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SALT | Behar 5784 - 2024



Parashat Behar includes the laws of the "eved ivri," or indentured Hebrew servant.  This series of laws is presented after the laws of yovel (the jubilee year), as one important feature of the yovel year is the emancipation of all indentured servants (25:40-41).  We find in this parasha other laws concerning the eved ivri, namely, that his master may not force upon him slave labor (25:39,43).

This is not the only place where the Chumash discusses the laws of eved ivri; we find this subject dealt with in two other contexts, as well – in Parashat Mishpatim (Shemot 21:2-6) and Parashat Eikev (Devarim 15:12-18).  Many significant differences exist between the laws presented in our parasha, and those described in the two other contexts.  For example, the only point at which the master must free his servant according to our parasha is the jubilee year.  Elsewhere, the Torah mandates that a servant goes free after six years.  If he wishes to stay on longer, he undergoes an ear-piercing ritual that binds him to his master's service until the jubilee year.  None of this appears in our parasha.  Additionally, in Parashat Re'ei the Torah adds the obligation of "ha'anaka," that the master provide his servant with some possessions when he goes free.

Chazal, in Masekhet Kiddushin (14a), explain that the different sets of laws – in our parasha on the one hand, and the other two contexts, on the other – address two entirely different types of eved ivri.  Parashat Mishpatim and Parashat Re'ei speak about a thief who could not afford to repay what he owes, so Bet-Din sells him into indentured servitude in lieu of payment.  Parashat Behar, by contrast, deals with a person who decides to sell himself due to financial difficulties.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Avadim 3:12), based on the Gemara, lists five differences between the two types of eved ivri:

  1. A servant sold by Bet-Din goes free after six years of service; one who sells himself determines the duration of his term of service (though it cannot continue past the yovel).

  2. The thief whom Bet-Din sells has the option of undergoing retzi'a – the ear-piercing ritual – which extends his term of service; no such equivalent feature exists with regard to the one who sells himself.

  3. Only the servant sold by Bet-Din receives a "ha'anaka" grant from his master upon his emancipation; the servant who sells himself does not.

  4. When purchasing a thief who cannot repay, a master can have him marry a "shifcha kena'anit," a gentile maidservant, and the children from this union remain in the master's service even after the servant goes free.  The master of a servant who sold himself does not have such an option available to him.

  5. Finally, Bet-Din sells the thief only to a Jew; someone who wishes to sell himself as a servant can choose to work for even a non-Jewish master.

With these differences in mind, let us ask: can we detect a single, overarching, basic difference between these two types of eved ivri?

Rav Elchanan Samet suggests that the clue to determining this fundamental difference lies in the fourth point mentioned by the Rambam – the possibility of allowing a servant to marry a shifcha kena'anit.  Jewish men generally may not, according to Jewish law, marry a shifcha kena'anit. The fact that one becomes allowed to do so when Bet-Din sells him as an eved ivri testifies to a basic status change he undergoes as a result of the sale.  The eved who sells himself, by contrast, may not marry a shifcha because he retains his status as an ordinary Jew.

The other points of contrast help clarify the significance behind this change in status undergone by the one sold by Bet-Din.  The one who sells himself enjoys much more flexibility in establishing the terms of his arrangement, specifically concerning to whom and for how long he works as a servant (differences 5 and 1, respectively).  He has no need for a retzi'a ritual, for from the outset he determines the length of his service.  As opposed to the thief sold by the court, the one who sells himself is much closer to an employee than a slave.  His arrangement resembles an employment contract, rather than a term of servitude. His only restriction is that he must end his term at the jubilee year, so as to emphasize the point that all of Benei Yisrael are ultimately under the authority of no one other than the Almighty Himself (see 25:55).

