The clear message of all of these explanations is that one’s Divine service is more complete and more desirable to God in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, anyone who sincerely wishes to come close to God and fulfill His commandments to the fullest would do well to run away from his “masters” in Chutz LaAretz and acquire a new Master here in the Chosen Land.


by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman. []


You shall not hand over to his master a servant who is escaped from his
master to you. He shall dwell with you in your midst, in the place that he
will choose in one of your gates, wherever it is good for him. You shall
not oppress him. (23:16-17)

Chazal (Gittin 45a) have a tradition that this commandment refers to a slave who escapes
from his master in Chutz LaAretz and runs to Eretz Yisrael. Rashi quotes two possible
interpretations as to the specific case involved. Either it refers to a Jewish slave who was
owned by a Gentile, or it may even refer to a Gentile slave (eved cana’ani) who was owned
by a Jew. The Talmud (ibid.) and most – if not all – of the halachic codifiers prefer the
second interpretation (see Rambam, Hilchot Avadim 8:10; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah
The first scenario seems quite logical. If a Jew is forcibly sold to a Gentile in Chutz
LaAretz, and he escapes to the Jewish Homeland, we have an obligation to protect him and
see to it that he not be taken back there. The second scenario, however, is more difficult to
understand. Why should we protect a Gentile slave who seeks refuge in our Land?
To fully understand the answer to this question, a word of preface is necessary: The Beit
Yosef (Yoreh De’ah, ibid.), Sefer HaChinuch (568), and others explain that the Gentile slave
under discussion is one who has begun the conversion process. That is, he has been
circumcised and has immersed himself in a mikveh. This type of slave is obligated to keep all
of the mitzvot that are incumbent upon a Jewish woman; and if his master frees him, he
becomes a full-fledged Jew. Now we can focus on the answer.
The Ramban explains as follows: “The reason for this mitzvah is that he [the Gentile slave]
should serve God with us, and it is not proper to return him to his [Gentile] master to serve
idols… In addition, our Sages state that [this mitzvah applies] even to a Jewish-owned,
Gentile slave who runs from Chutz LaAretz to Eretz Yisrael. For, here too, the slave should
serve those who dwell in God’s Land, and he should be spared from having to serve
those who dwell in a defiled land, where all of the mitzvot do not apply.”
In a similar vein, the Torah Temimah explains, “[The reason for this law is] probably based
on the Gemara in Ketuvot 111b, which states, ‘He who dwells in Chutz LaAretz is like one
who has no God, and he who dwells in Eretz Yisrael is assured a portion in the World to
Come.’ ”
Sefer HaChinuch (568) writes: “We must not enslave him again under any circumstances,
because he has entered the chosen ‘pure valley,’ to serve HaShem there. The underlying
reason for this mitzvah is that God wants the Land to be honored. That is, [the slave] who
runs there should be freed from slavery, so that we may appreciate the glory of this place and
establish in our hearts fear of God when we are there.”
Finally, R. Zalman Sorotzkin elaborates on this theme in Oznayim LaTorah: “Apparently,
the Rambam assumes… that the slave had noble intentions – to fulfill the mitzvot that are
dependent on the Land… For, if he was [simply] running away from his oppressive master,
he would have run to a different land… However, if he chose Zion, he also chose the One
Who Dwells in Zion, the nation that dwells in Zion, and the Torah… And since Chazal

state that we assist a person who comes to be purified (Shabbat 104), we must try to free this
slave so that he can be obligated in [all of] the mitzvot, like a Jewish man.” [See also R.
Sorotzkin’s comments at the end of our verse, where he applies this mitzvah to the modern
return to Zion. It is a very worthwhile read.]

The clear message of all of these explanations is that one’s Divine service is more complete
and more desirable to God in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, anyone who sincerely wishes to come
close to God and fulfill His commandments to the fullest would do well to run away from his
“masters” in Chutz LaAretz and acquire a new Master here in the Chosen Land.


One of the many mitzvot enumerated in this week’s parashah is the prohibition of causing
a fellow Jew to take interest (ribit) – i.e., borrowing money on interest. (The prohibition of
lending on interest is stated in Shemot 22:24 and VaYikra 25:35-38.) However, the Torah
explicitly permits a Jew to give interest to (and take it from) a Gentile: You may pay interest
to a Gentile, but you may not pay interest to your brother (Devarim 23:21). At the end of this
verse, the Torah sets forth the reward for keeping this mitzvah: So that the Lord your God will
bless you in all that you do, in the Land to which you come, to possess it.
What is the connection between the prohibition of ribit and Eretz Yisrael? I already cited
the Maharal’s answer to this question in Parashat BeHar (“The Great Unifier” – see there).
The Netziv gives a practical explanation as to why the Holy Land is mentioned specifically in
our verse. According to him, it has less to do with the prohibition of ribit than the reward
mentioned in its context:
Even though there is no difference between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz [in
terms of fulfilling this mitzvah], nonetheless, the reward for mitzvot, and [all] the
laws of the Torah, are greater in Eretz Yisrael. This is why [the Torah] is called
“The Law of the God of the Land.” We already explained this in the Book of
Shemot, on the verse of honoring one’s father. 2
In my humble opinion, though, the most beautiful (and applicable) answer to our question
is found in the Malbim. The Sifrei comments on our verse: “IN THE LAND TO WHICH YOU COME
TO POSSESS IT – In reward for your coming, you will possess it.” The Malbim explains:
Usually, when the Torah mentions taking possession of the Land, it says, which the
Lord your God gives you. Here, however, it mentions nothing about God giving it.
Therefore, [the Sifrei] explains that if the Jews have faith in HaShem and come to
the Land, in reward for that, they will possess it, instead of [merely receiving it] as
a gift.
See Parashat Yitro, “Long Life in the Land.”

