‘I Love My Master, My Wife, My Children…’
The Torah notes (Exodus 21:5) that if an Israelite bondsman expresses his wish to remain in servitude by stating, “I love my master, my wife, and my children, I will not go out free,” he has to undergo retziah, namely, his ear is pierced with an awl at the doorpost. The bondsman’s statement refers to the Canaanite wife his master gave him and the children she bore him.
The Gemara explains that if the bondsman does not love his master or his Canaanite wife, or if he does not have a Canaanite wife, he may not relinquish his automatic right to freedom at the end of the sixth year by having his ear pierced. He must go out free from his master’s service, even against his will.
Forcing His Own Master
The Chasam Sofer (Exodus 21:5) is of the opinion that an Israelite bondsman may demand that his ear be pierced against his master’s will. In other words, the master is obligated to pierce his ear and retain his service even though he no longer needs or wants him.
The Chazon Ish (Kiddushin siman 148, page 14) disagrees and asserts that the piercing is performed only when there is mutual agreement between master and bondsman. If the bondsman wishes to have his ear pierced but the master has no desire for his services, the bondsman’s request is denied and he is set free.
Support From A Midrash
Rabbi Leib Gurevitz (Arza DeBei Rav 168) cited an interesting midrash in support of the Chasam Sofer’s view. Before his death, Moshe beseeched Hashem to allow him to continue to live so that he could lead the Children of Israel into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:23-26). The Midrash interprets Moshe’s plea homiletically. Moshe, who is referred to by Hashem as “my servant Moses” (Numbers 12:7), pleaded that he loved his master (Hashem), his wife (the Torah – see Yevamos 63b, where the Torah is compared to a wife) and his children (Bnei Yisrael) and did not wish to go free (that is, to die – death is referred to as freedom because of the fact that a person is “freed from the yoke of mitzvos”). Moshe argued that he should be allowed to live so that he could continue to serve Hashem, just as an Israelite bondsman may request to continue to serve his master.
Rabbi Gurevitz noted that this midrash offers support for the view of the Chasam Sofer that the Israelite bondsman may force the hand of his master, just as Moshe sought to do, and continue his servitude.
A Repeated Request
A baraisa on our daf explains that the wording of Exodus 21:5 – “Ve’im amar yomar ha’eved – And if the bondsman will say, saying” – is repetitive because the verse means to say that the servant’s ear is not pierced until he repeats his request. Based on this baraisa the Maharil Diskin (Maharil Diskin HaShalem al Hatorah) suggests that had Moshe repeated his request of Hashem, he would have prevailed. However, Hashem preempted Moshe by commanding him (Deuteronomy 3:26), “Do not speak further to Me…” Thus Moshe was prevented from continuing his “servitude” to Hashem since an Israelite bondsman must make his request not once, but twice.