In Front of Your Eyes
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
The parsha speaks of the laws that will apply when the Children of Israel enter the Land of Israel. These include the seventh year, "Shemita"; the fitieth year "Yovel" and other laws governing the Jew's relationship to his less fortunate brother, who may have to hire himself out to make a living. We find the following verse and Rashi comment.
"As a hired hand on a yearly basis shall he be considered with him; he shall not rule over him with vigor before your eyes."
The Torah describes a case of a Jew who, because of financial duress, sold himself into servitude to a non-Jewish master. If he can't manage to buy his own freedom, then his Jewish brothers should provide the money to redeem him. Our verse above tells us the wage scale that should be used to determine how much money should be paid to the master for the years of servitude that will be reduced due to the redemption.
On the last words in this verse Rashi comments:
He shall not rule over him with vigor before your eyes - RASHI: That is to say: And you see it.
There are rules to understanding Rashi's language. One of them is that whenever Rashi uses the word "K'lomar" ("that is to say"), he intends to exclude another possible, though incorrect, interpretation of the verse.
What interpretation do you think Rashi is excluding?
WHAT INTERPRETATION IS RASHI EXCLUDING?
An Answer: This is quite a subtle point. It shows us how supersensitive Rashi was to the nuances of words and to their possible overly literal interpretation. Taken literally, these words mean: You shall not allow the gentile owner to subjugate his Israelite slave in front of your eyes. The direct implication is: He may subjugate him harshly as long as it is not done in front of your eyes! But such a conclusion is certainly ridiculous. Harshly subjugating the Israelite slave is wrong whenever or wherever it is done. This incorrect implication of these words is what Rashi has come to exclude.
How do Rashi's words accomplish this?
An Answer: By adding the words "and you see it," Rashi tells us that witnessing this crime is a not a condition for guilt; rather, it is a condition for us to interfere and stop this act. The verse, with Rashi's comment , is now to be read: "As a yearly hired servant he shall be with him. He shall not rule over him with vigor while you see this i.e. and let him get away with this behavior." Implicit is the command that you must interfere and restrain the slave owner from such unwarranted and degrading behavior.
When we give this verse more thought we can better understand the thrust of this mitzvah. Compare our verse with verses 25:39 and 25:43. These verses command a Jewish master not to deal harshly with his Hebrew servant. Our verse is speaking of a gentile master who owns a Hebrew servant. The Torah was given to the Jews, not to the gentiles. Therefore, our verse cannot be a mitzvah to a gentile master not to rule harshly with his servant; it must be a mitzvah addressed to a Jew. Therefore the Torah adds the words "before your eyes," emphasizing that this is a command to the Jew not to stand by idly if he sees his fellow Jew being abused by his gentile master. And this is what Rashi was also emphasizing with his words "and you see," meaning the burden of responsibility is on you!