Taking Ownership: Re’eh 2019

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: To what extent are you in control of your destiny? When you make big decisions, how beholden are you to other people, or other forces, before making your choices?

The Torah’s rules of Israelite slavery, especially given our ancestors’ servitude in Egypt, might seem jarring at first glance — and maybe after many glances as well:

The Pitch: “If a fellow Hebrew man – or woman – is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, do not let him go empty-handed. … Bear in mind that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and your God Adonai redeemed you; therefore I enjoin this commandment upon you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:12-13, 15

Swing #1: “[An Israelite slave must serve] also the son [of the owner]. One might think [he should serve] also one who inherits [him as a slave]. Scripture states, [however,] ‘… he shall serve you’. And not one who inherits. Just what did you see to include the son and exclude the inheritor? After Scripture includes expansively, it excludes. I include the son because he comes after the father in designating [the female Hebrew slave as his wife] and in redeeming the ancestral field. But I exclude the inheritor because he does not come after the father in designating [the female Hebrew slave as his wife] and in redeeming the ancestral field.” – Tanhuma d’Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai

Swing #2: “Serakh bat Asher the Historian teaches: So central to Israelite culture was the legacy of its slave past … that it was woven into the very fabric of its moral code. … Hagar comments: Given the lot of female slaves in the ancient world, what woman would consent to remain a slave if she was free to leave? Even a life of exile is preferable to bondage.” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “Unlike the regulations concerning Hebrew slaves in Exodus 21, where distinctions are made between the sexes, evidently because the case in view is one in which the young woman has been sold into slavery with the intention of her becoming a concubine, here male and female slaves are regulated by an identical set of laws. Grammatically, masculine gender remain dominant, so even though both men and women have been mentioned, the text goes on to speak of ‘he’ representing both.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Late-Inning Questions: Does the inclusion of women in these laws of Israelite slavery somehow temper the questionable nature of the laws? Do you agree that slavery was part of the ancient Israelite culture and erasing this part of the culture might have necessitated a longer process? How long should we expect to wait before creating a more just society?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It will be a pleasure to welcome the Koslow family back to Emanu-El to mark the 40th anniversary of the family fund that provides our weekly Saturday kiddush. The family will participate in services tomorrow, which begins at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of controlling one’s own destiny, the concept of “team control” has become a key phrase when discussing young Major Leaguers, whose trade value decreases when they approach free agency. How different would professional sports look if athletes could choose which team they could play for at any time in their careers?

Shabbat Shalom!