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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:39 And if your brother becomes impoverished with you and is sold to you ...
Baruch Levine (JPS Torah Commentary: Vayikra) points out that the whole of this section, verses 39-46, deal with indenture: "An Israelite indentured to another must not be treated as a slave." So the verb , a Nif'il affix 3ms form of the root , which has a range of meanings from "to sell, receive in marriage" to "to deliver or give into the power of another", should be understood as a legal indenture process. The poor man receives a capital sum for agreeing to be the indentured servant of another Israelite for a certain period of time, that he uses to settle his debts. The contract guarantees him food, clothing, shelter and a better standard of service and living that an owned slave would be entitled to enjoy.
Hirsch, on the other hand, starts by looking at the word , "with you", and draws attention to the degree of poverty involved: in spite of being assisted by his fellow Israelites, the man "still had not been able to save himself from financial ruin," so has sold himself as a last resort. Hirsch quotes the halacha that states that "selling oneself is only allowed under the pressure of the very extremist degree of dire necessity, where no other possibility opens itself to find the means of continuing existence."
Nechama Leibowitz sees this text as the third stage in a four-step process, starting in verse 25: "If your brother becomes poor, and has sold away some of his possessions"; then verse 35: "If your brother grows poor and his hand fails with you, then you shall strengthen him"; then this text, followed by verse 47: "If your brother sells himself to a stranger who has grown rich with you". At each stage, regardless of any direct family relationship, the poor man is described as "your brother", for all in Israel are a part of the commonwealth of Israel. The community is obliged to help the sufferer: firstly by redeeming his estate and home which he had been unable to maintain; secondly by extending interest-free loans loans to strengthen him; thirdly to take him as an indentured slave; and lastly that even if the community itself cannot assist him so that he sells himself to a rich Gentile, to ensure that the provisions of the Jubilee year are understood and obeyed by that Gentile.
Yeshua tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to illustrate how this is to be worked out. Although the establishment figures declined to help the man who had been beaten and robbed - wether to avoid ritual impurity, for fear of their own personal security or simply because they didn't - he was helped by a Samaritan traveller. The Samaritans and the Jews did not see eye to eye on a range of issues, as a number of gospel passages make clear, yet out of common decency and compassion, it was a Samaritan who picked up and cared for the beaten and wounded Jewish man; more, he took him to an inn, paid for several days of food and care and underwrote his future costs until well enough to travel for himself. "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" (Luke 10:36, NASB) Yeshua asked. This is so obvious - that compassion and mercy should call us to cross boundaries of race, colour and even creed - that we will sometimes miss it. Moreover, it is not to be done simply on an evangelistic tool, for that is essentially a selfish motive: helping others so that you can fulfill your own obligation to share the gospel! Instead, we are to extend mercy and compassion because it is the right thing to do, because it is what G-d does, because it is what Yeshua did. That is why Rav Sha'ul writes, "anyone who does not provide for his own people, especially for his family, has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8, CJB) and our text sets this firmly in the heart of the believing community.
Further Study: Romans 12:9-13; Isaiah 58:6-7
Application: Do you see those around you who are impoverished or obviously struggling to make ends meet? Do you have the means to help them - by way of support, counsel or simply fellowship? Here is an opportunity to share G-d's mercy and compassion - without thought or hope of return - because that is what Yeshua would do and wants to do through you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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