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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Canaanites never existed

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 67


Rabbi Jonathan Gross, author of Values Investing, is known as Warren Buffett's rabbi.  But like with every great band, there's always an opening act.  Rabbi Myer Kripke was the opening act, Warren Buffett's first introduction to the rabbinic world. Kripke was beloved in Omaha as a great rabbi and a witty speaker.  And so when the Blumkin seniors’ home opened in Omaha, Kripke, was asked to say a few words.
“Friends, over the last number of years, sadly, many of us have lost our better halves,” began Rabbi Kripke, “but we have gathered here today to celebrate.  Baruch Hashem, we have now been blessed with better quarters!” 

How do we know that if a Gentile man had a child with a Canaanite woman that he may be purchased as a servant?  For the verse states, “Moreover of the children of the strangers that sojourn among you, of them may you acquire.”
Rashi explains: We are talking about a Gentile not of the nations of the Land of Israel, concerning whom it states, “You shall not sustain any person.” 

According to Torah law, there are two types of servants: a Hebrew servant and a Canaanite servant.   Our Sages tell us that “One who acquires a servant acquires a master over himself.”  Why?  Because the obligations towards a servant are so detailed and demanding that it’s almost not worth the hassle!  A Hebrew servant had to have good food and living quarters and became an adopted member of the family.   In fact, it was so good that he often chose to stay on after his six-year term!

The Canaanite servant didn’t fare too bad either.  In exchange for signing on to perform the mitzvos, they were treated with the utmost respect and dignity.  But here’s the kicker: it’s clear from our Gemara that really, there’s no such thing as a Canaanite servant!  Because we weren’t permitted to maintain inhabitants of the Land of Israel with their previous Canaanite status.  Either they had to leave or make peace with us, paying taxes and becoming quasi-citizens.  At that point, we weren’t allowed to acquire them as servants.  And so the only people who could become gentile servants were Gentiles from abroad.  In other words, the “Canaanite” servant never existed!    But if the Canaanite servant never happened, why does the Torah devote so much space to those laws? 

Our Sages tell us that many of the laws of the Torah – such as the procedures surrounding the rebellious child – never came to pass.  Nevertheless, everything in the Torah is eternal and has a message for every Jew for all time.   What are we to learn from the laws of servants in the Torah?  The Torah states explicitly, “For the Children of Israel are servants unto me.”  Any time in the Torah we learn about servants, it’s a lesson for each and every one of us in how to serve Heaven.

There are two ways to be a servant: either you can be a Hebrew servant or a Canaanite servant.  What’s the difference?   When you’re acting as a Hebrew servant, you’re a member of the family.   You’re serving Hashem because you want to be there.  When they tell you your work is done and it’s time to go, you plead for the opportunity to stay and do another mitzvah.  In the Torah’s words, the Hebrew servant says, “I love my master . . . I don’t want to go!”

Or you could be acting as a Canaanite servant.  You do the job, but it’s only half-hearted.  You accept half the commandments upon yourself.  The negative ones.  ‘Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.’  You’re doing it because you have to do it.  But you don’t show any positive initiative.

Which kind of servant are you?  Do you serve Heaven with love and vigor?  Do you complete one mitzvah and run to find another mitzvah to do?  Or do you do just what you have to do to ‘make G-d happy’ and then get back to your own life?

Take a moment to think about how your Master treats you – the wonderful food He provides, the living quarters He shelters you in, the blessings of health and good relationships!  Doesn’t that stir up feelings of intense gratitude and love for Heaven?  Don’t you feel the urge to run out and do a mitzvah?  To serve Him non-stop for all eternity?!  To become an everlasting Hebrew servant?!


The truth is Canaanite servants don’t exist.  Deep down we all want to serve the Almighty with the passion of a Hebrew servant.  May you run to do His will and never tire of serving Him with love!