Enslavement to G-d – Complete Freedom
It is written, “If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free” (Exodus 21:2).
The commentators (Rabbi Ibn Ezra and the Rambam in particular) have asked why, following the giving of the Torah, the Parsha speaks of the mitzvah of selling a Hebrew slave, rather than any other Divine precept.
The mitzvah in question deals with a Hebrew slave that is sold for having stolen, as it is stated further on: “If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22:2; also see Rashi). It is therefore fitting to realize that if we sin (by stealing from G-d), we will be enslaved to the evil inclination, for we will have neither Torah, nor mitzvot, nor repentance to grant us freedom.
Nevertheless, vashevi’it (“in the seventh”) – which contains the letters of the word teshuvah – “he shall go out free.” This means that if a person repents of his sins and accepts the yoke of the Torah, he will be released from the yoke of other demands (Perkei Avoth 3:5). He will be rid of the evil inclination and free, for the only person who is truly free is the one who devotes himself to Torah study (Perkei Avoth 6:2; Kallah 8) and only serves G-d. This is because, as we have seen, the Torah protects a person; it saves him from all harm (Sotah 21a) and is the ideal remedy against the evil inclination (Sukkah 52b).
We can understand at this point why Parshiot Yitro, Mishpatim, and Terumah are together in the Torah.
Parsha Yitro speaks of hearing, as it is written: “Jethro…heard everything that G-d did” (Exodus 18:1); Parsha Mishpatim deals with enslavement; and finally Parsha Terumah deals with the Sanctuary, as it is written: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). In other words, only the one who listens to G-d’s voice is truly His servant (not the evil inclination’s) and attains the level of the Sanctuary. Even a non-Jew such as Jethro, who was content with hearing about G-d, can repent and convert. Just like us, the nations of the world recite prayers, but what separates us from them is Mishpatim – the study of Torah and the performance of the commandments. Only we have the merit of being G-d’s servants and building a Sanctuary for Him.