“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.” —
This month marks one of the most ancient and holiest of Jewish celebrations, Pesach, or Passover. It is a celebration of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from bondage, and freedom is a theme underlying the celebration. Please enjoy this collection of timeless devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, on this sacred observance. – Yael Eckstein, President
In a counterintuitive phenomenon, research has shown that victims of abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves. While we might assume that a child who suffered from parental abuse would be less likely to treat his or her own child that way, the reality is that 30 percent of abused children become abusers. Similarly, statistics show that people who were bullied as children often grow up to become adult bullies.
Perhaps that’s why laws about how to treat slaves were among the first laws given to the people after God’s revelation on Mount Sinai. Why was this area of law among the first to be addressed? Surely, there must have been more relevant commandments needed at this critical juncture. In addition, the Jewish sages note the irony that the children of Israel had only just been freed from slavery, and already, they were discussing enslaving others?
That is exactly the point. The fact that the Israelites had been victims of slavery and abuse put them at great risk for becoming abusers themselves. For hundreds of years, the Israelites were fed a steady diet of humiliation, cruelty, and exploitation. Now, they were at risk for passing on what they received to others. “No more!” said God. The cycle of abuse would not continue – it had to end. To ensure that the bitterness of Egyptian enslavement didn’t resurface, God established a set of laws that protected a slave and ensured his fair and dignified treatment.
The abuse that the Israelites suffered came from being enslaved. But we all have experienced some kind of hurt or abuse in our lives. Perhaps we have been hurt deeply by the betrayal of someone we thought was a close friend, or maybe as children we felt neglected and unloved by our parents. We might have had a teacher who humiliated us, or a sports coach who benched us. It’s impossible to be human and not be hurt by someone else at one point or another. The bigger question is what happens next?
No one chooses to be hurt, but we do get to choose what we do with the experience. We can allow our experiences to change us into hateful, resentful, and ultimately, vengeful people. Or, we can use our hurt as a catalyst for becoming more empathetic, compassionate, and kind people. Our choice has to be a conscience one —we must commit to living the Golden Rule. As the sages explain it: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” Or as Jesus taught in the Christian Bible, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
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