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Mishpatim: The Hebrew Slave

Not everyone connects to gematriah, the study of the numerical value of Hebrew words. While gematriah is one of the methods that the Torah is expounded upon, and Israel’s scholars (particularly scholars of Kabbalah) throughout the generations have employed it in their Torah study, one generally needs a special affinity to numbers in order to appreciate its depth. Some gematriahs, however, are so exact and amazing that even the most numero-phobic among us can also bond with the Divine wisdom that they express. Here is one of them:

The first portion of Mishpatim deals with the laws of the Hebrew slave (Eved Ivri): ”And these are the ordinances that you shall put before them, if you buy a Hebrew slave…and he shall serve him forever”. There are 76 words in this portion, the numerical value of eved, ‘slave’. If we count the letters (in Hebrew) in this portion, we get 282 letters – the numerical value of Ivri! In other words: In the Torah portion that discusses the Eved Ivri, there are Eved (76) words and Ivri (282) letters!

Is it good to be a slave? On a simple level, the Torah relates to slavery as a negative matter and there is criticism of a person who has “acquired for himself a master”.  But the concept of servitude also appears in the Torah in a positive light, later in this Torah portion: “And you shall serve Havayah your God”. Servitude to God can have a relatively lower dimension, if a person serves God as if he is being coerced to do so. That is why the verse says of the Eved Ivri, “For six years he shall serve and in the seventh he shall go free, for nothing”.

But there is certainly a loftier side of servitude to God. The faithful servant of God, who also reaches complete identification with Him, is none other than the King Mashiach, about whom it is written in Isaiah:  “Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.” The numerical value of Eved Ivri  is…Mashiach!


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