We all must discipline our children. One of the most popular methods of the day is the “time-out”. Parenting books suggest that these ‘jail-times’ vary according the age of the child and the severity of the crime. There are tell-tale signs when the sentence is unsuccessful. If a kid emerges from her “cell” grinning from ear to ear, something is wrong.
The child thinks, Ha! It was worth it!
In accordance with Jewish law, when a convicted burglar lacks the funds to repay the victim of his robbery, he is sold by the court into slavery. The funds raised from the sale are used to make up for the loss. After six years of labor, the slave is freed. If the slave chooses, and his master agrees, he may remain in servitude after the six years, until the jubilee. However, the court will administer minor surgery before allowing him stay in slavery. His right ear is pierced with an awl.
“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not steal’ and then went and stole, shall be bored.” (Rashi Shemos 21:6)
This seems problematic.
First, we puncture his ear after completing his six-year term. At this juncture, he is no longer guilty of theft. He has repaid the debt. Yet, at this point that we pierce his ear that did not heed, “You shall not steal”.
Secondly, if his act of theft is the basis for subjecting him to the awl, then let us bore every thief at the very moment that his guilt is established.
As a rule, it is not in the spirit of Jewish law to leave an everlasting physical imprint on one who sins. Jewish law does not advocate marking one as “evil” for an eternity. The court does not brand with fire, tattoo, or body-pierce.
The door to repentance is always open. Hashem wishes to give his children a reason to feel that they can – once again – earn their way back into his nurturing embrace.
Therefore, Beis Din does not implement the awl in the case of rape, heresy, desertion, or manslaughter.
The thief, however, is an exception. And even then, the court only utilizes the awl when the offender desires to remain in servitude past the completion of his sentence. The conscripted slave who wishes to stay beyond his penal duty presents a problem in the moral arena.
Since he finds comfort in his current situation, he will look favorably upon the circumstances that afforded it. He will never regret his earlier crime.
Ha, it was worth it!
This is terrible.
The perception that theft is evil will be further dulled.
Therefore, in an effort to reinstate the severity of stealing, the Torah dictates that we “bore the ear of a crook that heard, “You shall not steal”.
The thief who chooses to remain in servitude, past the allotted time dictated by his sentence, is made to live with a constant reminder about his failure to heed one of the Ten Commandments. Not because he should suffer an eternal punishment, but so that he is aware of the moral background of his sin. This will act as a deterrent from committing infractions in the future.