Judaism: Divrei Azriel on Parsha Issues
Throw It to the Dogs
“Any flesh that has been torn, treifa, you should not eat; you shall throw it to the dog.” (Shemos, 22:30)
Rashi explains that we throw the treif (non-kosher) meat to the dog as a reward, since no dog barked during the plague of the first born, as the pasuk, verse,states, “and no dog whet it’s tongue (barked) at Bnei Yisrael" (Shemos 11:7).
An additional answer is given by the Da’as Zikainim Mi’Balai Hatosfos. The Da’as Zikainim explains the reason we give the treifa to the dog is as a reward for all of the work it has done, for until now there has been no treifa in the flock as the dog protected the flock from foxes and other wild animals.
Now, after failing to protect the flock, the owner would naturally be upset over this financial loss and would react by punishing the dog. Says the Torah: No. Even though the dog failed you, you still need to have hakaras hatov (gratitude) for all that the dog has done for you until this point, and for that reason the Torah teaches that one needs to reward the dog with the treifa.
This is a crucial lesson in hakaras hatov. Appreciating what another has done for you does not apply only to current beneficence; it is also about acknowledging all that the person has done for you until this point, even if the present state is failure. May we merit to internalize this message this Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim, 5774.
The Parsha begins with the laws of the the Jewish slave, eved ivri. The concept of Jews having slaves seems very strange. We just left Egypt, Mitzrayim. We were slaves for 210 years. We went through horrible pain, suffering and agony. Now that we are free, are we really going to be so quick to desire slaves of our own that the Torah has to give us a slavery handbook? Where is our sensitivity? Furthermore, how can the Torah permit, albeit with moral guidelines, such a seemingly malevolent institution?
The answer would seem to be that there are two types of slavery. There is the slavery of Mitzrayim, which was rooted in evil, and then there is the Jewish slavery of this week’s reading. Rashi says that the only Jew who could become a slave is one who could not meet his debts or one who stole and could not afford to pay for his theft. The simple understanding of Rashi is that this is the only way for this person to compensate for what he owes.
Slavery is not an ideal concept; however, Judaism allows it as a last resort when there is no other way to pay for what one owes. The Torah outlines specific moral guidelines for how to deal with this unfortunate need for slavery. The Jewish slave gets treated rather well, relative to slaves of other ancient cultures.
But ultimately, slavery is a bedieved (after the fact) concept. Ideally no one would steal and everyone would repay his debts and there would be no need for slavery. According to this understanding, should a potential master forgive, be mochel, on the debts or stolen property, the one who owes need not become a slave and should not become a slave.
Rav Hirsch understands Rashi that slavery is not just a means of compensation, but is rather a mode of rehabilitation for the slave. This slave does not appear to be the biggest pious man, tzaddik, according to Rashi. He is either a thief or a financially delinquent individual. Under the Jewish laws of slavery, this man will be brought into a Jewish family and will be under the influence of Jewish family life.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the slave. Rather than being left to fend for himself, getting deeper into debt, he is offered a place in a home in which the family has to treat him well and have a high regard for his dignity and humanity. Rav Hirsch emphasizes how the halakha demands complete equality of the slave with his master and the rest of the household, in food, clothing and bedding. (It is then no wonder that a slave may want to remain a slave after his six years are up, and would be willing to pierce his ear to the doorpost to do so.)
Accordingly, slavery teaches this man how to properly treat others and how to be an upstanding member of the Jewish community. With Rav Hirsch’s understanding, a potential master might not be permitted to be mochel on his debts. The Torah may be requiring the master to take responsibility for the rehabilitation of a fellow Jew who has lost his way financially and morally.
But even Rav Hirsch would seem to agree that slavery is less than ideal. Only once someone is in need of financial and moral rehabilitation will slavery be of any good. But ideally, people will not steal and will pay their debts, and will not be in need of the rehabilitation that slavery provides.
Alternatively, perhaps our preconceived notions about slavery are wrong. Maybe there is some inherent good in the concept of slavery as an ideal. After all, we would like to consider ourselves servants of G-d, "ovdei Hashem.” Rav Kook suggests that slavery has an ideal dimension to it. Slavery itself is not a bad thing. However, humans have abused slavery to the point where people now view it as inherently bad.
The truth is that slavery is a natural law amongst the human race. The reality of life is that there are rich and poor, strong and weak. A rich person can legally hire poor people in order to do his work. These employees are in fact “natural” slaves, due to their socio-economic standing. Furthermore, if they were actually owned by their employers, they might be better off.
Unfortunately, all too often, employers do not necessarily care about any harm that may befall the workers due to dangerous working conditions. Employers might also be unlikely to engage in any extra expense to improve working conditions for their workers. If a worker gets hurt, an employer might just find a new one. But if these workers were owned by the master through legal slavery, the master would have a financial interest to look after their slaves' lives and well-being, because they are his own assets.
Perhaps this is what the Torah meant by instituting slavery in halakha. According to Rav Kook, it would seem that slavery is not a last resort for compensation, nor a mode of rehabilitation, but rather an ideal way to facilitate healthy socio-economic interaction between the upper and lower classes.
Were humans not so prone to abuse it, and were we to follow the Torah’s guidelines for it, slavery could then be looked at as an acceptable, lechatchila, way of life.