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Rambam - Sefer HaMitzvos
As Divided for The Daily Learning Schedule

Positive Mitzvah 232;
Negative Mitzvot 258, 259, 257, 260


  Day 284Day 286  

Positive Mitzvah 232: The Jewish slave
Exodus 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew slave"

It may happen that out of sheer desperation or weakness of character, a person may commit a robbery.

He is obligated to return what he stole in addition to paying a fine.

But what if he no longer possesses the stolen article or doesn't have the money to pay for it?

In such a case, the court sells him as a slave and payment from his "sale" goes towards paying back the theft.

Another type of Jewish slave is a person who is so poor that he sells himself as a slave.

The Torah also allows for the possibility of a Jewish maidservant (a woman slave).

The Torah instructs us how a master must treat a Jewish slave.

Our Sages said: "Whoever buys a Jewish slave, buys himself a master."

Besides caring for his welfare and respecting his legal rights, the master must try to educate his servant.

By serving in a proper Jewish household, the slave who has robbed will learn to mend his ways. The Torah atmosphere of the home will teach the slave who has sold himself for lack of self-support to trust HaShem.

In this way, slavery can also be an educational experience helping the slave become a better person and it is hoped that he will follow a proper Jewish lifestyle upon his release.

This Positive Mitzvah involves the many laws applying to the Jewish slave or maidservant.


Negative Mitzvah 258: It is forbidden to sell a Jewish slave in a public slave market
Leviticus 25:42 "They shall not be sold as slaves"

As explained in Negative Mitzvah 257 a Jew is sold into slavery to be educated and taught the right way to live and conduct himself.

We should not break his spirit and make him feel even more degraded than he feels already.

The Torah commands us to be very thoughtful and understanding of his unfortunate state and avoid shaming him in public.

We should never carry out the sale of a Jewish slave in an open slave market. It should be done quietly and discreetly.


Negative Mitzvah 259: It is forbidden to order a Jewish slave to do unnecessary work
Leviticus 25:43 "You shall not rule over him with strictness"

Can you imagine doing a very hard job and then being told that it wasn't even necessary?

It would probably make you feel very hurt and frustrated.

The Torah cautions us not to cause our Jewish slave such frustration.

We are forbidden to order him to do a job that is unnecessary - even if the work is not overly difficult.


Negative Mitzvah 257: It is forbidden to mistreat a Jewish slave
Leviticus 25:39 "You shall not compel him to work as a slave"

A Jewish person may have become a slave for one of two reasons:

  1. He may have committed a theft, but had no means of returning what he had stolen. He was then sold into slavery by a Jewish court to repay the person he stole from.

  2. He may have offered himself for sale as a slave in desperation, because he could not support himself or family.

In both cases, the Torah instructs the master to educate the slave and help him overcome his weakness. The slave who stole will live in a proper Jewish home and will be inspired never to steal again.

The desperate slave will learn to have faith in HaShem and turn to Him in times of need. Thus, he will lose trust again.

In this way, a Jew's service in slavery is more of an educational experience than mere hard labor.

The Torah encourages us to remember this and never to burden the slave with hard work that is not befitting for a Jew (See positive Mitzvah 232).


Negative Mitzvah 260: It is forbidden to allow a non-Jewish master to act strictly and severely with his Jewish- slave
Leviticus 25:53 "He shall not rule over him with strictness in your sight"

Even a Jew who in desperation sold himself as a slave to a non-Jew must not be neglected.

We must not think: "He caused his own problems, so why should I care about him..."

The Torah commands us to be aware of how his non-Jewish master is treating him.

We are forbidden to let his master work him harshly in such a way that will break his spirit.


Torah is the blueprint by which the world was designed. Everything that exists can be found in the Torah. Even more: In any one concept of Torah you can find the entire world.

From: Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Tzvi Freeman - tzvif@aol.com


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