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Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora 5781

Parashat Hashavua: To be a Free Nation in its Land

Harav Yosef Carmel

Parashat Tazria opens with the command to do a brit mila on a baby’s eighth day. It would seem that we thereby make a bodily sign of being like slaves of Hashem, which would indicate that we left the bondage of Egypt to be slaves to Hashem. So in what way did we become free men? We will investigate this matter as we go through, in the coming weeks, the holidays of spring (Pesach, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Lag Ba’omer, Yom Yerushalayim, and Shavuot).

We have experienced Pesach – we strengthened our humility, ate matza, and discussed many Torah themes. We began counting toward the giving of the Torah. We should look more deeply into the process and understand the significance of being a “free nation (consisting of free people) in our Land.”

The Exodus from Egypt meant that a nation of slaves turned into a nation of free men. Chazal taught us, based on the similar words charut (engraved) and cherut (freedom) that deep study of Torah (whose words were engraved on the Tablets) is the primary way to become a free man (Kalla Rabbati 5:3). The P’sikta said that even one who is osek (occupies himself) in Torah, which implies that he just tried to understand, even if he ended up making mistakes, is included in this distinction. Either way, though, the people could not become fully free until they left Egypt and also arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah. But how is this so?

The servitude of an eved ivri (a Jew acquired by a Jew; an eved c’na’ani is more enslaved) is measured in a few ways: He relinquishes his ability to control his time, to choose a life partner (see Kiddushin 15a), and other things. His life during those years is dedicated to increasing his master’s wealth. But perhaps the biggest thing is the loss of the ability to make decisions of great spiritual consequence. He must follow the orders he is given, after all, and therefore cannot take full responsibility. (That was a silver lining for those who became servants because of repeated mistakes in leading their lives.)

Certainly, the slavery in Egypt was worse, as people had their rights to human dignity stripped from them. So why were the people not considered free when they passed through Yam Suf and were totally saved from their masters, at a place called Pi Hachirot? Why only at Sinai?

At Sinai we received the gift of the obligation to sanctify ourselves and, with it, sanctify time and the material world. This was a condition for receiving the Torah, as where the people could stand and the nature of the clothes they could wear all had to conform with the rules (see Shemot 19:6-15).

Sanctifying means that non-traversable boundaries are drawn. But doesn’t that make us slaves? When there are constraints on time and place due to the Torah, placing limitations on activities and even matters within the family, that would seem antithetical to freedom!

We will continue with this theme next week and discuss other presents that we received. In the meantime, we have just been reminded of the horrible sign in the entrance to Auschwitz, history’s worst house of slavery (with the sign saying “work is emancipating”). We also are commemorating the deaths of IDF soldiers and terror victims, who, in death, left us a legacy that we should live as free people in an independent Jewish state.

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Nir Rephael ben Rachel Bracha
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Neta bat Malka

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