The portion begins with the laws of the Jewish slave. Although to our modern eye, slavery appears to be oppressive and an affront to human rights, it was a common practice until relatively recently. The Torah, in our portion and other places, outlines circumstances in which an Israelite might be sold into slavery to his fellow (see 22:2 for example). The period of slavery is limited to seven years, but if the slave is happy in his position, he is entitled to request that his indentured period be extended.
Another example of the exchange of humans for financial compensation is the sale of an unmarried daughter. The verses indicate that it is a sale for the purpose of marriage — if the buyer ultimately opts not to marry her, he must redeem her. If he takes another wife in addition to her, he cannot in any way diminish her marital rights.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
If an Israelite slave opts to stay with his master, he is taken to the court and his ear is pierced with an awl through to a doorpost. What do you think this means or represents?