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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Shemot: Parashat Mishpatim: The Pierced Ear

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

In this week's parasha, Mishpatim, we read of the Hebrew slave, who was forced into becoming a slave because of poverty. At the end of his six years of enslavement, the Torah states that if the Hebrew slave wishes to remain a slave, he may do so. He is taken to the Bet Din, where his ear is pierced. The slave then remains in the custody and ownership of the master until the next jubilee.

Why is the slave's ear pierced?

Rashi explains that the ear is pierced because it is being punished. This ear was this very ear that heard that Bnei Yisrael are slaves to Hashem, and to Hashem only, on Har Sinai. And yet, this individual is seeking a new master.

The rabbis ask a question on Rashi. According to this reason, the Hebrew slave's ear should have been pierced from the onset of his six year term, immediately from when he accepted a master upon him. Why is he only pierced if he wishes to have his enslavement continued until the jubilee?

Remember, in the beginning, the slave was forced into this position. The Torah is not going to punish the slave for being in dire straits and taking one of the only courses of action he could take. However, after six years of having another care for him- having a master provide food, shelter and clothing- and not only for himself, but also for his wife and children, it stands to reason that the slave saved some money on the side. Yet still, the slave wishes to remain a slave! It is here where the punishment is rained down on the slave and his ear is pierced. His decision to remain a slave is more from his free will and he is therefore punished.
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