The eved sold by Bet-Din, by contrast, loses a considerable measure of independence and drops to a lower status.  He is subject to the regulations established by the Torah and has no say in the matter, with the exception that he can prolong his term of service if he so desires. When he goes free, he undergoes a basic transition from dependent to independent, from indentured servitude to freedom.  He therefore requires financial assistance from his master to help him rehabilitate himself as he begins his new life.  The one who sells himself, by contrast, never became entirely dependent on his master, and he therefore requires no financial assistance upon his emergence to freedom.


Parashat Behar introduces us to the prohibition of "ona'a," which forbids overcharging or underpaying for property (25:14-16).  Since all lands in Eretz Yisrael are to return to their original owners on the jubilee year, real estate prices must be determined accordingly and adjusted based on the number of years remaining until the jubilee.  A seller who overcharges or buyer who underpays for a piece of property has violated this prohibition.

Immediately after presenting this prohibition, the Torah appears to repeat this same law: "Do not wrong one another" (25:17 - "Ve-lo tonu ish et achiv"; compare with 25:14).  Rashi, citing the Torat Kohanim, explains that this verse in fact adds a separate prohibition known as "ona'at devarim" – verbal abuse.  Rashi cites the example of purposely misleading a person by rendering unsound advice.  Chazal give other examples, such as reminding a ba'al teshuva of his sinful past and other forms of verbal abuse.

The obvious question arises as to why the Torah introduces this prohibition together with that of ona'at mammon – fairness in commerce.  At first glance, these two issues share nothing in common other than the word "ona'a," abuse, or wronging, which is used in the context of both. But whereas ona'at mammon applies specifically to commercial activity, and thus is naturally addressed here, in Parashat Behar, which deals with business law and ethics, ona'at devarim is far more general, spanning the entire range of human relations – domestic, commercial, communal, etc.  Why would the Torah suddenly, in the midst of the laws of business and commerce, make mention of this prohibition of ona'at devarim?

Perhaps we have here another example of a general prohibition that the Torah presents by addressing a specific context in which such a violation may likely occur.  The clearest example may be identified as the prohibition against smiting another, which the Torah introduces in Parashat Ki-Tetze (Devarim 25:3).  The verses there discuss the situation of malkot, when Bet-Din administers lashes to a violator, and the Torah warns that the court official may not add any more lashes beyond what the law prescribes.  Chazal explain, however, that herein lies the source of the general prohibition against hitting another.  The Torah chose to introduce this prohibition in the specific context of malkot, a situation which more readily lends itself to the unnecessary beating of another Jew. Similarly, towards the beginning of Parashat Ki-Tetze, the Torah commands that we bury the bodies of executed violators on the day of their execution (21:22-23).  Chazal see in this command a general obligation to bury the remains of any deceased person on the day of death.  Here, too, people may tend to be more lax regarding the necessary respect for the dead when we deal with one who violated a grievous sin and was put to death by the court.  Specifically in this context, therefore, the Torah introduces the prohibition against treating the remains of the deceased disrespectfully.

This might explain the location of ona'at devarim, as well.  All too often, people undergo a drastic change in character when they enter the commercial context.  Aside from the strong temptations of dishonesty and unfairness that exist in the world of finance, people often allow themselves a greater degree of latitude in terms of how they speak to and treat others.  The nature of free enterprise is such that strength of character, unyielding stubbornness and an authoritative demeanor generally work to one's advantage in the marketplace.  The Torah perhaps issues this command of ona'at devarim specifically in the context of commercial dealings because it is here where people very often lower their standards of proper speech, where the parties involved do not necessarily afford one another the respect they deserve.  Although, needless to say, ona'at devarim applies to all situations of human interaction, the Torah saw it appropriate to initially present it specifically in the context of business law and ethics, where standards of proper speech and respect for others are often, unfortunately, relaxed.