Scriptures hint to this in the section dealing with interest, because it states there
that one who refuses to take interest, due to his faith in HaShem, will be rewarded
with a blessing.
Allow me to explain. One who refrains from taking interest shows that he understands that
his financial prosperity is in God’s hands. He realizes that no matter how much he gains from
unlawful loans, he will eventually lose out. He has complete faith that if he keeps God’s
laws, he will be rewarded. One must have considerable faith in HaShem to withstand the
temptations of unjust monetary gains.
The same is true of Eretz Yisrael, says the Malbim. Living in this Land requires great faith.
One can easily fool him- or herself into thinking that it is better to remain in the Diaspora.
After all, “I can make more money here and, therefore, have the means to fulfill more mitzvot,
like charity.” “I can give my children a better education here.” “There are so many bad
influences in Israel.” “It is so difficult to live in Israel, especially now with all that’s going
on.” Etc. In reality, all of these arguments (and the like) are false, but this is how people
perceive things, unfortunately. It takes great faith to say: “I don’t care what people say. All I
know is that God commanded us to live in His special Land; He must know what He’s talking
about. He will protect me from harm, as long as I come for the right reasons – to be closer to
This is what the Sifrei means when it says, “In reward for your coming, you will possess
it.” That is, if you take the leap of faith, leave the lands of exile, and come to Eretz Yisrael,
HaShem will help you flourish in the Land.
Let us all show HaShem how much we truly believe in Him and make His Chosen Land
our permanent dwelling place. Then, He will surely help us defeat our enemies (from without
and within) and take full possession of the Land. So may it be His will, speedily in our days.

Additional References:
 If a man has [committed] a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him
on a tree. His body shall not remain overnight on the tree; rather, you shall surely bury him
on that day, for a hanging person is a degradation of God, and you shall not defile your Land
that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance (21:22-23).
AND YOU SHALL NOT DEFILE YOUR LAND: …The story of the kings who gathered against
Giv’on 3 proves that the law of “His body shall not remain overnight” is not in honor of

Yehoshua smote them after that, killing them, and he hanged them on five trees, and they
were hanging on the trees until evening. It came to pass at the time of sunset that Yehoshua

the deceased, but in honor of the Land. After all, the laws [that apply to] Canaanites
and Israelites are not [usually] the same. 4 (R. Avraham Ibn Ezra)

AND YOU SHALL NOT DEFILE YOUR LAND: According to our Sages, this is not merely a
reason [for the prohibition of leaving a person hanging]… For if so, it would be
permissible [to leave someone unburied] outside the Land. Rather, this constitutes a
second prohibition [in the Land]. Thus, one who leaves a person hanging overnight – or
even a dead body [unburied] – in the Land violates two negative commandments and
one positive one. 5 In Chutz LaAretz, however, one negative and one
positive commandment… (Ramban)

 If a man takes a wife… and it comes to pass that she does not find favor in his eyes… he
shall write her a bill of divorce… She leaves his house and goes and marries another man,
and the latter man hates her and writes her a bill of divorce… or the latter man… dies. Her
first husband who sent her away shall not take her again to be his wife, after she has been
defiled, for this is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin upon the Land
that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance (24:1-4).
AND YOU SHALL NOT BRING SIN UPON THE LAND: This is the reason for the mitzvah, for if he
would be able to remarry her, she would be bound to her [first] husband, and her [first]
husband would do things to cause her to return to him. That is, [he would try to cause]
the second husband to divorce her, and she will commit adultery with her first husband
while she is still married to her second husband. This will bring sin upon the Land,
[namely], the Canaanite practices, which caused the Canaanites to be exiled [from the
Land], and God will remove His Shechinah [from our midst]. This is the meaning of
For this is an abomination before the Lord – for it causes the Shechinah to depart. And
you shall not bring sin upon the Land that the Lord your God gives you as an
inheritance – for it brings about exile from the Land. (Meshech Chochmah)

 You shall have a perfect and just weight; you shall have a perfect and just measure, so that
your days will be lengthened on the Land that the Lord your God gives you (25:15).
gave an order, and they lowered them from the trees and threw them into the cave in which
they had been hiding (Yehoshua 10:26-27).
And nevertheless, Yehoshua applied this law to heathens. Clearly, then, the reason behind it
is not connected to the deceased, rather to the Land.
1) His body shall not remain overnight, 2) You shall not defile your Land, and 3) You shall
surely bury him on that day.

See Parashat Yitro, “Long Life in the Land.”

 Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt: how he met
you on the way and smote your hindmost ones, all that were feeble at your rear, when you
were faint and weary, and he did not fear God. It shall be that when the Lord your God gives
you rest from all your enemies around, in the Land that the Lord your God gives you as an
inheritance to possess it, you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from under the
heavens; do not forget (25:17-19).
See Parashat Re’eh, “Additional References,” 12:10-11.



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