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Parshat Mishpatim

By: Ariella Fried

This week's parsha, Mishpatim, comes right after the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. There are around 50 mitzvot in this parsha (53 to be exact) the majority of which deal with mitzvot bein adam L'chavero. The very first mitzvah that Hashem said to Moshe was the law regarding the release of an eved Ivri (Hebrew slave) after six years. What is the significance of this fact? Why is the first mitzvah after Matan Torah the release of slaves? After all, this Jew became a slave by selling himself through the Bais Din as a punishment for stealing and being unable to repay what he stole. In a parsha full of over 50 mitzvot, why does it make sense to start with the laws of an eved evri, a criminal of all people?

The reason why we need to treat people decently is because every person is created in the image of G-d. We start with the absolute lowest person in society and say even the slave deserves to be treated with good midot. Each and every person has a little piece of Hashem in them and no matter how bad a person is, they still deserve respect. Just like Hashem has mercy on even the worst of people, so should we. The Ramban adds a different perspective. The Ramban noted that the six year cycle of slavery followed by freedom is connected to the foundation of Judaism—the belief that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He correlates the six years of work to the six days of creation (work days) and the seventh year of freedom to seventh day of week, Shabbat the day of rest. The same pattern is seen again in the six years of farming that are followed by the seventh shmittah year.

The link with the slaves and creation of the world is very significant. One of the reasons for resting on Shabbat is to recognize G-d's creation of the world. We spend every day busy with our own lives but we need a day off to realize that this is Hashem's world and He's in control of it. So too, a slave owner would have to give up his slave after six years, recognizing that it's not only his property but in a broader sense, G-d's property. A person can identify himself as a slave owner, but he shouldn't forget who he really is. This first mitzvah reminds us to remember our place in Hashem's world.

Ariella comes to AMIT from Los Angeles, California and plans to attend Stern College for Women in the fall. Her favorite part of Midreshet AMIT are the tiyulim all across the country and the special speakers and trips.