Parashat Mishpatim 5778: Freedom as God’s desire
There is a story that I like to tell about an elephant in a circus. When it was young they tied him with a chain from his leg to the ground. The elephant was not strong enough to break the chain and even as he tried day after day to do it, he could not succeed. Finally, after a long time, it despaired and just stopped trying. The elephant grew up with that memory, so even when it was an adult and strong enough to easily break the chain, it wouldn’t try as it was convinced that it was impossible.
In our Parashah there is a lot of talk about slavery, including the Law that after six years of slavery the slave was supposed to be freed, but if he/she wouldn’t want to be freed then a ritual was performed and he/she would be an eternal slave. We would think that after six years the slave would be anxious to be freed, but actually it was not always like that. As you spend more time under the control of somebody or something else, then it is harder to free yourself from the dependency on your master. The Torah knows this and therefore establishes a system for these cases, however many commentators didn’t see in this option a good thing, on the contrary, it was not considered a worthy choice, neither for the slave nor for the master.
God wanted the slave to be free, because we believe in the capacity of every human being to be independent and the master of his/her fate, using the Torah as our roadmap towards a meaningful life. I read between the lines the message that if man was created in His image, then the ideal is for slaves to not exist in the world. Sadly, we are far from this ideal even in our days.
We are slaves of so many things. Of our work, of our unhealthy relationships, of addictions, of money, power, of our worst side. We don’t want to be slaves of these things, but it is so hard to free ourselves. We a little like the elephant from the story, we already gave up and think that we are not able to be free, we have been there so long… The first step is to know that we can and that our God call us to be free and to take our lives in our hands, because we all were created in His image.
Let’s break our chains!