In Parashat Mishpatim, the Torah introduces the procedures related to an Eved Nirtzah, an Eved Ivri (a Jewish slave) who wishes to continue to remain under his master’s rule after the seven years of the Shemitah cycle have concluded. If he wishes to stay with his master, the master must pierce his ear to a doorpost. Rashi (Shemot 21:6 s.v El Hadelet) quotes the famous Gemara (Kiddushin 22b) which states, “Raban Yochanan Ben Zakkai Hayah Doreish Et HaMikra HaZeh KeMin Chomeir: Mah Nishtanah Ozen MiKol Aveirim SheBeGuf? Amar HaKadosh Baruch Hu: Ozen SheShamah Koli Al Har Sinai BeSha’ah SheAmarti: “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim” (VaYikra 25:55), VeLo Avadim LaAvadim. VeHalach Zeh VeKanah Adon LeAtzmo. Yartzea,” “Rabban Yocḥanan ben Zakkai would expound this verse as an allegory: Why is the ear different from all the other limbs in the body, as the ear alone is pierced? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: This ear heard My voice on Mount Sinai when I said: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves” (VaYikra 25:55), which indicates that they should not be slaves to slaves. And yet this man went and willingly acquired a master for himself. Therefore, let this ear be pierced”.
The Ramat Shmuel, Rav Shmuel Segal, asks: If the reason for the piercing is the Eved refusing to listen to the commandment, “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves,” why don’t we do this same process for anyone who violates a Mitzvat Asei (a positive commandment)? Didn’t their ear also hear Hashem’s voice when He commanded them to wear Tzitzit or perform any other Mitzvat Asei?
The Ramat Shmuel first provides some background: we know that we are regarded as Bechorim (firstborn) to Hashem from the Pasuk of “B’ni Bechori Yisrael,” “Israel is my firstborn son” (Shemot 4:22). Additionally, a Bechor animal needs a Mum Ga’lui, a visible blemish (i.e. a wounded ear) in order for it to lose its sanctity and render it permissible to be used for Chullin (non-sanctified purposes). With this information in mind, the Ramat Shmuel reformulates Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai’s query. Why is the slave acquired permanently through his pierced ear, when usually the wounding of an Eved Ivri by his master sets him free? Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai now answers that our firstborn relationship with G-D makes us His servants, and that we must first remove an Eved’s sanctity as a firstborn before he permanently become someone else’s Eved. This is accomplished through the infliction of a Mum Ga’lui, and the Torah specifically instructs us to pierce his ear since it heard “to Me the children of Israel are servants.” The Ramat Shmuel eloquently expresses, that we, as firstborns to Hashem, are extremely beloved in Hashem’s eyes. Hashem adores us so much that in order to remove this status, we must go to the great lengths of bodily injuring ourselves! This shows how dearly Hashem thinks of all of us!