The haftara for Parashat Behar is taken from Sefer Yirmiyahu 32, and tells the fascinating story of the prophet's purchase of land from his cousin, Chanamel, one year before the destruction of the First Temple.  With the Babylonian army besieging Jerusalem, Chanamel comes to Yirmiyahu in his prison cell (the king had arrested him from urging that the kingdom surrender) and asked him to purchase his field in Anatot.  In line with the laws of "ge'ula" (redemption of land) outlined in Parashat Behar, Chanamel, in dire need of funds, offered his close relative, Yirmiyahu, the purchase of the land.  God had previously informed Yirmiyahu of Chanamel's visit and instructed Yirmiyahu to agree to the deal.  Though such a purchase was hardly a promising investment, given the dark cloud of destruction that hovered over the Judean Kingdom, God nevertheless ordered that the prophet purchase the property as a sign that Benei Yisrael will return from exile to rebuild their land.

In describing the technicalities of the purchase, the verse (32:11) refers to the deed of sale with two terms: "chatum" (literally "sealed") and "galuy" (literally, "exposed").  Rashi, based on Chazal, explains that Yirmiyahu had two deeds written for the transaction.  The first was a "get pashut," or "simple contract," written on a standard, easily readable piece of paper.  To this the verse refers when it speaks of "galuy."  The second document, the "chatum," was what Chazal call a "get mekushar," or "tied contract." After having been written, a "get mekushar" is folded and tied in several places, and cannot be read before it is untied and unfolded.  The final chapter of Masekhet Bava Batra elaborates on the technical differences between these two types of shetarot (contracts, or documents).  Wherein lies the significance behind these two documents? Why did Yirmiyahu order both be written for the purchase of his cousin's land?

Rav Soloveitchik (as cited by Rav Herschel Shachtar, "Nefesh HaRav," pp.300-302) explained that the two documents symbolize the two types of events experienced in life, at both the individual and national levels.  Many events resemble the "get pashut," they are easily foreseen and readable.  There are many events that we can, with just a little bit of foresight, anticipate and prepare for ahead of time.  Many other developments, however, may be described as a "get mekushar," as closed, sealed, tied, and unreadable.  So much of what we see and experience could never have even been imagined, let alone expected.  For so many of us, life has taken us along a path we had never as much as dreamt of following.  And undoubtedly on the broader, historical plane, events often unfold in the most unexpected ways, such that the future sometimes seems to us as written in a "get mekushar," with the script entirely concealed and inaccessible.

Yirmiyahu here performs a symbolic act meant at reassuring the people that Jews will again purchase and develop land in Jerusalem and its environs.  While for the practical purpose of the sale he perhaps required a "get pashut," for his symbolic message he ordered the writing of a "get mekushar," as well.  To the residents of the Jerusalem at the time, it seemed inconceivable that real estate will ever sell in the region again.  Yirmiyahu had to remind them of the message of the "get mekushar," that the future cannot always be read, that we are often denied access to the divine plan and can only hope and pray for the speedy fulfillment of His promise to the prophet of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.


Parashat Behar introduces the laws of the yovel (jubilee) year, during which all purchased lands return to their original owners.  This institution may possibly have ramifications for even the nature of one's possession over purchased land before the yovel year.  When the laws of yovel are in force (the halakhot of yovel apply only when the majority of Jews live in Eretz Yisrael, and they are therefore not in effect nowadays), one never acquires permanent possession over purchased land.  The question thus arises, can one be said to truly own land that he knows he must return in a given number of years?  This question forms the basis of a very famous debate in the Gemara (Gittin 47b-48a and elsewhere) between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, known as "kinyan peirot ke-kinyan ha-guf dami."  According to Rabbi Yochanan, when the yovel laws apply, one enjoys absolute possession over purchased lands despite the temporary nature of his ownership. Although he practically enjoys only "kinyan peirot," or unlimited rights to the land's produce, halakha nevertheless considers these privileges akin to "kinyan ha-guf," full-fledged ownership over the property.  Reish Lakish, by contrast, holds that a kinyan peirot is not legally equivalent to a kinyan ha-guf.  The fact that the buyer enjoys unlimited rights to the fruit in the interim does not render him the true owner over this land, since he must return the land on the jubilee year.

