Wednesday, March 1, 2017

OU TORAH God’s Nudge By Britain's Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

First in Yitro there were the Aseret Hadibrot, the “ten utterances” or general principles. Now in Mishpatim come the details. Here is how they begin: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything . . . But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. (Ex. 21:2-6) There is an obvious question. Why begin here? There are 613 commandments in the Torah. Why does Mishpatim, the first law code, begin where it does? The answer is equally obvious. The Israelites have just endured slavery in Egypt. There must be a reason why this happened, for God knew it was going to happen. Evidently He intended it to happen. Centuries before He had already told Abraham it would happen: As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. (Gen 15:12-13) It seems that this was the necessary first experience of the Israelites as a nation. From the very start of the human story, the God of freedom sought the free worship of free human beings, but one after the other people abused that freedom: first Adam and Eve, then Cain, then the generation of the Flood, then the builders of Babel.

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