Our Gemara on Amud Beis delves into the status of a Jewish slave redeemed by relatives. Rabbi Yose asserts that upon redemption, the slave gains freedom. In contrast, Rabbi Akiva contends that redemption by relatives results in the slave being bound to serve the relative until his contract ends. Even Rabbi Akiva acknowledges that redemption by a non-relative leads to complete freedom. (One could surmise that the act of charity from an outsider might not be as easily exploited. However, given the likelihood of relatives being compelled to assist, abuse is possible. A person might repeatedly sell themselves or mismanage finances, leading to their sale. Hence, if relatives bail them out, entitlement to their labor until the contract’s end is established.)
Tzafnas Pa’aneach, in Beshalach, applies this rule to interpret Exodus 13:17:
וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אלקיםדֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer;”
The final phrase, “although it was nearer,” aligns with the pashut peshat. In this context, the Hebrew word “ki” signifies “although.” But “ki” often means “because,” and according to the Midrashic explanation, God chose not to guide the Jews through Philistine territory because of its proximity to Egypt. This closeness might tempt the Jews to flee back to Egypt when confronted by fearsome foes.
Tzafnas Pa’aneach employs the Hebrew word for “close,” “karov,” which also means “relative.” Hence, the interpretation is as follows:
“When God liberated the Jewish people from Egypt, He wanted them to recognize their obligation to serve Him, not to escape His service. But, who decreed their indebtedness? Does God not abide by His own Torah? In the Torah, a redeemed slave goes free. Yet, the answer lies in the fact that the Jews were not redeemed by a stranger; they were redeemed by God, akin to a father, thus a relative. ‘כי קרוב הוא’ is rendered, ‘Because God is a relative,’ granting Him entitlement to assume ownership through this redemption.”
Human behavior often follows the pattern of yielding autonomy to another. For our benefit, a part of us remains subject to something greater. Even when we believe we can escape this, we merely swap one master for another, becoming enslaved to desires and instincts, or base aspects of secular culture. Those without religious life’s structure and community find transient freedom, only to succumb to unmanageable internal forces. This master is far less benevolent than God
Don’t Be Nile-istic
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph delves into the scenario of a Jew, due to poverty, selling himself as a slave to a gentile. Responsibility falls upon fellow Jewish brethren to redeem him from this spiritually detrimental environment. Tosafos and the Tosafos Harosh debate whether it would be permissible to employ subterfuge and trickery to redeem the Jewish slave if the asking price is unaffordable.
In the leaflet “Misaviv Lashulkhan,” Rav Elchanan Peretz raises a question based on a similar premise that actively cheating and stealing, even from a gentile, is forbidden.
In the biblical tale, Pharaoh’s daughter adopts the infant Moshe, whom she finds in the Nile. Seeking a wet nurse, she providentially encounters Miriam, who volunteers Moshe’s actual biological mother. However, at that moment, it can be presumed that Pharaoh’s daughter remained unaware of hiring Moshe’s own mother as the wet nurse.
This situation involves an element of subterfuge. Yocheved is compensated for fulfilling her natural obligation to care for her child. A halakhic dispute arises in a parallel case where a father-in-law agrees to pay his son for teaching his grandson Torah. When the father-in-law reneges, claiming teaching is a natural obligation, the Ketzos (ibid 4) contends that as the son is engaged in employment, the agreement becomes binding upon receipt of services. In contrast, the Nesivos (CM 81:2) challenges this, stating that it doesn’t adhere to a typical employment contract due to the work benefiting the son’s own interest, and therefore he really worked for himself, not the employer.
Thus, according to the Nesivos, the question arises: was Pharaoh’s daughter obligated to pay Yocheved? Rav Peretz proposes that since Moshe was taken from Yocheved, her obligation to care for him ceased. Taking care of Moshe became Pharaoh’s daughter’s responsibility.
I’m curious about Rav Peretz’s connection between technical obligation and deception. While a verbal contract might not establish an obligation, could the “worker” still accept payment without it being considered theft? Rav Peretz seems to imply that the hiring occurred under false pretenses, rendering it improper.
