When we use the word “slave,” a dreadful scene immediately comes to mind. A slave is regarded as nothing more than a piece of property and the master treats the slave however he pleases. Have you ever heard the expression “slaving away”?
“Work! Work! Work! You slept your two hours last night… Now, get up and work!”
This is certainly not how Jewish slaves were treated.
Let’s go back in history and take a look at the Torah way:
Long, long ago, there were slaves who worked for their Jewish owners. A Jew is a servant of HaShem, not of human beings. But sometimes, people found themselves with financial problems. They owed a lot of money and even stole money and had a hard time paying it back. These Jews were sold by the court of Jewish law as slaves.
A thief, for example, could be sold for as long a period of time as it takes to repay the amount stolen, but no longer than 6 years. In the 7th year he was set free.
There were strict rules about how a master could treat his slave. In fact, the slave had to be treated more like a brother than someone who worked for him. The slave was definitely not treated like a piece of property by his Jewish owner!
Here are some examples:
– A master had to give his slave the same tasty food he himself ate:
– And the same comfortable kind of bed he himself slept on:
“Here, have a nice soft, fluffy pillow. It’s better than mine.”
– He was not allowed to insult his slave by giving him embarrassing or unpleasant jobs to do:
My dear Eved, if it’s not too hard for you, please peel this banana for me.”
– The master wasn’t allowed to ask his slave to do senseless “busy work,” like washing the floor 10 times a day even if it wasn’t dirty.
No, my dear Eved, you do not have to wash the floor again. It is perfectly clean!”
Now we can understand why the Talmud says, “Whoever buys himself a slave, it is as if he has bought himself a master!”