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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Mitzvah 44: Redeeming the maidservant

Posted by rabbiart on June 11, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of appearance in the Torah.

Here is another mitzvah that we cannot observe in our time. It is based on the same verse ( Shmot 21:8 ) as Mitzvah 43, and has the same rules for when it is in effect. Like the prior mitzvah, it applies only when the jubilee year is in effect, but more importantly, we no longer have servitude as described in the Torah and interpreted in the Talmud. Since we no longer sell ourselves – or others – into servitude to pay off debts, it seems that we can neither keep nor violate this particular mitzvah.

So what shall we learn from this mitzvah and its sister mitzvah; the betrothal of the Hebrew maidservant?

Servitude – in any form – should never be permanent. The option and the possibility of “getting out” should always be available, and it should be the decision of the servant, not of the master.

Dignity should be preserved for everyone. Not just for those who can afford to command their own dignity.  These two mitzvot remind us that the maidservant, and by extension anyone and everyone in an unfortunate circumstance is one of HaShem’s creations; not an object for someone else to exploit, and not someone to be treated as a lesser child of Hashem.  As our author has written, Jews “…are compassionate sons of compassionate fathers, it is fitting for them to deal kindly with human beings, even with those who have been their servants even if for but one day.”

What can we learn?  All of us should strive to maximize our compassion, not with just those who have been our servants, but with everyone.

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2 Responses to “Mitzvah 44: Redeeming the maidservant”

  1. Shirley Gould said

    Could we also eliminate the term “servant” and treat all human beings as persons, regardless of their status? We should be ready to respect others at all times.

  2. rabbiart said

    Loath as I am to disagree with my own mother I don’t think the issue has anything to do with the terms we use. Being a valet or a butler for example, is an honorable profession. Not calling your butler a butler doesn’t change how you treat him, or her.

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