In the realm of derash, Talmudic legal concerns are taken seriously even amid perilous oppression. The notion that a mother who had to relinquish her baby and let him float down the Nile would even momentarily focus on the legal ramifications of tricking her enemy into nursing her own child might seem absurd. Yet, this Jewish archetype played out during Nazi oppression. Rav Ephraim Oshry published his Sha’alos Uteshuvos Mema’amakim, addressing halakhic and ethical questions he answered in the Kovno Ghetto and concentration camp. Even amidst dire circumstances, individuals sought rabbinic guidance when facing dilemmas like saving oneself at another’s expense. It’s inspiring that both recent and ancient ancestors, subjected to heinous inhumanity, maintained dignity and fear of God. Though we’re fortunate not to face such dire situations, our minor crises necessitate maintaining composure and seeking guidance on ethical and halakhic matters we might be tempted to overlook under pressure.
Easy Does It
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph employs a proverb, stating, “If you try to grab too much, you will not grasp anything. If you grasp a measured amount, you will succeed in retaining it.”
This principle holds significant weight in human development and behavior. The inclination to undertake vast projects in a sweeping manner, especially during times of impatience and frustration with moral sentiments, is a common occurrence. However, drastic changes often prove unsustainable.
Understanding the inherent and essential qualities of the human personality is also crucial. Much of our actions and thoughts occur on autopilot. Our thought patterns and even our spoken words often emerge without our conscious awareness. This phenomenon is a necessity given the overwhelming amount of information to process. Consider the contrast between an adult reader and a child who is still reading phonetically. The adult reader doesn’t consciously register each individual letter or word; this is why proofreading remains challenging, and even prestigious newspapers or magazines occasionally contain glaring mistakes. Similarly, our personalities are shaped by years of experience, entrenching patterns of thought and emotion. This ingrained behavior is essential for human survival. If personalities could change as swiftly as clothing, we’d be lost in terms of our actions, behaviors, and expectations. Therefore, if we aim to modify our thoughts, feelings, or actions, we must acknowledge that change isn’t an instantaneous update. Instead, we must engage in mindful, deliberate living and gradually develop new patterns. This process requires open curiosity and self-awareness, not abrupt, impulsive, or self-critical reactions.
Enduring change emerges from respecting the human developmental process and progressing one step at a time.
Male and Female Archetypes
Our Gemara on Amud Beis engages in a fundamental debate regarding legal biblical exegesis. In the Tanach, Hebrew words are frequently spelled incompletely, accompanied by an oral tradition dictating their pronunciation. At times, the written and spoken forms yield distinct meanings, particularly with homonyms. The crux of the dispute lies in determining the primary source for deriving halakhic meaning. The Talmud employs an idiom to express this: “Em Lemikra or Em Lamoseres,” which translates literally as “What is the mother? The pronunciation or the written spelling?” Here, “mother” metaphorically symbolizes the primary source.
Numerous commentaries ponder the selection of “mother” in this idiom. In Rabbinic literature, we indeed encounter the usage of “father,” “mother,” and “daughter” in various contexts. For instance, the term “Binyan Av” denotes an inferred derivation from one case to a similar one, with a literal translation as “A construct from the father, or, a construct that is the father.” In this context, “father” again signifies the source. Additionally, a form of divine revelation, known as “Bas Kol,” is literally translated as “daughter of a voice.”
The Rif (Responsum 1) elucidates that “father” is chosen to connote a more masculine, less subtle, authoritative statement. Conversely, “mother,” aligned with a more feminine archetype, conveys a nuanced, non-explicit idea. Consequently, when extracting halakha from concrete laws and teachings in the Torah, it’s labeled a “Binyan Av,” as it constitutes a direct, comprehensible inference. However, comprehending and conveying oral tradition encapsulated in the duality of spelling and pronunciation entails more subtlety. Subtlety, a nuance, characterizes both femininity and the nature of oral law. By nature, because it defies complete transcription, it hinges on an intuitive, less overt process. Most individuals envision a heavenly voice, a Bas Kol, as a loud, resounding baritone, as often depicted in media. Remarkably, the Jewish concept of Bas Kol contradicts this notion. Labeled “daughter of a voice,” it signifies an even more delicate, harder-to-detect idea and expression. (See Tosafos Yom Tov Yevamos 16:6:3)
Acknowledging male and female archetypes and recognizing diverse forms of expression and comprehension of truths is vital for fostering healthy families and relationships. Certain matters may constitute factual truths, yet, as the adage goes, facts cannot contend with feelings. Countless nuanced, imperceptible ways might lead one person to an intuition or sentiment that evades straightforward analytical explanation. These intuitions should not be dismissed or belittled. While not all intuitions are accurate, simultaneously, erroneous and accurate intuitions cannot be readily proven until hindsight. A sound individual and healthy relationship integrate both intuition and logic, as well as emotion, in a harmonious manner.
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Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation
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