The practical ramification of this debate, as noted by the Gemara, involves the mitzva of bikkurim (the annual bringing of the first fruits to Jerusalem), specifically the associated obligation of "mikra bikkurim," the recitation normally required when bringing bikkurim.  The obligation to recite the text of mikra bikkurim applies only to one who brings bikkurim from his own field.  According to Rabbi Yochanan's view, that temporary ownership over land amounts to complete ownership, one would, indeed, perform this recitation when bringing bikkurim grown from purchased land.  According to Reish Lakish, however, who maintains that unlimited rights to fruits does not constitute actual possession over the land itself, in such a situation one does not recite mikra bikkurim.  Only when bringing bikkurim from land inherited from his fathers does a farmer recite mikra bikkurim.

The Gemara in Masekhet Gittin (48a-b) draws proof for Reish Lakish's view from a verse in Parashat Behar. As we discussed earlier this week, the Torah in this parasha requires that land be sold at a fair price, in accordance with the number of years left until the jubilee year.  Since one purchases the land only until the yovel, the price tag on any given piece of property must be adjusted depending on for how many years it will remain in the buyer's possession.  The verse reads, "He [the seller] shall charge you [the buyer] for the number of crop years [remaining]" (25:15).  Chazal took note of the Torah's reference to the sale as "crop years," which perhaps serves as a subtle indication of the nature of the transaction.  The seller does not actually sell the property itself; rather, he sells "crop years," access to the land's yield until the jubilee.  This, the Gemara claims, provides textual support for the position of Reish Lakish, that when the yovel laws apply purchased property is not fully owned.  Indeed, it is generally assumed that whereas we usually accept the position of Rabbi Yochanan in his disputes with Reish Lakish, in this instance halakha follows Reish Lakish's opinion.

We will continue our discussion of this debate be"H tomorrow.


Yesterday we presented the famous debate between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish concerning the legal status of purchased lands when the laws of the yovel (jubilee) year apply. According to Rabbi Yochanan, one who purchases land is considered the full-fledged owner over the property despite its eventual return to the original owner in the yovel year.  Reish Lakish, however, maintains that "kinyan peirot lav ke-kinyan ha-guf dami" – the temporary rights to the field are not sufficient to lend the buyer the status of full owner over the land. As we saw, the Gemara notes that according to Reish Lakish, one who brings bikkurim (first fruits) grown from purchased land does not recite the generally required "mikra bikkurim" text, which is recited only by one who owns the land from which the bikkurim were grown.

Amidst its discussion of this debate, the Gemara (Masekhet Gittin 48a) makes the following comment: "If Rabbi Yochanan did not hold that 'kinyan peirot ke-kinyan ha-guf dami,' he would not find his arms or legs in the Beit Midrash."  This means that if Rabbi Yochanan had not maintained this position concerning the status of a kinyan peirot (temporary ownership over land), he would have become entangled in an irresolvable halakhic paradox. This paradox would involve a different ruling of Rabbi Yochanan concerning the laws of inheritance.  When a landowner dies, his property naturally goes to his inheritors, who decide upon a fair distribution of the land inherited. We can view this process of distribution in one of two ways.  First, we might view it as a retroactive determination of the inheritance.  Once each son receives his agreed-upon share, we look at that share as from the outset earmarked for that son's inheritance. If we do not accept this approach, then we must view the entire estate as theoretically designated to each son. Thus, when each receives his portion, we consider him as having acquired the share from the other brothers.  In several places, the Gemara cites a debate concerning this very point: do we consider the inheritors of an estate "yorshin," direct inheritors of the estate, as if his brothers never had even a theoretical claim to his portion, or as "lekuchot" – purchasers of the land from the other brothers?

