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“And these are the ordinances that you shall place before the (Exodus 21:1).” Some of the Torah’s commandments are duties that a person’s body has to perform. In order to perform these commandments one needs to know what is involved. Unless a person performs such duties with his body he would not be considered part of the Holy Covenant between God and His people.


For example, if the person did not know that is forbidden to eat an animal which died from injuries he would consume both it and the blood and the fat parts which are forbidden. Similarly, when performing the positive commandment of the Passover he has to eat the lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, keep the days holy. In order to fulfill these commandments he has to be familiar with them.

There are other categories of Commandments of the more abstract nature, such as sanctifying the new moon, litigations, laws pertaining to which animal sacrifices are applicable and under what conditions, etc. The truth is that every Jew ought to be familiar with all aspects of the Torah. However, as long as there are Torah scholars who are familiar with all the commandments and who can be consulted when the need arises, all this is under control.

When God said, “That you shall place before them,” this means that everyone ought to be familiar with the laws listed here. How would a person making a purchase know if the purchase was legally valid unless he had first familiarized himself with the laws pertaining to acquisitions? The person who had been sold would not know of his rights to freedom after a certain number of years unless he had studied the relevant portion of the Torah.

The reason the Torah continues in the next verse with direct speech, “When you purchase a slave,” instead of “when someone purchases a slave,” may underline the importance the Torah places on the purchaser being familiar with this legislation.

The words, “that you shall place before them,” also contains a plea for the purchaser to accept the legislation wholeheartedly. While it is natural for someone who purchases a slave to consider such an acquisition permanent, the law which directs him not only to release such a slave after six years but to provide him with a stake so that he can reestablish himself economically may arouse some misgivings in the owner. The Torah wishes everyone to evaluate this legislation also from the standpoint of the slave. Since the reason the slave had to sell himself is that he was financially unlucky or had been found stealing, this is something which could happen to anyone, seeing money has a habit of rolling from one person or family to another. The owner is meant to reflect on the matter that if he himself were ever to find himself in the situation that his slave found himself in, the Torah’s legislation holds out hope for such a person to achieve financial rehabilitation. (Ohr Hachaim haKadosh)

The Ohr Hachaim has listed categories of knowledge that go beyond information: 1) We pray for the knowledge to correctly perform all our duties so that we may be considered part of the Holy Continent between God and His people.

2) We pray for the knowledge necessary to be familiar with all aspects of the Torah.

3) We pray for the clarity necessary for us to relate to the laws in a personal manner so that we may wholeheartedly accept all the Torah’s legislations.

4) We pray for knowledge that includes the awareness of being able to view situations from the standpoint of the other.

5) We pray for the necessary understanding to distill the concepts of each mitzvah, such as our obligation to allow a slave to achieve financial rehabilitation being a way to remind us that the Torah will always provide us with such opportunities when, God forbid, necessary.

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