We are God's Servants
The Torah prescribes that a Jewish servant who wishes to remain permanently
in servitude – he loves his master’s home and his family – is given a
permanent mark, a hole in his ear, as an everlasting reminder of his choice.
Rashi explains, based on the Talmud, that the ear that heard on Sinai that
the Jewish people are God’s servants and not to be servants to other humans
is to be drilled with an awl as a stark reminder of his poor choice in life.
The Talmud taught us that a truly free person is someone whose guide in life
is Torah. The choice of servitude over freedom is anti-Jewish and anti-Torah
in its very makeup. In the ancient world and even in later times, slaves
were branded so that all could see that they were the chattel of their owner.
The Torah’s instruction to bore a hole in the ear of the Jewish servant was
to remind everyone of just the opposite idea. That this slave belonged to no
other human but rather was to be a servant of God – that was the message of
the drilled ear. Freedom and independence mean that we bow to no one but to
our Creator alone.
Having other masters in life is a rejection of the Jewish mission and
Judaism’s true understanding of life’s purpose. Jews have often in our long
history been made to serve in involuntary servitude and slavery. But
voluntarily giving up one’s freedom of action and behavior is abhorrent to
Jewish ideals and tradition.
The ancient world, as well as much of the later worlds, was built upon the
institution of slavery, forced labor and involuntary servitude. In our time
governments that preached equality and nobility enslaved others simply
because they suspected them of having different ideas.
The mocking slogan at the entrance to Auschwitz “Work makes one free”
symbolized the ultimate form of slavery and murder. The Gulag was the place
where millions succumbed doing useless work. The great White Sea Canal of
Stalin was literally a canal that led to nowhere while myriads of people
died in the process of building it, often only with their bare hands.
The Jewish people were coming forth from Egypt after centuries of slavery.
One would have thought that having themselves experienced that type of
servitude they would not wish to inflict it upon others. However Midrash
teaches us that even in Egypt there were Jews who somehow owned other Jews
as slaves. It would take millennia for Jews to be completely weaned from the
practice of slavery.
Such is the dark side of human nature and behavior. But the process of
drilling the ear of one who wishes to remain a permanent slave reminds the
Jewish society of the inherent wrong in the deprivation of people’s freedom.
Only God has the right to ask us to be His servants. And those who truly
serve God have no interest in depriving others of their freedom. The message
of freedom that was heard on Sinai should reverberate in all of our ears
Rabbi Berel Wein