By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
Parshat Ki Teitzei
11 Elul 5764 - August 27, 2004
What is freedom?
The generation of the Exodus could never forget that they were once slaves.
The next generation, born in freedom, is Moshe’s current audience. They need
to be reminded even more emphatically how to treat slaves. Included is the law
of the runaway:
You shall not surrender a slave to his master who would find refuge (YINATZEL)
with you from his master. With you shall he dwell, in your midst, in the place
which he will choose, in one of your gates (cities), in that which is good for
him. You shall not oppress him (Devarim 23:16-17).
What is the case here? Is the slave a Jew, or a non-Jew? Is his master a Jew,
or a non-Jew? The slave is the possession of his master; does the Torah
condone what is essentially an act of stealing? And, from where has the slave
At first glance the Torah seems to champion the cause of liberation:
presumably, a slave who runs away has been mistreated, or he simply wants to
be free. However, this slave cannot have fled from one place to another within
Israel, because then it would have been unnecessary to specify that he live in
your midst, in the place which he will choose, in one of your gates.
(Compare this with the story of Shimi, Melachim I 2:39-40.) Rather,
this slave has come from outside the Land, and sought refuge in the Land of
Israel (Gittin 45a).
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) notes that the slave
has not just run away from the rigors of slavery, but has chosen asylum
specifically to be with you. Obviously, he is searching for something more.
As to the identity of slave and master, Rashi offers two explanations. In the
first, he supports Targum Onkelos, that this refers to is a non-Jewish slave
belonging to a non-Jewish master. His alternative explanation is “even a
Canaanite slave belonging to an Israelite who fled from outside the Land to
the Land of Israel” is to be treated in accordance with these laws. Ramban
explains that his flight to Israel is an improvement over his previous
condition, because he was working for Jews who live in an unclean land, where
not all the commandments apply.
Sefer HaChinnuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of
Barcelona, mid-13th Century) identifies two negative mitzvot here:
§ 568 — Not to return a slave who fled from his master abroad, into the land
§ 569 — Not to oppress, even with words, this slave who flees from his master
abroad into the land of Israel.
The reasons he gives for these mitzvot is to imbue us with the “honor of the
Land,” as well as consideration for
“the powerlessness of [the slave’s] spirit, since he is a foreigner amid the
people, … he is more helpless in spirit and abased than a convert -- so that
you should not say, ‘This is a slave, and there is no strict concern whatever
by anyone about him; then no guilt will lie upon us on account for his
oppression with words.’”
The codes (Rambam, “Laws of Slaves” 8:10; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 267:85)
define the halachah as follows:
“A slave who flees into the land of Israel may not be returned to servitude. …
And we order his master to write him a writ of release, and the slave writes
his master a promissory note for his own value to be repaid when he can afford
to do so. If the master does not agree to free him the court releases him from
his servitude, and he goes his way.”
Ramban adds that in the place which he will choose means that we
are commanded not to enslave him to ourselves, rather we must set him free.
[Perhaps this is because only a free person can choose.]
And, what he chooses is a life of holiness. He is to be treated well so as to
bring him closer to a love of Hashem. Thus, he might opt for the status of a ger
toshav, a non-Jewish resident of the land of Israel who has accepted the Seven
Noahide Laws (which is possible only when the Yovel is in effect; see Rambam
“Laws of Idolatry” 10:6). More likely, he wishes to convert to Judaism (“Laws of
Thus, it is the land of Israel, where the unity of Hashem and His people is most
fully realized, that attracts this runaway slave. But, how did he come to know
The verses immediately preceding ours (10-15) discuss proper conduct during war.
Thus, says Ibn Ezra:
“When you go to war it is possible that a slave who is not an Israelite will
flee into your camp from his master: he too is not an Israelite. [The slave] has
come for the glory of the Name Which is proclaimed upon Israel. If Israel were
to surrender him to his master, this would be a desecration of the divine Name.
Therefore, You shall not oppress him.”
It is noteworthy that these laws were not included in the general discussion of
slavery earlier (Vayikra 25:39-55). Only now, on the threshold of the conquest
of the Land, is this war scenario anticipated.
Moreover, the immediately preceding verses focus on details of hygiene in the
Israelite military camp, culminating in the declaration:
For Hashem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your camp, to rescue you (L’HATZILCHA)
and to place your enemies before you. And your camp shall be holy (23:15).
It is the holiness that is found even under the extreme
circumstances of war that attracts the slave. He has seen that Hashem saves (L’HATZILCHA)
His nation, and now he would find refuge (YINATZEL) within that nation.
He has witnessed first-hand that subservience to Hashem is the only true
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parshat Ki Teitzei
When speaking about aliyah,
Diaspora Jews sometimes say, “Certainly we are planning to live in Israel.
But with all the fighting there, we can’t go now. We will go as soon as
the situation becomes more peaceful.”
The message of this week’s Torah portion is different. The opening verse,
“When you go forth to war against your enemies,” teaches that war is an
integral part of our Divine national mission. Seven out of the 613 mitzvot
of the Torah deal with war. God Himself is called “The Master of War.”
Ramban explains that the commandment to wage war, milchemet mitzvah, is
part of the mitzvah of dwelling in the Land of Israel and keeping it under
Jewish sovereignty. Establishing national Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael is
the way that we perform this mitzvah, to be actively pursued by the Jewish
People at all times. We do this with the Israel Defense Forces and with
the aliyah of every Jew to the Land of Israel. Not only with tanks and
airplanes, but with every new Jewish house, stroller and washing machine.
The Torah’s commandments dealing with war teach us that even when enemy
nations dispute our right to the Land, we must call up our inner fortitude
and courage, and summon our readiness to sacrifice for the sake of our
Land, our nation, and our God. We must take active steps to enter the Land
of Israel, dwell in it, and establish God’s Kingdom on earth, even at the
price of personal hardship and war. The precept of defending the Jewish
nation in the Land of Israel and developing Jewish settlement in all of
its borders is the Divine command which beckons to all of world Jewry
today, just as it did in the time of Joshua. As the Haftora says, “And
your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited.
Don’t be afraid.”
Rabbi David Samson
Rabbi Samson is Dean
Tichon Erev Dati for high school dropouts. He made Aliya from Baltimore in
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254