Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

Serving Ishmael (Mishpatim)

A View of Jerusalem (AI-generated parsha illustration, by B. Spitz)
A View of Jerusalem (AI-generated parsha illustration, by B. Spitz)

Appreciation is a combination of understanding, quiet amazement, and gratitude. Appreciating something permits its experience and integration. — Harry Palmer

The telling of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai in last week’s reading of Yitro marks the end of the predominantly narrative parts of the Torah. Now that the Torah has been given to the nation of Israel, we’re introduced to a barrage of legal code. Perhaps appropriate for a people just recently freed from slavery, this week’s reading of Mishpatim starts off with the Torah’s laws as to how one should treat their slaves, a practice that was still universal at that time and remained so until relatively modern times.

Without diminishing the Torah’s innovations in its much more humane approach to slavery, where human rights are decreed to people who were previously viewed as mere property, the Bat Ayin on Exodus 21:7 nonetheless delves deeper into the spiritual causes of slavery and specifically the oppression and servitude that Jews have been subject to for over millennia.

The verse he focuses on states:

“If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go free as other slaves do.”

The word for “slave” in this verse (Amah) is the same one used to describe Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar, who gave birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael, progenitor of the Arab nation. The Bat Ayin, based on the Zohar, reads the verse as stating that “daughter” in the above verse represents Jerusalem, the beloved city of Israel. He explains that if the Jewish people don’t have the proper appreciation for the importance and sanctity of the land, and specifically for Jerusalem, and the Jewish covenant with God, the result is that they will become subservient to the descendants of Ishmael. Furthermore, the subservience will be so powerful, that Jerusalem or Israel will not be freed easily from Ishmael’s dominion. The Bat Ayin rereads the verse as saying:

“If the Jewish people abandon Jerusalem (and the divine covenant) to Ishmael, it will not be freed as other dominions are freed.”

The lack of appreciation for Jerusalem and the connection to God that it represents ultimately leads to a long, challenging, and circuitous road back.

May we continue to enhance our connection to God, our appreciation for Jerusalem and to experience true freedom throughout the land.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the outstanding OurCrowd Summit in Jerusalem.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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