If the means of a ger toshav who resides with you become sufficient, and your brother becomes poor with him and he is sold to a ger toshav or to an idol of the family of a ger, after he has been sold, he shall have a redemption.
The inverse symmetry of the relationship is striking. The ger toshav becomes rich; the Jew becomes impoverished. And all this happens before we get to the apparent point of the pasuk, namely that the law provides a possibility of redemption for a Jews sold into servitude!
Rashi, of course, addresses the problem. The crucial components in the
relationship are the “with you” and the “with him.” They speak of
association. The ger toshav’s association with the Jew brings blessing and
success to him. He climbs an economic rung or two to a point that he is able
to think about acquiring some help. The Jew’s connection with his non-Jewish
acquaintance, on the other hand, results in a downward spiral in his fortunes.
On the face of things, the Torah seems to be telling us that the
relationship does wonders for the non-Jewish ger toshav, but is harmful to
the Jew. For the ger toshav, the connection can bring him to a higher place;
the Jew is dragged down to a lower position.
But why should this be? While this observation seems justified, it lacks
internal logic. Material success is not linked to observance of mitzvos
between Man and G-d, but to mitzvos between Man and his fellow Man. The
change for the better in the position of the non-Jew is easy enough to
understand. His relationship with the Jew works to his advantage. He learns
from the Jew’s ways, and becomes compassionate and altruistic. Perhaps the
Torah is telling us that that the Jew too often picks up improper behavior
from his new non-Jewish friend, even in matters of interpersonal behavior.
As a consequence, he is reduced to poverty. This seems to be in order.
But it very much is not in order. How could it be that the Jew’s association
with the ger toshav is injurious to him, if that very same non-Jew grows
spiritually through the encounter, elevating himself enough to merit the
blessing of wealth? Why would it be problematic for the Jew to associate
with such an elevated personality?
The answer requires a bit of introduction. Our rishonim often invoke the
words chomer/substance and tzurah/form as useful descriptions of the role of
different elements of an individual or even a more complex entity. Chomer
refers to the “substance” of an object. Sometimes, it refers to the physical
material, the raw stuff out of which something is formed. Sometimes, it
means the building blocks of a complex, even when not dealing with a
physical construct. Tzurah, on the other hand, refers to the design, the
organizing principle, the set of instructions that shape the way the chomer
takes form. Again, tzurah can provide direction to something physical, or to
We note that all forms (on the scale of domaim/inanimate, tzome’ach/plant,
chai/animal, and medaber/human) show a reciprocal relationship between their
tzurah and chomer. “Higher” forms become more dependent upon their tzurah.
When it is damaged or compromised, the chomer that it is paired with is
degraded, and becomes more worthless than the chomer of lesser forms. The
substance of a plant that loses its generative ability becomes more degraded
than the substance of a rock.
This holds true of the “chomer” of ethereal entities like the different
parts of the soul. Where the tzurah of that soul is elevated, its chomer is
weakened. It that tzurah is damaged, the entirety of that soul plummets in
value and function.
The tzurah of every human being oversees his conduct towards others with
civility, propriety and goodness. The tzurah of a Jew, however, incorporates
more than that. It also militates towards true avodas Hashem. When that
tzurah atrophies or is in part lost, his entire human soul – the “chomer” of
that tzurah – becomes unhinged. Because his soul is more unsuited to lowly
objects and activities, his neshamah is adversely affected by them. When
that happens, even the other elements of his neshamah, like the compassion
and caring that are the legacy of the Avos, are lost.
The non-Jew becomes a ger toshav by eschewing idolatry and keeping company
with Jews. In the process, he accustoms himself to some of the positive
Jewish traits of compassion and kindness. There is sufficient merit in this
for him to earn the blessing of wealth. His non-performance of other mitzvos
is no barrier to this blessing, and no stain on his neshamah. After all, he
is not obligated in other mitzvos, and thus they cause him no harm. On the
other hand, the Jew who attaches himself to this same ger toshav learns
behaviors that are not impermissible to the ger toshav, but are forbidden to
the Jew. When the Jew now acts in a similar manner and eats forbidden foods
and the like, he damages his special Jewish tzurah – the penchant for
attachment to the Divine and avodas Hashem. As a consequence, the “chomer”
of his neshamah – his neshamah as a whole becomes degraded to the extent
that he loses his essential humanity, and becomes an evil person. This
results in his becoming impoverished.
This reciprocal relationship between different parties manifests itself
“A wicked person desires the trap of the evildoers, but the root of the
tzadik will provide.” The “wicked person” here is one who is kindly
disposed towards other people, despite his wickedness. When he takes up the
company of the “evildoer,” i.e. one who is thoroughly evil and unfeeling
towards others, the wicked person begins to feel jealous of his friend’s
ability to trap his victims without compunction or remorse. Gradually, he
learns to be cold and cruel to others as well. The tzadik, on the other
hand, travels the same road in reverse. If he is by nature a hard, difficult
person, he can still reach inside to his root – which is to give to others.
Making use of the substantial yiras shomayim that a righteous person
possesses, he forces himself to gradually better himself.
Klal Yisrael is likened to a flame: “The house of Yaakov will be fire .”
The other nations are compared to water: “Woe to the tumult of the many
nations, who are as tumultuous as the tumult of the seas.” Fire will
warm water, while retaining its light, providing that the water is kept
somewhat distant and separate. If the water is allowed to spill out over the
fire, it will douse the flame, and extinguish its light. When the Jewish
people is allowed to come close to the other nations, but the Torah still
provides some separation between them, Klal Yisrael successfully “warms” and
enlightens them, bringing them to a higher plane. If Klal Yisrael abandons
the Torah, the waters of those nations overcome the flame, till it has
nothing left to offer. Ironically, the nations, having been elevated by
their previous association with the Jewish people, retain that distinction.
Jews, on the other hand, having abandoned their commitment to Torah, lose
1. Based on Ha’amek Davar and Harchev Davar, Bamidbar 25:47