As the Gemara notes, Rabbi Yochanan was of the opinion that we consider the brothers purchasers of their respective lots.  Consequently, Rabbi Yochanan holds, each brother "returns" his share of the inheritance to the others with the onset of the jubilee year, to fulfill the mitzva of returning purchased lands on the yovel.  It thus turns out that according to Rabbi Yochanan, all land inherited by multiple inheritors is owned only as a "kinyan peirot," a temporary holding.  Therefore, if Rabbi Yochanan had held that such ownership does not legally qualify as full-fledged possession, when would mikra bikkurim ever be recited?  The Gemara observes that mikra bikkurim would then apply only if a piece of land had been handed down to only a single inheritor from one generation to the next, ever since it had been initially apportioned after Benei Yisrael's original conquest of the land at the time of Yehoshua.  Since only a single inheritor could – according to this combination of opinions – be deemed a true owner over inherited land, mikra bikkurim would apply only in this virtually impossible situation.  Rabbi Yochanan saved himself from this quandary by taking issue with Reish Lakish and holding that even when the jubilee laws apply a purchaser has full legal ownership over land he acquires.

Commenting on this Gemara, Tosefot cite the following exclamation of Rabbenu Tam: "And we – how do we find our arms and legs?!"  Meaning, whereas Rabbi Yochanan saved himself by claiming that "kinyan peirot ke-kinyan ha-guf dami," we, or accepted halakha, indeed falls into this quagmire.  As mentioned yesterday, we accept the ruling of Reish Lakish, that temporary ownership does not amount to full possession.  Yet, we accept Rabbi Yochanan's position concerning the case of multiple inheritors, that they are considered as having purchased the shares from one another. If so, then when and how was the mitzva of mikra bikkurim performed?

Tosefot suggest two answers.  First, they explain that we do not, in fact, adopt Reish Lakish's view.  We accept his ruling in only one specific case, of a father who writes over his possessions to his son while keeping for himself rights to the produce for the remainder of his lifetime.  Here, we accept Reish Lakish's position that the father's rights to the fruits does not grant him full possession over the land.  We follow this position only because of the unique affection of a father to his son, which allows us to assume that the nature of the arrangement was such that he granted essential ownership over the land to his son even before the father's death.  In general, however, we adopt Rabbi Yochanan's view, that "kinyan peirot ke-kinyan ha-guf dami."  Tosefot add that although, as discussed yesterday, the Gemara draws support for Reish Lakish's view from a verse in Parashat Behar, which would imply that it sides with his position, in truth this is not the case, as we do not accept Reish Lakish's position.

Alternatively, Tosefot suggest, we do not, in fact, accept in total Rabbi Yochanan's view concerning multiple inheritors.  True, we view them as having purchased their shares from one another.  Unlike Rabbi Yochanan, however, we do not extend this status to the laws of yovel; halakha does not accept Rabbi Yochanan's requirement that the inheritors exchange portions on the jubilee year.  Tosefot argue that the law of returning purchased land on the yovel applies only to "purchased land" – in the strict sense of the term.  The inheritors, however, do not actually purchase their respective shares from one another.  At most, this "transaction" may be seen as a "matana," a gift, rather than a purchase.  Hence, Tosefot suggest, the mitzvot of yovel would not affect land inherited by multiple inheritors even if, in a certain sense, we consider them as having "purchased" the lands from each other.


As we've discussed this week, Parashat Behar devotes considerable space to the prohibition of "ona'at mammon," overcharging and underpaying for merchandise. The Torah introduces these laws as follows: "When you sell merchandise to your fellow, or buy from your fellow… " (25:14).  In describing the purchase of items, the Torah speaks of buying "mi-yad amitekha" – literally, "from the hand of your fellow."  The Gemara in Masekhet Kiddushin 26a cites the view of Reish Lakish, who interprets this phrase as indicating the precise point at which the transaction takes effect.  According to Reish Lakish, the sale is effectuated by "meshikha," when the buyer (or his agent) physically takes the given item. (Obviously, we deal here with only tangible property; real estate has its own set of laws as to the formal effectuation of a transaction.)  By describing the transacted item as passing from one hand to the next, the Torah informs us that it is the physical transfer of the given merchandise that effectuates the change of ownership.

