Hebrew Slaves, Revisited

May 3, 2015

וְכִי־יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ וְהֶחֱזַקְתָּ בּוֹ גֵּר וְתוֹשָׁב וָחַי עִמָּךְ׃

If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though a resident alien, let him live by your side:

Leviticus 25:35

אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁי תִּירָאוּ אֲנִי יְהֹוָה׃

You shall keep My Shabbatot and venerate My sanctuary, Mine, Hashem's.

Leviticus 26:2

The Torah now deals again with the laws of the Hebrew slave. We are told the reason one might be reduced to slavery is financial ruin. The Torah commands the Children of Israel not to charge interest to one another, to enable those less fortunate to make it in the world. If this is not enough, however, the impoverished may sell themselves into slavery.


A Hebrew slave may not be treated as such; rather, he is to be treated like a laborer and made to work under comfortable conditions. At the end of the Jubilee cycle, he is to be set free whether he wants to leave or not (remember, the portion of Mishpatim already provided slaves who were happy in their masters’ homes with the option of extending their terms of service past the Sabbatical year). If he has married or had children in this time, they go free with him. Non-Israelite slaves, however, may be kept in perpetuity.


If an Israelite is sold into the hands of resident aliens, his fellow Israelites must do everything in their power to redeem him. His redemption price must be set like that of land, according to the number of useful years before the slave must be freed in any case for the Jubilee.


The portion ends with a reminder not to serve idols, to keep the Sabbath and to revere the sanctuary of God.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

What might be the relationship between the Sabbatical and Jubilee on one hand and keeping the Sabbath, revering the sanctuary and not serving idols on the other? Why might these concepts have been juxtaposed?

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