Between Slavery and Freedom
It is shocking to think that only 154 years ago, slavery was a living reality in this country. Lamentably, even today, millions of people still live and work in slave-like conditions around the world.
Our parashah stipulates that slavery must be limited in time, and conditional. But why didn’t the Torah just abolish slavery altogether? Spiritually speaking, the Torah “did not do that,” because the Torah “knows” in its sagacity, that the road to freedom is a very long one, and that great historical transformations cannot be achieved overnight, rather – that it takes centuries, at times even millennia, for real, durable, civilizational everlasting change to be achieved. Think about it, how many centuries did it take humanity to achieve democracy and human rights for billions of people? Innumerable.
The Torah regulated slavery back in antiquity, such that it cannot be perpetuated, nor involve ongoing physical abuse. But it understood that the road to veritable perpetual change is gradual and painstakingly slow. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ingeniously points out that the four political revolutions which defined the modern epoch, are very instructive in this regard. Sacks mentions in this context the English Revolution, the American, the French and the Russian. The English and American Revolutions kept G-d in the picture, they did not seek to abolish institutionalized religion and faith. The other two revolutions, the French and the Russian, were staunchly atheistic, and contemptuous of faith and religious structures. These atheistic revolutions hinged their success on the precarious assets of human reason and so called ‘historical progress.’
Consequently, the French and Russian revolutions turned into a murderous and barbaric bloodbath, in France with Robespierre and the murderous guillotine, in Russia with Stalin and the Gulags (the Soviet concentration camps). It is noteworthy that these atheistic and anti-biblical revolutions failed, and that the Anglo-American revolutions, which embraced piety and worship, succeeded beyond measure. The leaders of the English and American Revolutions, unlike their French and Soviet counterparts, realized that you cannot change human society overnight, that it may take centuries to fully secure liberty and universal human dignity, and also – that keeping the Almighty in the picture lends a revolution the sagacity and humility of a moderate and sober faith, rather than the murderous hubris of a godless movement, which rapidly degenerates into the corrupting and corrosive effect of the pursuit of worldly power for the sake of power.