At the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim, the Torah states (21:6) that if a slave refuses to go free upon the arrival of the Shemitah year, the slave gets his ear pierced with an awl, and he remains a slave to his master “forever” (i.e. until the Yovel year). Rashi asks why the ear is specifically selected to be pierced instead of any other limb in the body. To answer, Rashi quotes Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who says that the man whose ear heard at Har Sinai “Lo Tignov,” “Do not steal,” and still stole, deserves to have that ear pierced. However, this makes sense only in the case of one who was sold into slavery upon being unable to pay back for a theft. In a case of a person who was impoverished and sold himself into slavery, another answer must be offered: the man whose ear heard Hashem say at Har Sinai “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” “For Bnei Yisrael are servants to me,” yet nevertheless sold himself to a different master, deserves to have this ear pierced.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch asks: why did Chazal feel compelled to offer two different reasons for the ear being pierced? No matter which type of slave he is, he is only punished because he did not want to go free! The slave would seem to be violating only “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” as there is no theft now, only a desire to remain a slave! This question is further compounded when we consider that even a thief does not have his ear pierced if he consents to going free at the end of six years!
Rav Bloch presents a profound answer. A person who wants to improve and fix his Neshamah has to go to the root of his deeds and improve them. If a person fails to do this, he has not accomplished anything. If the slave would really do Teshuvah, he would realize that slavery is not an acceptable status for a human being who wants to really be a constructive part of society. Once the slave arrives at the realization that the only reason he became a slave in the first place is that he ignored “Lo Tignov” and “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” he will not want to be a slave anymore. This is why there are two reasons given for the choice of the ear – the slave did not do Teshuvah for either of the actions that resulted in his becoming a slave. Since he still does not want to serve Hashem as a free man, the slave is shown that he never understood the real reason he was made a slave.
Shocking as it may be, this often happens to us as well. Sometimes, we fail to recognize the true purposes of events that happen in our lives, and at the time that we should have achieved certain goals through these events, we still remain at square one. May we learn from the Eved to realize the purpose and goal of everything, and be able to accomplish our life’s mission.