During the times when Israel was governed by Jewish leaders and kings and when the dictates of the Sanhedrin – Halachic High court ― were enforced, if a Jew was caught stealing and had no means to repay, the court had him sold as a Hebrew slave to a Jewish owner. With the proceeds of the sale he would pay back what he had stolen. There were limits to the sale of a Hebrew slave. He could only be sold for six years and after six years he became a free man again. The court also protected slaves from abuse.
The Torah obligates the owner of the Hebrew slave at the end of his six years of work to give him a severance package, which our Sages teach us must be the value of 30 silver coins.
Interestingly, the Torah says the reason for giving the slave severance is because a Jew should remember that at the time of our redemption from Egypt, G-d ensured that we left with compensation by receiving the riches of Egypt. Giving a parting sum to a Hebrew slave is a way of emulating G-d’s ways.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains further. After the Hebrew slave worked for his master for six years, his options to start life anew are quite limited since he has no money to pay to provide for his family. The Torah therefore gives him compensation to provide him with the wherewithal to start again.
The Sfas Emes cites a Medrash that teaches a valuable and encouraging idea we can learn from the law of a Hebrew slave’s compensation. “Consider, here is a Hebrew slave who was sold as a result of his sin of stealing, yet at the end of his term, G-d commands the master to give him severance. Certainly, the Almighty will most handsomely compensate and reward those who are loyal to His word and follow His dictates!”
The Torah gives a Hebrew slave another option at the end of his six years. If the slave loves his master and his environment and wishes to remain a slave, the master takes the slave to his doorpost and pierces a hole in his ear with an awl. He then remains a slave until the Yovel – 50th Jubilee year when he goes free.
Our Sages explain that there are two reasons why specifically the ear of the slave is the part of the body that is pierced. One, is to highlight that the ear heard G-d proclaim at Mount Sinai, “From now on you are My servants.” Now the slave wishes to voluntarily acquire a master over himself. Therefore the ear gets pierced because it didn’t get the message. The second reason is because the ear heard G-d proclaim at Mount Sinai, “Do not steal,” and he went and stole. Because he had no money he was sold as a slave, but now he willfully accepts remaining a slave. That ear gets pierced – for he missed the boat.
When our leader Moshe was pleading with G-d to allow him to enter Israel, he continually prayed 515 prayers. G-d then told Moshe to stop praying for this request, and Moshe abided by G-d’s will.
One could imagine that each prayer Moshe composed was unique.
The Medrash relates that Moshe was creative with his pleas. Moshe actually drew from the conversation that a Hebrew slave has with his master when he wishes to remain with him after six years.
Moshe said, “Doesn’t it state in Your Torah, ‘If the servant tells his master, I love my master, my wife and my children and I don’t want to go free, then the Master follows the instructions of the Torah and the slave remains a servant forever?”
Moshe’s claim was as follows,” G-d, You called me in the Torah Your dependable servant, so I, your servant am now telling You, I love You – My Master, I also love my wife – referring to the Torah, I also love my children – the Jewish people. Once I have stated this, You are bound to keep me alive as Your servant and I will merit entering the land!”
To this request, G-d said to Moshe, “Please do not say this again!” Why not?
The Chanukas Hatorah explains that the Talmud derives from an extra word in the verse that a slave has to declare that he wants to remain a slave a second time in order for it to be effective.
Therefore, G-d told Moshe, your argument is indeed profound and if you would repeat it I would be bound to listen to you. But I know that My future plans cannot work out if you enter the Land, therefore, I ask you not to repeat it again.
We see that Moshe put thought into his prayers and came up with creative ways to effectively argue and negotiate with the Almighty so that his wishes be realized. Although Moshe was told to stop praying, we are, on the contrary, encouraged to continually proceed, enhance and advance our prayers, for G-d preserves every one of our precious prayers!