On Slavery. A discussion of the Torah portion with Rabbi Berkman

Rabbi Berkman is a rabbi for Mesorah DC and leads this weekly discussion of the Torah portion.

There won’t be too many blog entries that I could probably end after one word and generate enough conversation to carry us through the week and well beyond. The very idea of slavery strikes cords of thought and emotion in many of us.

The bottom line is that the Torah introduces the institution; therefore it is incumbent on us to explore what it is all about.

In this week’s portion, Mishpatim, the Torah discusses laws pertaining to how people relate to each other. We learn about responsibility for monetary damages, injury, lending and borrowing, and much more. The first case that we are introduced to, however, is that of a slave and the process of his release. Our commentators explain that the slave in question stole property and was unable to make repayment.  The court orders the thief to sell himself as a slave to the injured party in order to pay off the debt.

Why is slavery the first relationship addressed in the portion?, Many of the cases we come across in the parsha are more pleasant and even easier to deal with than slavery is. Why not start by telling us about the person who does kindness, or about the person who returns a lost object?  What is it about the case of slavery that induces God, in the Torah, to begin the list of laws pertaining to a person and his neighbor?  The slavery case almost seems to be an introduction to all inter-relational laws that follow.

Chew on it. Let me know what you think. Check back in a few days to see where this conversation goes. And please, have a wonderful week!


Thank you to everyone who joined us at Mesorah DC’s Friday night Shabbat service and dinner. I hope you all enjoyed the evening as much as I did. It was great to see so many new faces along with all of our old friends. Please stop in Monday night for Café Night with Mesorah DC. Starts @ 7 @ 6&I.  Chinese dinner at 7:45!