Parashat Mishpatim: Living in a Virtual Reality

hero image
Virtual Reality
31 Jan 2008

The Creator chose to begin the halachic code of the Written Torah with matters pertaining to the master-slave relationship. This was done, I believe, because Jews having just undergone two centuries of ruthless Egyptian persecution would appreciate the compassion of the Torah’s laws surrounding slavery.

Among other details, the parasha sets down the rules regarding a thief who was sold by the court for nonpayment of the principle of his theft (if he can repay the principle but not the additional fine imposed on him as punishment for his crime, he is not sold into slavery).

During the time of his servitude, the Torah grants the master the right to couple the Jewish slave with a non-Jewish slave woman for purposes of procreation, as is stated (Shemot 21,4):

אם אדניו יתן לו אשה וילדה לו בנים או בנות האשה וילדיה תהיה לאדניה והוא יצא בגפו

If his master gives him a non-Jewish slave woman who gives birth to children, she and her children remain slaves at the time of his release.

After his six-year period of bondage, he is free to leave. However, if he should choose to remain a slave (with his master’s consent), he is taken to the court where he declares his desire to remain a slave and his right ear is pierced, and then he continues to serve until the Yovel (Jubilee Year.) This person is defined in halacha as an eved nirtza – a pierced slave.

What is fascinating in this process is the “false” declaration which the eved nirtzah makes before the court (Ibid verse 5)…

ואם אמר יאמר העבד אהבתי את אדני את אשתי ואת בני לא אצא חפשי

And if the slave says, “I love my master, my wife and my children – I will not go free.”

Nothing in this declaration is real.

The master is no longer his “master,” because the time for his freedom has arrived. The woman is not his “wife,” since there cannot exist a halachic husband-wife relationship where one of the partners is not Jewish. And the children are not halachically his, because they are non-Jewish slaves!

This man is living a virtual reality, totally disconnected with real reality. This is the mentality which renders him fit to remain a slave – a human robot totally enclosed in the bubble of his dreams.

There are two broadly accepted premises within wide circles in the galut that the State of Israel is in great danger, while life in the U.S.A. and other places in the galut is secure.

This, too, is a bubble of virtual reality that relegates its adherents to being slaves to their personal instincts. For we In Eretz Yisrael are threatened but are not in danger; whereas, the Jews in the galut are not yet threatened but are assuredly in mortal danger.

Granted that, on the face of it, we who have returned to Eretz Yisrael and have had to struggle in defense of our Holy Land are threatened. In order to get a real feeling where we are, turn on the radio anywhere in Eretz Yisrael and you will hear Arabic emanating from all but three of the frequencies. The programs are being broadcast from the surrounding Arab and Moslem countries.

We are the only nation in the world explicitly threatened with nuclear weapons, and there is little solace in the non-nuclear threats.

But in “true” reality, we are in the safest place on the planet.

The TaNaCh (Melachim 2 chap. 6) relates a story involving Elisha, the protege of Eliyahu Ha’Navi.

The King of Aram learned that Elisha was in the town of Dotan in northern Shomron, and he sent a huge military force to surround the town with orders to capture Elisha.

The force arrived there at night and waited. In the early morning, Gaichazi, the student of Elisha, went outside and saw that the enemy had completely besieged the town. In desperation, he called out to Elisha who calmed the young man by saying

ויאמר אל תירא כי רבים אשר אתנו מאשר אותם:

do not fear, for there are more on our side than there are on theirs.

ויתפלל אלישע ויאמר ה’ פקח נא את עיניו ויראה ויפקח ה’ את עיני הנער וירא והנה ההר מלא סוסים ורכב אש סביבת אלישע

Elisha prayed to HaShem saying, “Lord, open his eyes (of Gaichazi) so he can see (the surrounding spiritual world)” And HaShem opened his eyes, and he saw the mountain filled with horses and chariots of fire around Elisha.

