At the end of six years of work, all Jewish servants go free from their masters. [A Jew becomes a servant either by selling himself because he is destitute or through being sold by Beis Din (Jewish Court) as a punishment for stealing and being unable to repay what he stole.] If a Jewish servant does not want to leave his master at the end of the six years, he is taken to the door post and his master bores a hole through his ear. He then remains in servitude [Shemos 21: 5-6]. The Gemara (Kiddushin 22b) tells us the significance of the fact that it is specifically his ear that is pierced: "The ear that heard on Sinai 'you are to be slaves to Me'

and nevertheless chose to sell himself into slavery (acquiring a different master for himself) and then chose to remain in servitude when he had the opportunity to go free is deserving of punishment."

One of the commentaries protest that it is not really the ear's fault; it is the brain's fault! The ear is just a receptacle, a tool for hearing sounds. In fact, it is his brain or perhaps his heart that is at fault. That is the part of him that fails to realize to whom he is supposed to be a slave. Why pick on the ear?

The Sefas Emes answers that it is the ear's fault, because the message remained only in the ear. The trouble with this person is that he heard - externally; but he did not listen. He did not internalise the message "They shall be slaves to Me; not slaves to other slaves". That was his sin. It remained only in the ear. In one ear, out the other.

 

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