Last week, while shopping in a North Columbus supermarket I was accosted by a strange woman.
“You are a sign from God,” she told me. “I had given up hope and asked God to send me a sign. I could not have expected for find a Jew up here. Jews don’t live here, and yet you are here with a kipah on your head. God must have sent you!”
The woman’s remarks left me dazed. I was not certain if she was a whacko so I attempted to ignore her, only to have her invoke God’s name, describe herself to me as a believer in the Holy One (she referred to Him by the Tetragramaton), and tried to influence me to converse with her. Instead, fearing what she might do next, I attempted to ignore her as I went about my business.
(I had spent my entire career spreading God’s word, teaching the heritage of our people, modeling the behaviors I believed were demanded of me by the Almighty. Even this series of columns is my attempt to relate Jewish values to the experiences of life, as described in the news.)
Soon after I escaped the poor woman accosted my wife. My wife’s reports of their chat established that the poor woman was more than I expected. She was not only an unfortunate making due, she was an escaped slave in fear for her life. She even asked my wife to pray for her.
The woman had fled criminals who had captured her and many others. She was brought to the States expecting better life for herself and her family. Yet she ended up a slave.
It is hard to believe that slavery exists on our shores. After all, it has been illegal in the United States since the War Between the States, over 150 years ago. While Torah legislate the rules for Israelites' owning slaves, the Talmud makes it clear that anyone who took on a slave had taken on a master. The rules for slave care and protection are highly demanding.
Repeatedly the Torah challenges us to greater morality because of our experience as slaves in Egyptian bondage.
I am saddened to have given such short shrift to the unfortunate woman. She reached out a hand of friendliness. As a human being she deserves the freedom she found when she escaped her masters. With God’s help she will continue to live in freedom without constant fear and looking over her shoulder.
Slavery is a blight on American freedom. If only more could be done to eradicate this foul institution, not only in America but around the world.