May 8, 2014


This week’s parsha speaks of the laws that will apply when the Jews enter the Land of Israel. These include the seventh year, “Shemita”; the fitieth year “Yovel” and other laws governing the Jew’s relationship to his less fortunate brother, who may have to hire himself out to make a living.

We find the following verse and Rashi’s comment.
Leviticus 25:53

“As a hired hand on a yearly basis shall he be considered with him; he shall not rule over him with vigor before your eyes.”
נג. כִּשְׂכִיר שָׁנָה בְּשָׁנָה יִהְיֶה עִמּוֹ לֹא יִרְדֶּנּוּ בְּפֶרֶךְ לְעֵינֶיךָ:

Rashi: he shall not enslave him with rigor before your eyes: That is to say, in your sight

לא ירדנו בפרך לעיניך: כלומר ואתה רואה: רש״י

The Torah describes a case of a Jew who, because of financial duress, sold himself into servitude to a non-Jewish master. If he can’t manage to buy his own freedom, then his Jewish brothers should provide the money to redeem him. Our verse above tells us the wage scale that should be used to determine how much money should be paid to the master for the years of servitude that will be reduced due to the redemption.

On the last words in this verse Rashi comments:

He shall not rule over him with vigor before your eyes – RASHI: That is to say: As you see it.

Whenever Rashi uses the word “K’lomar” (“that is to say”), he intends to exclude another possible, though incorrect, interpretation of the verse.

Taken literally, these words mean: You shall not allow the gentile owner to subjugate his Israelite slave in front of your eyes. The implication is: He may subjugate him harshly as long as it is not done in front of your eyes! But such a conclusion is ridiculous. Harshly subjugating the Israelite slave is wrong whenever or wherever it is done. This incorrect implication of these words is what Rashi has come to exclude.

By adding the words “and you see it,” Rashi tells us that witnessing this crime is a not a condition for guilt; rather, it is a condition for us to interfere and stop this act. The verse, with Rashi’s comment , is now to be read: “As a yearly hired servant he shall be with him. He shall not rule over him with vigour while you see this i.e. and let him get away with this behaviour.” Implicit is the command that you must interfere and restrain the slave owner from such unwarranted and degrading behaviour.

When we give this verse more thought we can better understand the thrust of this mitzvah. Compare our verse with verses 25:39 and 25:43. These verses command a Jewish master not to deal harshly with his Hebrew servant. Our verse is speaking of a gentile master who owns a Hebrew servant. The Torah was given to the Jews, not to the gentiles. Therefore, our verse cannot be a mitzvah to a gentile master not to rule harshly with his servant; it must be a mitzvah addressed to a Jew. (See Gur Aryeh of the Maharal) Therefore the Torah adds the words ” as you see it,” emphasising that this is a command to the Jew not to stand by idly if he sees his fellow Jew being abused by his gentile master. This is what Rashi was also emphasizing with his words ” as you see,” meaning the burden of responsibility is on you!

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


One Response to “Behar”

  1. Thank you for yet another wonderfully original D’var Torah. I am accustomed to giving the same explanation of the words: נער הייתי וגם זקנתי, ולא ראיתי צדיק נעזב וזרעו מבקש לחם at the end of Birkat HaMazon. Can we really say that we never “see” righteous people forsaken and their children begging? Hardly, But we can say: I never saw an injustice in the world and “ignored” it! In other words, if I do see something wrong, I go out of my way to rectify the situation, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. Shavua tov!.

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