This week's parasha is Misphatim ("judgments"), which includes laws relating to slavery. An Israelite slave, explained the rabbi at services, must be liberated upon seven years of service, just as debts are forgiven after that same period of time. But what if the slave doesn't want freedom, if he or she loves her master so much that she chooses to stay? The Torah allows for this, and instructs the slave to stand against a doorpost and receive a kind of ear piercing from her master. That mark will indicate her status as a willing, happy slave.
The number seven, as in so many customs in the Torah, suggests a meaning beyond the literal. We rest--are freed from work--on Shabbat, the seventh day. And we turn to the door at the end of the Lekha Dodi prayer on Friday night to welcome the Shabbat bride, symbol of the perfect world to come. We look with longing at that doorpost--but is it because we want to be free, or are afraid to leave the room? I'm sure some slaves stayed on because they had become beloved family members over the years. But others couldn't imagine life on the outside, the uncertainty and difficult choices that came along with happiness, and so chose to remain tethered.
We face the same dilemma each week, said the rabbi. We can accept the freedom we're given in the form of Shabbat, a day to rest and forget our burdens, or be pierced against the doorpost--what, ignore email? leave my cell phone at home? how is that possible?--and convince ourselves slavery is the better option. It sounds like a no-brainer, but is not an easy choice at all. We--I--derive our identity from being connected. Disengagement feels like drowning, losing one's bearings completely, dizzy with no ground in sight. But when you do it, and discover how nice it is to float, how calm and sane, you want to stay that way forever, as at the end of the Amidah: "Help me to extend the joy of Shabbat to the other days of the week, until I attain the goal of deep joy always."