Classics and Beyond:Behar — Of Contracts, Crowns, and Kings

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    Classics and Beyond:Behar — Of Contracts, Crowns, and Kings
    כי עבדי הם אשר הוצאתי אתם מארץ מצרים לא ימכרו ממכרת עבד
    For they are My slaves, whom I have taken out of the Land of Egypt; they shall not be sold by a selling of a slave (Vayikra 25:42).
    כי לי בני ישראל עבדים עבדי הם אשר הוצאתי אותם מארץ מצרים אני ה’ אלקיכם
    For the Children of Israel are slaves to Me, they are My slaves, whom I have taken out of the Land of Egypt — I am Hashem, your G-d (ibid. v.55).
    The first pasuk discusses an eved Ivri sold to a Jew, and the second discusses an eved Ivri sold to a non-Jew. At both times, Hashem emphasizes that all Jews are really His slaves, and both times, Rashi writes: “Shtari kodem — My contract comes first.” There are contractual limitations on the sale of a Jew, as Hashem’s contract predates any other. Rav Hirsch (v.55) elaborates, describing how Hashem says, “Your 248 limbs, 365 sinews, and every drop of your strength belongs to Me. Therefore, you may not be shackled by anyone else.”
    However, according to the Shem MiShmuel (5762 ad loc.), the earlier contract mentioned here does not merely impact one’s control by another person, but also one’s control by the yetzer hara. Growing up in a country that cherishes personal freedom, and that has disavowed the concept of monarchy, the fact that a person should be a king may seem rather strange, yet that is precisely what we are supposed to become. Actually, this is the underpinning of the etymology of the word נזיר. While the word is generally translated as one who separates himself (Vayikra 15:31, Rashi), we find it translated differently in Bamidbar (6:7): “Ki neizer Elokav al rosho — For the crown of his G-d is on his head.” Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) says that this fits with the image of the nazir.
    Most people, he explains, are enslaved and serve the desires of the world. Though a person leading a hedonistic lifestyle may feel like he has freedom to do as he pleases, he is, in fact, under the control of his baser self. The true king, however, the one who wears a royal crown on his head, has broken free of his desires. Only the nazir, a person who makes the hard choice to escape from such bondage and abstain from pleasures, is a truly free person. No longer a slave to himself but a master of his own domain, he becomes a crown-wearing monarch in his own right. (See Ohr Yahel on Parashas Nasso: Maalas HaMiddos — Ateres Malchus.)
    Applying the Ibn Ezra to the discussion of the eved Ivri, the Shem MiShmuel suggests that just as no person may be sold or enslaved (in certain circumstances) to another person, as Hashem’s contract came first, so, too, no person may be enslaved to himself: to his drives and desires. After all, Hashem’s contract came first. At Har Sinai, we swore our allegiance to Him and only Him. To serve any other master, even ourselves, would be an abrogation of our contractual responsibility.
    Thus, we are kings, wearing a neizer, crown, of true freedom, and also servants to Hashem, the King of Kings — both at the same time. As Rav Hirsch (25:42) writes, serving Hashem makes a person truly free. (See Kli Yakar Shemos 25:25; also see Behar, True Freedom.)
    In four different places (Berachos 34b, Shabbos 151b, Pesachim 68a, and Sanhedrin 99a), the Gemara tells us, “Ein bein ha’Olam Hazeh li’mos haMashiach ella shibud malchiyos bilvad — The only difference between life in This World and life in the times of Mashiach is the subjugation to the monarchies.” The simple meaning is that while we are currently subject to the laws of the land in which we reside — I must pay taxes to the IRS and follow American law — after Mashiach comes, we will not be subject to the American penal and civil code but to that of the Torah.
    Why did Chazal express it in the plural, “shibud malchiyos — subjugation to the monarchies,” rather than “shibud malchus — subjugation to the monarchy”? Isn’t every person subject to only one variety of law and governance?
    In truth, we are under the dominion of many malchiyos, many powers and authorities, as each one exhibits its particular influence and control over us. Many of us are enslaved by unhealthy drives and desires. In addition, who among us is not controlled by the love of honor and wealth? Who is not governed and dominated by his heart and eyes? On another level, are we not all led astray by the latest fashions from Paris and Milan and the food and culture of other countries? We are truly subject to the control, influence, and dominion of many, many malchiyos, many cruel and unrelenting tyrants and kings. In fact, the yetzer hara itself is referred to as “melech zakein u’chesil — an old and foolish king” (Koheles 4:13; see Rashi).
    The Gemara is telling us that when Mashiach comes, we will no longer be ruled by all these kings and influences. At that time, there will be a giluy of kvod Shamayim, a revelation and new awareness of Hashem’s existence. While now we see things through heavily distorted lenses, in the future, the Navi tells us (Yeshayahu 11:9), “Ki malah ha’aretz de’ah es Hashem ka’mayim la’yam mechasim — For the earth will be as filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” We will see clearly and realize the truth, marveling at how foolish we had been to follow our desires and the many malchiyos enslaving us.
    The Shem MiShmuel bolsters his earlier point with the words of Pirkei Avos (3:6): “Kol hamekabel alav ol Torah maavirin mimenu ol malchus ve’ol derech eretz — If someone takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly responsibilities are removed from him.” With a true commitment to Hashem and His Torah, we are freed from the otherwise controlling malchus and also “ol derech eretz,” which the Shem MiShmuel interprets as “shibud taavos ha’olam — the subjugation of the desires of the world.”
    At the time of Mashiach, the shibud to all those items that have governed and enslaved us will cease. Not due to any miraculous change in existence but to our newfound awareness and knowledge of Hashem. And we will truly become kings over ourselves, and also true and complete servants to Hashem.

    Reb Eliezer

    חרות על הלחות – אל תקרא חרות אלא חרות etched into the luchos with a ‘o’ under the ches, should be read as freedom with a ‘ei’ under the ches, A person is realy free from everyone if he keeps the Torah. Hashem freed us from the servitude of Pharaoh when we accepted the Torah. The contract with which Hashem sanctified us is the Torah as the Baal Haturim says that we were sanctified by all three means, kesef, the booty from Mitzraim and the Yam. contract, Torah, biah, the mishkan. Spiritualy we are free from all kings by only serving Hashem but physicaly we become free only when Meshiach comes. hashteh nami avdei deachashveros anan.

    Reb Eliezer

    A person is free if he is involved in the Torah, asok through questiions and answers as the brocho laasok bedivrei torah indicates according to the Taz SA O’CH 47.

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