Certain words produce a knee-jerk negative reaction. They are automatically associated with malevolent people and behavior. Slavery is one such word. The mere mention of slavery evokes images of appalling cruelty, exploitation, mistreatment and sub-standard living conditions. As such, it's difficult to mention the Torah's sanctioning of slavery without people recoiling in distaste. Most people want to dismiss this as a product of the primitive times when the Torah was given, and then eagerly move on to other mitzvot that are more in tune with our lifestyles and morals.

A closer study, however, of the Torah's view on slavery reveals that it could not be more different than the inhumane slavery practiced in the USA before the Emancipation Proclamation, and that is sadly still practiced today in certain uncivilized societies. The Torah contains many laws requiring the master to be humane and kind to his slaves. In fact, a master who abuses his slave has to compensate him, and in certain cases, it is grounds for the slave's freedom.

It's difficult to mention the Torah's sanctioning of slavery without people recoiling in distasteMaimonides writes: "A master is required to provide his Hebrew slave or maidservant with the same food, drink, clothing and housing as he himself is accustomed to. As it says, 'for it is good for him to be with you.' You cannot eat fine bread, while he eats inferior bread; you drink aged wine, while he drinks un-aged wine; you sleep atop pillows, while he sleeps on straw..."

The master is also responsible to care and provide sustenance for the slave's immediate family — though he has no right to demand that they join his workforce. This is derived from a verse (Leviticus 25:41) which discusses the slave's leaving the master when his term expires (at which time the master is also required to provide his erstwhile slave with a significant severance gift): "Then, he shall leave you; he and his children with him." On this the biblical commentator Rashi says: "Says Rabbi Shimon: If he was sold, who sold his children [that Scripture states that his children go free with him]? However, from here, [we learn] that his master is obligated to provide sustenance for his children."

Some 2000 years ago, our Father exiled us from our homeland. No longer are we an autonomous nation ruled by G‑d and His Torah, instead we are subjected to the rule of foreign powers. But we are not alone in this slavery. As Rabbi Shimon says, "How precious Israel is before G‑d, wherever they are exiled, the Shechinah (Divine presence) is exiled with them."

G‑d is not an apathetic bystander. He is with us in our most difficult moments and sharing our distress. When we cry, He cries. When we are in pain, He is in pain.

Yet Rabbi Shimon protests: "If He was sold, who sold His children?" G‑d is omnipotent. He can endure this harshest of slaveries without it affecting His status. He can simultaneously be within and yet remain aloof. But we, His children... how can we be expected to suffer through this exile while openly retaining our exalted status as G‑d's children?

How could He sell His children?!How could He sell His children?!

To this Rabbi Shimon responds: "From here, [we learn] that his master is obligated to provide sustenance for his children."

We are not enslaved in exile. Our souls are as free as they ever were. The physical Holy Temple may have been destroyed, but the spiritual Temple for G‑d that exists within every Jewish heart is intact and untouchable. No superpower has any dominion over the spirit of the Jew.

What has changed is our sustenance. While we used to receive our provisions directly from G‑d, now they are channeled through our new masters — the nations and their archangels.

And they have no choice whether to provide us with our needs or not. The master is required to provide for the children. They are only conduits through which we receive our heavenly ordained allowance.