is a preparation for the seventh year, it is preparing the slave to be integrated within society once again. The slave must go free after seven years because that is his true purpose and character- -to be free of any sort of bondage.
But we see that the Eved Ivri can choose to work for his master after six years. And he gets his ear pierced as a sign that the same ear that heard the Ten Commandments is choosing to go against the Torah and continue working for his master. This is like a parent who sends her child to his room as a punishment so that he can contemplate what he has done wrong and fix his mistake. She comes into his room after five minutes and says that he can leave his room because his punishment is over, but the child wants to stay in his room. He essentially is his mother that the he enjoyed being in his room, he “enjoyed” the punishment and he wants to stay. And this shows that he in fact did not learn from what he did wrong. His mother gave him an opportunity to fix his mistake and instead he chose to not think about his mistake and enjoy the pleasures of his room. This applies to an Eved Ivri, but can also be applied to today’s world. After 2,000 years of the Jews being enslaved to the outside world, G-d has given us a miraculous opportunity to come back home to Israel, and He has opened the door for us and told us that our punishment is over, that we do not need to be among the non-Jew anymore, but many of us have chosen to stay in our “room” because are enjoying it there. And as humans it is inevitable that we will fall and make mistakes, but our challenge, like that of an Eved Ivri is to leave our room when the time is right, to leave bondage after six years and return home and live as an Eved to Hashem and not to another master.