How to own a slave
In the mishpatim, laws, dictated to the Jewish people in this week’s parsha, we see how Hashem has given us a prescription on how we should treat a slave. Who knew that Judaism would allow for slavery to exist? Well, from the description of the laws Hashem has given us, we can see how Hashem has instilled laws to retain honor onto the slave.
1. It is forbidden to give him lowly jobs, such as washing his masters shoes (even if his own son or student would do it).
2. The master must share all his food and drink with his slave. If the master is eating white bread and drinking red wine, so to, should the slave have the same privilege. Additionally, if the master is to sleep on a good bed, so should the slave.
3. If the master has only one good cup of wine, one good loaf of bread, or only one pillow, he must give it to his slave.
4. A slave’s service must not exceed six years, he must be released after that time period. If the slave fell ill during his enslavement with the master, the master must pay for any medical expenses, and the slave is not to repay him
5. If the slave is enslaved, and has a wife and children, the master is obligated to support his wife and children.
6. If the slave is not yet married, he may not be given a Canaanite maid to live with, because children are not allowed to be created from their union.
7. If the slave is married during his enslavement, the master is allowed to give him a Canaanite maid; however, the master must raise the slaves children as his own.
Here we can see a few examples of the rules a master must abide by in regards to owning a slave. The Torah creates these guidelines for a thief to repay someone in the most honorable fashion. Instead of putting him in prison, giving him and his family shame and starvation, the Torah places the thief in a Jewish environment, which is influential in many obvious ways. By doing this, the master takes care of the slave and his family’s needs and gives the slave the opportunity to live a Torah driven life.
However, the Torah gives permission for him to have a Canaanite maid, whose children are in the master’s possession (this type of relationship is forbidden for free Jews) to give the slave a sense of self-inflicted degradation for what he has done. By giving the slave this guilt, it should give him the incentive to elevate himself from his physical bonds to reach higher levels of spirituality in order to reenter society as a reborn Jew.
In all, we can see how Hashem goes through great lengths in describing how we are to treat a slave who has committed a crime. Hashem not only wants to provide retribution for this man in the most honorable way, but he is giving him the opportunity to change his life by living amongst other Jew families and their positive influence. From all this we can see how merciful Hashem truly is. Even when we sin, He creates a formula for us to succeed and get back onto the path of the just. Know that no matter how far you stray, Hashem, in His great mercy, will guide you back home, and in the most honorable way possible.