|פרשת משפטים Parshat Shavua Mishpatim|
Shmot Chapter 21:1
"And these ae the laws..."
Parshat Shavua Mishpatim begins with laws about employment, the rights of the employee. OK, I know that everybody else translates עֶ֣בֶד as "slave." But last week as I read over the chapters before attending our local zoom parsha class, the meaning seemed very clear. The avaddim aren't slaves like the Africans who had been brought to America to work for the Europeans were until Abraham Lincoln had them freed.
What's called the evved Ivri, Jewish/Hebrew slave wasn't a slave "imported" from another location bought at an auction or from some agent. He/She was someone who was poverty stricken and couldn't live off of his land. Remember that the Land of Israel had just been divided among the tribes, and each tribe had gotten its portion and each portion was to be divided among the clans. The laws here had been designed by Gd for the Jewish People in their Holy Land. I like to try to understand the Tanach and Hebrew according to how life was at the time.
Some of us have worked at jobs with difficult conditions. Many Sabbath observers who made it to America had to start new jobs every week, since they were automatically fired when they left early on Friday after announcing that they wouldn't be showing up on Saturday. I don't now about you, but employment conditions at some of my old jobs gave me a choice of very difficult hours/conditions or being fired.
Few jobs allow employees to take vacation whenever they want and for however long they want. Keep that in your head when Moshe and Aharon demand that all the workers should leave at the same time.
And changing work conditions... I remember when the high school where I had been teaching English suddenly gave us fewer hours per week to teach the same material to the same number of students. After that they gave two double lessons on consecutive days instead of spreading out the teaching hours to give the students, especially my weak ones, a chance to really absorb the curriculum. Yes, that's like how Pharaoh told them to make bricks without providing the necessary straw.
Here Gd is demanding humane working conditions for employees. Proof that there's nothing slave-like in being an "evved" is that their employment contract is mandated by Gd to end after a maximum of six years.
Think about it. That's not slavery!