A lesson in Empathy
While slavery is widely seen as abhorrent today, the Torah (Parashat Mishaptim), some three thousand years ago, already contained an ethical code towards the treatment of slaves. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that prior to leaving Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to teach the Jewish nation concerning the ethical treatment of slaves. What is interesting is that the Torah’s laws connected to slavery were not pertinent until the nation came into the Land of Israel and the laws of Jubilee came into effect (which would be at least another 50 years). Why, then, was this the most opportune time to instruct the Jewish nation concerning these laws?
Because they were still slaves. Were they at the brink of redemption? Yes. But they could still feel the sting of the whips on their backs and the taste of bitterness on their tongues. At that point they knew all too well what it was like to be slaves. It was therefore right then, just moments before their redemption, that they would best be able to empathise with the plight of a slave and internalise the sensitivity required to fulfilling this commandment.
This Parasha challenges us to examine our own interactions with those who work for us or beside us. Do you know what it’s like to work for or be dependent on someone? Well then let’s ensure that we treat our dependants in a way the we would like to be treated if we were in their shoes.
Wishing you and you families Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman