Mishpatim: Is Slavery Kosher?



The Super Bowl is this Sunday. The Oscars are next Sunday. Both of these have generated much conversation about race. A new movie about the African- American track star, Jesse Owens, and his victory in the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany is very aptly titled: Race.

Race automatically conjures up images of slavery. And coincidentally or not, this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Mishpatim, begins with laws of slavery.

How is it that the Torah, a book of divine light, which emphasizes human dignity and human freedom, also sets forth the laws of slavery? And how is it that the Torah does this right after a detailed description of the redemption of Jewish slaves from Egyptian bondage?

Perhaps the Torah sets forth the laws of slavery to teach us what it truly means to be free.

The mystics derive a profound and revolutionary understanding of slavery from the grammar used by the Torah in this discussion, and from a seeming redundancy therein:

Freedom, they teach, must come freely.


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