Surrounding Eretz Yisrael are myriads of God’s angels protecting the righteous of the land.

At this point, you, dear reader, might be shrugging your shoulders in skepticism and thinking that what HaShem performed for a great tzaddik like Elisha is not necessarily what HaShem does for our lowly generation. Wrong!

Whoever thinks that the establishment of the State of Israel, the victories in our impossible wars, and the quality of life we enjoy today are not the result of God’s personal intervention, is simply not thinking.

The angels are being overworked in their defense of the Holy Land. After every war, we hear tales of soldiers who swore that angels were driving them on to victory.

By every human standard, the State of Israel should have died in “childbirth” and certainly not have attained the mature age of sixty years (and most certainly not have the most stable currency in the world with the dollar dropping daily in favor of the shekel). But we are here in the fulfillment of HaShem’s promise that He will return His children to Eretz Yisrael.

This is the “true” reality, as we live now to celebrate the defeat of our enemies and will soon celebrate the modern-day Purim festivals to be established by the Chief Rabbinate.

And what of the reality in the galut where our fellow Jews view their situation with serenity?

A bit of history.

Upon the establishment of the Medina, the gates of the land were thrown open, with the first law to be passed being the Law of Return.

HaShem granted the disbursed of Am Yisrael a period of time to return home, in accordance with Israel’s capacity to absorb the returnees.

In its first years, Israel absorbed over one million desperate Jews from Europe and Arab and Moslem lands – a feat unparalleled in all history. And all this in the midst of wars.

In these sixty years, the Land has embraced its returning children so that today the majority of Jews in the world have arrived home. This, in itself, proves that our generation is the greatest one since entering the land with Yehoshua bin Nun.

As modern history evolves, we see an increase in the “discomfort level” of Jews in foreign lands.

Today, it is very uncomfortable to be a Jew in Europe and many other places in the world. We are all aware that latent anti-Semitism is as close as the gentile at the next work desk in your office or behind the gentle-gentile smile on your neighborhood green grocer’s face.

Many Jews claim that the threat of anti-Semitism is irrational and certainly not in the land where a woman and a black person are presidential contenders.

But the reality of life has taught us that the fabric of society is so thin that it takes little to turn neighbor against neighbor and friend to foe.

But this thought does not really disturb our brothers and sisters in the galut; because in the deep recesses of the Jewish galut mind is the knowledge that if, God forbid, the situation becomes intolerable, Israel will always be there to take them in. The house in places like the Five Towns and Lakewood will always be there to sell and finance their return to Israel, if need be.

This, too, is virtual reality.

The house you purchased for $600,000 and received a mortgage of $500,000 is now worth $350,000 (as told to me by a friend who lives in one of the Five Towns); and you still owe the bank the full amount of the mortgage, which is more than the current value of the house.

The idea that you can sell your property and purchase a beautiful home in Eretz Yisrael with money to spare is no longer reality. The change in the financial situation in the USA has placed many people who considered Aliya to be now outside of the aliya potential.

The Rambam writes in the Laws of Teshuva that HaShem waits a period of time for the sinner to return; but if he does not return, HaShem creates a situation in his life making teshuva a very difficult – if not impossible – alternative.

HaShem has given the Jews in the galut a period of time to return to Eretz Yisrael. However, with the passing of time, it will become increasingly difficult to do so until that tragic moment when HaShem will say AD KAN (no more!) and the gates will be closed.

We pray in the chapter preceding the morning “Shema”

ותוליכנו קוממיות לארצנו

Lead me upright to our land

Meaning: Permit me to return home, not as a poor refugee with only the shirt on my back (as was the case after World War Two), but upright in body and spirit with self pride and confidence.

There is still time for those who wish to assure their family’s spiritual and physical future – but who knows for how long!

And if the slave says, “I love my master, my wife and my children – I will not go free.”

You can be a slave to your virtual realities or a loyal free son of the Torah – the choice is yours.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.