The Torah portion Mishpatim immediately follows Yisro , the section that describes G‑d’s giving of the Torah, which took place shortly after the Exodus and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. It follows that G‑d would relate in Mishpatim the commands that were most germane to the Jewish people at that time.

In fulfillment of His promise to Avraham that the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth,1 G‑d saw to it that the former slaves left that country laden with gold and silver.2 Then, at the crossing of the sea, the Jews received even more booty;3 each and every Jew was rich.

Nevertheless, Mishpatim begins4 with the laws of an indentured servant — a Jew whose impoverished state obliges him to sell himself into servitude,5 or one who lacks the means to make restitution for a theft and is therefore sold into slavery by the court.6

Why does the portion begin with these laws when all Jews were then wealthy?

The indentured slave was to serve for only six years, or until the Sabbatical year, at which time he was to be freed. But “If the servant declares, ‘I love my master… I do not want to go free’… his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and the servant shall serve until the Jubilee Year.”7

Our Sages comment:8 “Why was the ear chosen for piercing rather than another organ? Because it was the ear that heard on Mt. Sinai, ‘For unto Me are the Children of Israel servants, they are My servants,’9 yet it threw off the heavenly yoke and replaced it with the yoke of man, so the verse says: ‘let the ear be pierced, for it did not comply with what it heard.’ ”

With other commandments, we do not find any stress put on the connection between the reward for observance and the manner of that observance. For example, honoring one’s parents is rewarded with longevity.10 There is no obvious connection between the reward and the fulfillment of that command.

The same is true with regard to the punishments for sin — lashes, excision and the like. The nature of the punishments has no obvious connection to the sins which beget them.

With regard to the indentured servant, however, our Sages clearly indicate how the punishment is in keeping with the crime — the ear heard from Mt. Sinai and did not comply, therefore it is pierced.

The reason why the portion which follows the giving of the Torah describes the law of the indentured servant is thus readily understandable, for the punishment of piercing the ear is directly connected to what the ear heard on Sinai.

The connection becomes even more apparent in light of the fact that the entire purpose of giving the Torah was to purify and elevate the physical world through the performance of mitzvos. Therefore, the first commandment in Mishpatim clearly demonstrates how Torah affects the physical world.

This is particularly true according to the Chassidic explanation of the phrase “Jewish indentured servant,” viz., one who transforms “servitude” to his animal soul and physical desires into “Jewish” spiritual service.

Such a transformation demonstrates the effect of Torah in this world — to so change one’s animalistic tendencies and the world at large that they are able to enter the domain of holiness.

Practiced by every Jew in every walk of life, such transformations will become so widespread that the individual and everything related to him will become a veritable dwelling for G‑d.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 251-257.