Rabbi Yochanan, however, disagrees.  He maintains that meshikha as the effectuation of a transaction was instituted by Chazal.  According to Torah law, he claims, "ma'ot konot" – the transfer of money from the buyer to the seller effectuates the sale, even before the buyer ever took (or, for that matter, ever saw) the merchandise.  Why, then, did Chazal legislate that a transaction takes effect only at the point of meshikha, when the buyer takes physical possession of the item?  Rabbi Yochanan explains that Chazal sought to avoid a situation where the buyer, after receiving the sum for the given item, keeps the merchandise for himself and falsely claims that it was destroyed ("nisrefu chitekha ba-aliya"). Once Chazal required the physical transfer of the merchandise for the transaction to take effect, the buyer obviously cannot make such a claim.  Additionally, the Gemara says, this legislation of Chazal helps ensure that if a fire, for example, breaks out in the buyer's home after he receives the money, threatening to destroy the sold merchandise, he will make a concerted effort to save the merchandise.  Without this provision, the merchandise will have already been legally transferred to the buyer, and the seller would thus have no incentive to exert himself to save the items in danger.

In any event, according to both Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, a transaction does not take effect with the transfer of funds, but does so only when the merchandise is physically taken by the buyer.  Accordingly, even after the transfer of money, either the buyer or the seller could renege on the deal.  Since the transaction has yet to take effect, the buyer could reconsider his decision to purchase the item and demand the return of his money.  While this is technically true, the mishna in Masekhet Bava Metzia (44a) writes, "If he gave him the money but did not take [the merchandise], he can retract, but they [the Sages] said: The One who punished the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion shall punish the one who does not keep to his word."  Meaning, though according to the strict letter of the law the buyer has done nothing wrong by canceling the sale, Chazal nevertheless issued this "curse" of sorts (referred to in halakhic jargon as "Mi she-para"), warning that God will punish those who renege on their agreements.

One question that arises from this mishna is why in formulating this warning Chazal invoked specifically the dor ha-mabul (generation of the flood) and the dor ha-palaga (generation of the dispersion – the tower or Bavel).  We find in Scripture so many examples of divine wrath punishing sinners.  Why did the Sages issue this warning specifically in light of the punishments that befell these two groups of sinners?  This question perhaps becomes stronger in light of Reish Lakish's position, that even according to Torah law merchandise does not change ownership until meshikha.  If so, then the buyer who withdraws from the deal has worked entirely within the legal framework of buying and selling.  Why, then, do Chazal declare upon him the punishments suffered by the two sinful generations, of the deluge and of Migdal Bavel?

An interesting answer was suggested in the work "Tikkun Shelomo" (cited by Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg in his Yalkut Yehuda). These two events – the flood and the dispersion – mark perhaps the most glaring examples of severe punishment without the violation of any specific code of law.  The generation of the flood did not have a Shulchan Arukh or even a Talmud; no written or oral body of law forbade the type of behavior in which they engaged.  The same is true about the tower of Bavel.  These two events demonstrate perhaps clearer than any other that not every rule need be written to demand compliance.  God created the world with a certain basic code of ethics for mankind to observe, and He endowed the human being with an intuitive moral sense, which results in his accountability for unethical conduct.

Therefore, the "Tikkun Shelomo" suggests, Chazal naturally invoked these two catastrophes in their admonition against those who renege on verbal agreements.  True, the buyer has not violated any specific divine command.  But the intuitive values of honesty and sensitivity dictate that one follow through on his agreements with others.  Therefore, one who violates this "unwritten law" is deserving of punishment just as calamity befell the generation of the flood and the builders of the tower.


