There is a curious law described at the beginning of our parasha. A Hebrew slave who had served his six-year term was entitled to go free. If he chose to stay, he was required to have his ear pierced. After the judges decided that this genuinely was the slave’s wish then “his master … shall take him to the door-post … and pierce his ear with an awl; and after that he shall remain his slave forever [i.e. until the jubilee year.]” (Shemot 21:6)

In contrast to other ancient societies where slaves were often branded on entering slavery, the Torah is requiring a mark on a slave who refuses to enter freedom. The normal expectation is that, if freedom is available, embrace it. Do not shy away from it. (We should note, in passing, that the slave is not being wounded. In many societies, people choose to pierce their ears for decorative purposes. This slave is having his ear pierced for an educational purpose.)

Nevertheless, we can well understand that, after having been slave for six years, a person may prefer the perceived security of being a slave to a master than having to worry about his own future. He is scared of what lies on the other side of that door.

One of the first laws taught to the Jewish people, after they heard the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai addresses this fear. A generation who had lived for so many years as slaves were conditioned to being passive and not taking initiative for themselves. The Torah emphasises that, if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being a slave again, never regard that as normal. As soon as you can get out, you must. The significance of the pierced ear is glaringly obvious. G-d is saying: You are not hearing my message! I do not want you to be a slave to another master. As you cannot comprehend the importance of freedom, you have to learn the lesson in a physical way.

In contrast to the perforated slave, the distinguishing mark of humanity is the willingness to embrace freedom and choice. Someone who hands over his decision-making to others is, choosing a kind of servitude. It may feel safer to transfer authority to someone else but to do so is to lose out. We grow when we have to decide for ourselves and accept the consequences of our choices. Of course, the Torah wants us to seek advice and guidance from family, friends, Rabbis, experts, wise people and then decide. If someone else decides for me, I can never be wrong! The consequences were not my fault! When we decide, we are expressing our basic liberty as Jews, walking through that door and confronting what lies on the other side.