We’re still at Mt. Sinai (after all, we just got there) and the law is getting more and more exact and elaborate. This week it also becomes downright unpleasant, as we have to contemplate the fact that the Israelites are now enslaving each other, not to mention the sad fate of pre-teen girls in much of the ancient world. Plus, ox goring. You can listen to the podcast by downloading it through iTunes or any other fine podcast deliverer, or by using the player below. The midrash for the chapter is at the bottom of this page.
And these are the laws which you shall set before them (Exodus 21:1)
The phrase “and these” (ve’eileh) implies that they are a continuation of what is written before. This is to teach us that just as the laws written above (the Ten Commandments) are from Sinai, these too are from Sinai.
before them: But not before gentiles. Even if you know that they [gentiles] judge a certain law similarly to the laws of Israel, do not bring it to their courts, for one who brings Jewish lawsuits before gentiles profanes the [Divine] Name and honors the name of idols to praise them (other editions: to give them importance), as it is said: “For not like our Rock [God] is their rock, but [yet] our enemies judge [us]” (Deut. 32:31). When [we let] our enemies judge [us], this is testimony to [our] esteem of their deity. — [From Tanchuma 3]
If you purchase a Hebrew slave . . . (21:2)
There is nothing more difficult for a person than to be subjugated to another person. This is why the Parshah begins with the laws of how the Hebrew slave is to be treated.
His master shall bore his ear through with an awl (21:6)
Why the ear? The ear that heard at Mount Sinai, “For the children of Israel are My servants” (Leviticus 25:55)—yet this person went and acquired a [human] master for himself—that ear should be pierced.
8-If she is displeasing to her master: [Meaning] that she does not please him to the extent that he would [want to] marry her. — [From Mechilta]
8- when he betrays her: If he [the master] comes to betray her and not fulfill the commandment of designation, and the father, too, since he betrayed her and sold her to this one.
If men fight together, and one strikes another with a stone or with his fist . . . (21:18)
A person is always liable [for damage he causes], whether inadvertently or willfully, whether awake or asleep: if he blinded his neighbor’s eye or broke his articles, full compensation must be made.
(Talmud, Bava Kamma 26a)
24- an eye for an eye: If [a person] blinds his neighbor’s eye, he must give him the value of his eye, [which is] how much his price to be sold in the marketplace has decreased [without the eye]. So is the meaning of all of them [i.e., all the injuries enumerated in the following verses], but not the actual amputation of a limb, as our Rabbis interpreted it in the chapter entitled הַחוֹבֵל, he who assaults. -[From B.K. 83b, 84a]