The Red Line

“…and your brother becomes destitute with him and is sold to a resident non-jew among you or to an idol of the family of a non-jew…” – Vayikra 25:47

וּמָךְ אָחִיךָ עִמּוֹ וְנִמְכַּר לְגֵר תּוֹשָׁב עִמָּךְ אוֹ לְעֵקֶר מִשְׁפַּחַת גֵּר – ויקרא כה, מז

The Talmud (Kiddushin 20a-b) views the series of laws discussed in Parshas Behar as depicting the downward spiral—both spiritual and financial—of a person who is not careful in his observance of the Torah’s laws. At the beginning of the parsha, the Torah admonishes us to observe the laws of Shemittah, to rest from agricultural work every seventh year. Then, the Torah talks about the laws of selling property, then about loans, and then about selling oneself as a slave. The Torah is warning us, says the Talmud, should one not refrain from agricultural pursuits during the Shemittah year, he will eventually be forced to sell his personal belongings, then his inherited land, and even his home, and then to borrow on interest. If he still does not repent, he will eventually be forced to sell himself as a slave—first to a fellow Jew, then to a gentile, and then even worse, “to an idol of the family of a non-Jew.”

Notably, Rashi (in his commentary on the Talmud, as well as on Vayikra 25:27,) interprets selling oneself “to an idol,” the lowest link in this chain of descent, to mean selling oneself to be an attendant for idolatry—“not [to serve the idol] as a deity, but to chop wood and draw water [for its service].”


Rashi’s negation of that possibility supports the Alter Rebbe’s assertion in Tanya (Chapters 18-24) that at the core of every Jew is a super-rational attachment to G-d, due to which even the crassest sinners “sacrifice their lives for the sanctity of G-d’s Name and suffer harsh torture rather than deny G-d’s unity… without any knowledge or reflection, but as though it were absolutely impossible to renounce the one G-d.” In truth, says the Alter Rebbe, if a Jew were conscious of his soul’s indomitable desire to cleave to G-d, he would never be willing to sever himself from G-d and defy His will by transgressing any mitzvah whatsoever. Itisonlythatthisaspectofthesoul “is dormant in the wicked”—never absent, merely inactive—“as long as their knowledge and understanding are preoccupied with mundane pleasures. But, when they are confronted with a test of faith…touching the very soul…it ‘stirs from its sleep’ and exerts its influence…to withstand the test of faith in G-d.”

Rashi therefore asserts that even a person so spiritually debased that he could sell himself as a slave to an idol-worshipper (against the Torah’s wishes, see Rambam, Laws of Servants 1:3), or even as an attendant for idolatry, would never go a step further and worship an idol for pay—even only outwardly.


—Likutei Sichos, vol. 17, pp. 300-301


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