Parashat Behar deals almost exclusively with the laws of shemitta and yovel, addressing first the agricultural aspects of these mitzvot and then proceeding to the effects of these institutions on business and employment.  The final two verses of the parasha, however, appear to have nothing to do with this discussion (and indeed, the Christian editors who divided the Chumash into chapters began a new chapter with these two verses):

"You shall not make idols for yourselves, or set up for yourselves carved images or pillars, or place figured stones in your land upon which to bow, for I the Lord am your God. You shall keep My Shabbatot and venerate My Mikdash; I am the Lord." (26:1-2)

How do these mitzvot fit into the context?  What do these laws – idolatry, forbidden images, Shabbat and the Temple – have to do with the laws discussed throughout the parasha?

Ibn Ezra claims that these verses continue the theme introduced in the immediately preceding verse. Concluding the laws of servants, who must go free on the jubilee year, the Torah declares, "For it is to Me that the Israelites are servants; they are My servants whom I freed from the land of Egypt."  The Torah attributes the mitzva of freeing servants to the fact that we may not subjugate ourselves to any master other than the Almighty Himself.  Continuing with this theme, Ibn Ezra claims, the Torah repeats the prohibition against idolatrous practices, which involves the acceptance of an authority besides God.  And once the Torah mentioned the prohibition against bowing on figured stones, it mentions as well Shabbat and the Mikdash, for the practice was to bow down in the Temple on Shabbat (as implied in Yeshayahu 66:23).

Most other early commentators, however, follow the explanation of the Torat Kohanim, that these verses refer to the situation described several verses earlier, of a Jew who was compelled by financial straits to sell himself into the service of a gentile.  After calling for the redemption of the servant by his relatives (see 25:47-54), the Torah now turns its attention to period of servitude itself, and warns the servant not to forsake his tradition despite his current residence in a pagan home. He must not adopt the ritual practices of his master, neither the idolatrous beliefs nor the mode of worship, which involved all types of monuments, statutes, mosaics, and the like.

But why did the Torah add a specific reminder concerning Shabbat observance and reverence for the Temple?  Why are these mitzvot singled out in the discussion of the Jewish servant in the non-Jewish home?  Particularly difficult to understand is the mention of the Temple.  Presumably, a Jew held by a gentile does not have the opportunity to frequent the Bet Ha-mikdash.  Why, then, does the Torah remind him to "venerate the Sanctuary"?

The Seforno explains that a Jew in foreign servitude might have thought to no longer observe the Shabbat. After all, Shabbat is about freedom, our emancipation from the shackles of the workweek and the opportunity to rest and engage in loftier pursuits.  The Jewish servant might have therefore concluded that this mitzva does not apply to him, who is currently denied his freedom.  The Torah therefore reminds him that he, too, must continue observing the Shabbat, even when subjected to foreign rule.   

As for the mitzva to "venerate My Sanctuary," the Seforno boldly suggests that "Mikdash" here refers not to the Temple, but rather to the sacred institutions built in exile – the synagogues and study halls.  Despite the absence of the Bet Ha-mikdash and our subjugation to foreign rulers, we may not undermine the sanctity of our holy institutions. Chazal famously comment (Megilla 29a) that the Batei Kenesset and Batei Midrash built and sustained in exile constitute a "Mikdash me'at," a minor Temple, as it were, they are, to some extent, infused with the sanctity of the Bet Ha-mikdash.

We might add that in this approach to this verse, the Seforno addresses what we may consider the two primary spiritual challenges in exile. The first is our sense of dignity and existential independence.  The observance of Shabbat in exile has helped remind us that come what may, we are, ultimately, never fully subjugated to any force other than God Himself.  Every seventh day, we remove our chains and declare our exclusive subservience to the Almighty.  Secondly, the "hester panim" ("concealment" of God's "face") in exile threatens to call into question our continued relationship with Him.  After the destruction of the First Temple, the people turned to the prophets and asked, "A servant sold by his master, and a wife driven away by her husband – do they have any responsibilities one to another?"  The people here wrongly presumed that exile meant the end of our covenant with God.  The establishment of houses of worship and religious study, and a commitment to make these institutions a national priority, help ensure our ongoing awareness of God's continued presence in our midst, that even in the darkest hours of exile, God has never left His people.


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