We might have thought that in the case where a slave runs away and then the Jubilee arrives he does get a gift, since the Jubilee would have set him free under all circumstances, and indeed, means that he does not need to complete his term of servitude. Therefore, the baraita comes to teach us that he does not receive a gift since he ran away and was not sent away by the Jubilee.
Today’s section discusses the Hebrew slave who cannot serve his whole six year term of servitude due to illness. Does he have to complete it when he becomes healthy?
According to the baraita we learned yesterday, it would seem that if the slave is sick and misses time during which he could work, he still goes out free at the seventh year. But according to the second baraita, this is true only if he works part of the time. If he is sick all six years, he does not go free.
If he is able to do some minimal work while he is ill then he need not make up missed time. But if he cannot do anything, then he must make up the missed time.
The baraita is somewhat unclear—does he have to serve at least three years (first clause) or not (second clause)? The Talmud resolves by saying essentially that he must serve three years. If he is sick for four years, it is as if he was sick for all six and he must make up the missed years.
According to Deuteronomy 15, when a slave goes free his master must provide him with a gift. In our sugya tannaim debate how much that gift must be.
Deuteronomy 15:14 states that the slave must be granted from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. R. Meir says he must get five selas worth of each, for a total of fifteen selas worth of a gift.
R. Yehudah derives his number from the law concerning an ox that kills a slave—the owner pays 30 shekels (selas).
R. Shimon derives his law from the laws concerning a person who dedicates his own value to the Temple. An adult male is worth fifty shekels.
R. Meir did not need to say “which is fifteen sela’s in all.” We could have done that math ourselves! He added that number in order to teach that the total must be fifteen selas. But if the master gives 8 of one, 4 of the other and 3 of the other (for instance), he has fulfilled his duty.
The five selas is derived from the redemption of the first born in Exodus 34:20. Since the word “empty” is used in both this context and in the context of freeing the slave, Rabbi Meir applies the laws of one to the other.
But why five sela’s from each? Why not five sela’s in all? After all, this is the total for redemption of the first born.
The answer is that “empty” is written before the three categories. Therefore it applies individually to each of them.
The answer is that the Torah hints that this must be a substantial gift when it says that the gift must come from all that God has blessed you with.
According to R. Judah, the master must grant the slave thirty shekels
R. Judah derives the amount of thirty shekels from the fact that both this law in Deuteronomy 15 and the law of the ox that kills a slave in Exodus 21:32 use the word “give.”
The word “giving” is also used in the context of evaluations of a person’s worth (Leviticus 27). But there are two reasons R. Judah prefers to learn from the context of killing a slave. First of all, there is a general principle according to which when there are two options, go with the smaller one. Essentially what this means in this context is that we know the master is liable for at least thirty, but we cannot be sure that he is liable for fifty. Thirty is a safe bet, fifty is not.
The second reason is obvious—better to learn from a similar context.
As stated above, Rabbi Shimon derives the amount the master must give the slave from the use of the word “giving” in both this context and in the context of dedicating the value of something to the Temple. The highest value is 50 shekels.
But why not learn from the lowest value—which is 5 shekels?
Again, the Talmud answers with the verse “as the Lord God blesses you.” This is read as mandating a higher amount.
The two claims that helped explain why R. Judah learned thirty from the context of the slave are both difficulties on R. Shimon.
R. Shimon does not learn from the repetition of the word “giving.” Rather he learns from the repetition of the word “poverty,” which appears in Leviticus 27:8 (evaluations) and Leviticus 25:3 (slavery). Note that the problem with this is that the law that the master must grant the slave a gift does not appear in Leviticus, so to accomplish this we have to do a double jump, from Leviticus 27 to Leviticus 25 to Deuteronomy 15.
R. Meir derives from these three words that fifteen shekels, three times five, must be given. But what do R. Judah and R. Shimon do with them?
The Talmud now weaves in a baraita in which tannaim debate what types of things a master may not grant the slave. The grant must come from things that are considered a blessing. R. Shimon excludes from here money. Money is easily lost, devaluated etc. And therefore, it is problematic. [One might thing that today we value money over many things, but we really do not. That’s why we put most of our money in a bank where it is transformed into an investment. Furthermore, our money is totally symbolic. In fact, most of the money in the world, probably well over 99 per cent is just a number in a computer. In the ancient world money was actual silver. But this is a larger topic]. R. Eliezer ben Jacob excludes mules. The rabbis had two problems with mules. 1) They were considered violent. 2) They do not reproduce. [I discuss this in volume 1 of Reconstructing the Talmud.]
R. Shimon says that despite the fact that mules cannot procreate, their own bodies grow and can be used to perform other tasks.
And R. Eliezer b. Jacob points out that there is some usefulness to cash—it is the easiest way to engage in business.
The Talmud explains why all three examples were necessary. Flocks and threshing floor teach that animals and produce are acceptable. Wine-press excludes either money or mules.