This week’s parsha follows the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses and contains laws regarding such palatable topics as slavery, matricide, kidnap, and grievous bodily harm, alongside the more idealogical laws for social justice and restitution. Mishpatim finishes by giving names to the festivals that we celebrate today; speaking of a prophecy about the conquering of the land of Canaan; and finally, a confirmation of the covenant.
The Torah is a truthful document, even if reading this truth is sometimes not what we expect or want to hear. Ancient Near Eastern law, or Classical Greco-Roman law, could not imagine a world without slavery yet the Israelite law wanted people to remain free of all human appropriation. In Mishpatim, the assumption appears to be that eventually the slave shall go free.
There is only one situation in Mishpatim where a slave does not go free: this is when the Hebrew slave, who should be set free in his seventh year, says “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free”.
So is this a loving and humble gesture on the part of the husband? I posture that in relation to today’s world, when the slave professes this love for his master, it is a love of dependency, of not having to make decisions or take responsibility. I hope that Mishpatim’s insistence on freedom should influence us all this week